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TIFF 2022: 'Bones of Crows' depicts intergenerational trauma of residential schools in Canada

·4-min read
Grace Dove as Aline Spears in "Bones of Crows" (Courtesy of TIFF)

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) showcased several great Canadian films but Marie Clements' Bones of Crows stands out, powerfully showing the generational impact of the abuse of Indigenous people in Canada.

Bones of Crows begins in in the 1920s where we meet Aline Spears (initially played by Summer Testawich). Aline and her siblings are forcefully taken away from their parents as children, and brought to a residential school.

When Aline is older, (now played by Grace Dove) during World War II she enlists in the military. She eventually returns to Canada with her husband and has children, but both of them can't entirely escape their traumatic past.

“I was excited to be a badass,” Dove said. “I read the script and the idea of going to war and being a Cree code talker, and having such a role of authority, that I've never seen before [and] it was incredibly exciting.”

Alyssa Wapanatâhk plays Perseverance, Aline's sister, who ends up on a different path than Aline after being in a residential school.

“Something that really excited me was just the fact that she's gone through it, and she has a rough story but she still needs to be celebrated,” Wapanatâhk said. “She grew up, she had a childhood and she had a family that loved her, and she had a sister that loved her,...she has this history that should have been celebrated.”

In her latest years, with Carla Rae portraying Aline, we see her confront her abuser from residential school face-to-face, alongside her daughter, at that point in the story played by Gail Maurice.

“To really look at someone's life is extraordinary,” Clements said about crafting her main character through time. “How they change and what are the circumstances in their life that changed, for good and for bad, and how they relate to other people."

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 10: (Top L-R) Patrick Garrow, Carla-Rae, Gail Maurice, Sam Grana, Cameron Fraser-Monroe, Marie Clements, Joshua Odjick, Trish Dolman, John Tench, (Bottom L-R) Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Summer Testawich, Alanis Obomsawin, Sierra Rose McRae, Michelle Thrush, and Phillip Lewitski attend the
TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 10: (Top L-R) Patrick Garrow, Carla-Rae, Gail Maurice, Sam Grana, Cameron Fraser-Monroe, Marie Clements, Joshua Odjick, Trish Dolman, John Tench, (Bottom L-R) Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Summer Testawich, Alanis Obomsawin, Sierra Rose McRae, Michelle Thrush, and Phillip Lewitski attend the "Bones Of Crows" Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at Scotiabank Theatre on September 10, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Brian de Rivera Simon/Getty Images)

'We are all survivors'

Bones of Crows expertly weaves together these timelines to create an affecting story about the ongoing, intergenerational trauma of Canada's history of cultural genocide.

“I think the biggest message is just that this is a modern story that we are still experiencing, these adversities, the effects of the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop, that is all being passed through generations and we are all survivors,” Grace Dove said. “The one day that we learn about it in school is not enough, we need to be implementing education around the true history of Canada.”

“I hope that films like this really open people up to the idea of Indigenous peoples in a new light, rather than preconceived ideas… Knowing that we have this rich culture, that we are still here, that we are carrying so much knowledge and...start seeing Indigenous peoples for who we are... To move forward as a country and as people, we need to start understanding Indigenous knowledge and we're going to we need us, we need to move forward and come together.”

“It doesn’t matter what race you are, we're all connected, we all live here on Mother Earth and I think that's what we need to start seeing more,” Alyssa Wapanatâhk added.

All the actors in Bones of Crows have captivating and emotional, brilliant performances, and Dove identified that she gave a piece of herself to this role.

“I gave a piece of myself to this film and I knew I would, and I was happy to do so, but also, afterwards I was hurt more than I thought I would be, and needed some time to just be still and to reflect,” Dove said. “It's all of our pain and I felt, also, like I'd grown so much that I eventually had healed a lot as well.”

“I felt like I had done my duty… I can kind of step away from it and know that I've really done my part to share these very hard stories.”

The national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419.