THUNDER BAY – Johnny Issaluk says in many ways, Indian Horse is every Indigenous person’s story.
Based on a novel by the late First Nation’s writer Richard Wagamese, the film was released earlier this year to critical acclaim, telling the story of a youngster swept into the residential school system, using hockey as his way out.
Brutally honest about the abuse that took place, Issaluk, who stars as Sam, wants as many people to see it as possible, to help them understand what many First Nations people went through and why many are still suffering today, generations after the fact.
But it’s also important for Indigenous people to see it for themselves, to help them on their healing journey.
This month Issaluk, with the assistance of I Love First Peoples and North Star Air, is helping to screen the film in seven communities in Ontario’s north, including a day-long stop Sunday in Fort Severn First Nation.
“Their work is very important, connecting the people that want their story told and making youth understand the importance about someone giving a damn about them,” Issaluk said of the tour’s organizers on Monday, before heading off on the second leg of the tour to Kasabonika Lake First Nation.
“I’m very honoured to be a part of this.”
Josee Lusignan, a co-founder of I Love First Peoples, said they’ve shown the film in 25 Aboriginal communities across the country, and the reaction is nearly always the same.
“They’ll stand up after and start sharing,” she said.
Lusignan said the idea for the tour evolved out of their Shoebox campaign, which provided donated goods to First Nations youth.
Once she saw the film, she knew it was the right thing to do.
“We believe that Indian Horse is truly transformative, on both sides of the equation,” she said. “Having shown it in over 25 communities, we’ve seen so many reactions to the movie, but as we witnessed yesterday in Fort Severn, usually it’s a deeply emotional reaction.
“Elders are standing up and many of them, who have not spoken about their experiences before or have been really reluctant to speak, have been really understanding of the importance of speaking – the importance for their own journey and healing, but really importance to give the freedom to their children and grandchildren, to say ‘OK, if grandma or grandpa are talking about it, then we can start as a family to talk and to bring healing.”
North Star Air’s Karen Matson said they jumped at the opportunity, calling the movie a fantastic vehicle to start the dialogue, adding that living in Thunder Bay, she sees Indigenous issues first-hand and is adamant something needs to be done.
The company is providing free transportation to the seven communities.
“It’s just such an important message,” Matson said. “It’s time the division stops and we are one people.”