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Jordan Anderson and his mother, Virginia. // Still from "Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger." Courtesy of the NFB.

Director Alanis Obomsawin’s new film highlights need for equal access to services for Indigenous children

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger Edmonton premiere
Directed by Alanis Obomsawin; Metro Cinema; Sun. Mar. 8 (7 p.m.); free admission.

In her latest film, Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin illuminates the struggle for Indigenous parents in Canada to access services and funding for children with abilities and special needs—services and funding readily available to other children in the country. 

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger features interviews with members of Jordan’s family, who talk about the jurisdictional disagreement between the provincial government of Manitoba and the federal government that denied the First Nations child from Norway House Cree Nation the funding he needed to move to a special home. As a result, Jordan spent his entire short life living in a hospital—but the experience inspired the family to create and advocate for Jordan’s principle, which is a child-first principle to ensure that all First Nations children get the care they need when they need it.

Obomsawin says she first met the Anderson family when she went to interview Jordan’s father, Ernest, in Norway House in 2011.

“I could never finish the film up until now because of the actual history of it and what was happening,” she says.

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger is Obomsawin’s 53rd film. She was first hired by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) as a consultant in 1967, but quickly decided she’d rather direct her own films.

“I told them that I wasn’t interested in doing that kind of work because I was very worried that as a consultant I was taking them to a reserve and then if the people would be unhappy about the film they would say, ‘Well, Alanis took them here.’ So I would never do that again and eventually I started doing my own films,” she explains.

With so many films now under her belt, Obomsawin says there’s not much that surprises her anymore.

“But what is good is after all these years I see a lot of changes and I’m very glad that I’m still around to see the difference, because it’s been difficult for so many generations, and now there are a lot of good things happening,” she says.

The good news is that Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger ends on a rather upbeat note, but Obomosawin says there is still plenty of work to be done.

“I think we have to continue fighting in terms of the situation with the children that are born, especially, with special needs and this rule that once they’re 16 or 21, that their health is over with, is wrong,” she says. “So we have to continue making sure that the services will be available to these people until they die.”

Following the Edmonton premiere of the film, Obomsawin will share a post-screening discussion with Deanna Wolf Ear from the First Nations Health Consortium. 

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