Hot Docs, a very substantial documentary film festival, is currently running in Toronto. Just to look at the program will convince, or remind, you for the ambitious, challenging, provocative, thought-provoking films being made all the time on just about every subject you can imagine.
That's my beef with The Story of Us, ultimately. Why do television programmers accept that pretty much every mainstream CanHist program is, you know, pablum? Sure, The Story of Us has some vivid filming, some dramatic scenes, some intriguing vignettes. Having watched a few episodes -- they are all online now -- I'm not hating it. I'm just not very engaged, and I'm glad to have had no responsibility for it.
But even a disappointing program, it turns out, can stimulate discussion. Following last week's program that touched briefly on Treaty 6 and Canadian expansion on to the prairies, the CBC organized another online discussion to expand on the television program. It's actually pretty terrific. It gives us three lively, articulate indigenous panelists -- the great educator Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, western archaeologist Eldon Yellowhorn, and TRC commission director Ry Moran -- in conversation with an indigenous host, CBC broadcaster Duncan McCue.
When I was approached as they assembled the panel, I stressed that I'm not a treaty-history expert and I would not participate unless there was an indigenous majority. In fact, their choice to assemble an all-indigenous panel was brilliant. They may be talking to us, but there is a comfort level evident among the panelists that would be at least different with even one non-indigenous participant "representing" majority culture.
Listen to Eldon Yellowhorn mentioning the history of indigenous smoking, and McCue responding: "Did they leave any advice about quitting?" Or Métis Ry Moran speaking of discovering the colonial oppression experienced by his Scots ancestors -- in Scotland. Yellowhorn even acknowledges that Canada150 is a story worth telling (something a lot of mainstream history profs seem to have trouble with!); it's just that so much else has been ignored.
And that is before they get to their vigorous, well-informed, and at times even optimistic discussion of the treaty relationship.
"This is change, actually happening right now," says Ry Moran, reflecting briefly on the shape of the panel.
Watch it. (YouTube above; Facebook link here)
Also, a couple of days ago Cassandra Szklarski wrote a widely circulated Canadian Press story quoting me among others on The Story of Us. It's a good piece, but I'm squirming at a part where I seem to be dismissing John English and Bob Bothwell as "any old historian." It's not a misquotation, but I did mean it as a comment on the filmmakers' attitudes, and not any kind of denigration of two historians I admire and would listen to anytime (and who are not much older than me, either!)