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Wangkajunga Elder, Spider on his ancestral land or Kurtal after he performed a rain dance.| Image source: putuparriandtherainmakers. com

Putuparri and the Rainmakers follows an eight year journey with Tom ‘Putuparri’ Lawford (Wangkajunga) and his grandparents, Spider and Dolly, who are on their path to reclaim their culture and their traditional land. The film is set in Fitzroy Crossing in north-western Australia, home to some thirty-six individual Indigenous communities who were displaced from their traditional lands in the 1960’s to make room for “white agricultural development.”

The first scene that was filmed was when Spider, Dolly and the other Elders came back to their ancestral lands of Kurtal to perform a rain dance ceremony for their first time in almost two decades. This is especially significant because it is Putuparri’s first time witnessing how powerful the ceremony is when a storm rolls in and rain starts to fall from the sky in the backdrop of the arid desert.

Tom Putuparri Lawford
Tom Putuparri Lawford | Image source:

The doc focuses on the healing journey that the community must make in order to survive, which includes reviving dance ceremonies, taking care of the land, honouring Elders and ancestors, and passing these teachings on to the youth. We witness Putuparri’s transformation from defiant alcoholic to inspiring cultural leader. “Because the film is from an Aboriginal point of view, people are able to empathize with the path that Tom has to tread,” explains director, Nicole Ma. “From the traditional world, which he has to look after to the contemporary world, which he has to navigate in order to survive these days.”

Much like in North America, art also plays a major part of the healing journey. Spider and Dolly bring several Indigenous communities together to create a large map that traces out their traditional lands to use in their fight with the government to get their land back. This map soon becomes a symbol which empowers the Wangkajunga to promote their culture around Australia and pass their traditional knowledge onto their youth. “Any healing process can take a long time,” says Tom. “White people came into this land and took over. Healing will take a long time.”

While the healing journey and the battle to win back their traditional land is far from over, Putuparri and the Rainmakers gives Indigenous communities a voice on how colonization, assimilation and religion have permanently affected their lives. Audiences will also get to see the importance of cultural and traditional knowledge to Indigenous people. “Instead of the bible, my religion is my country, ” explained Putuparri. He hopes that audiences will learn, “how the land feels to us [Wangkajunga]. The land is important to us. We have to take care of it.”

The last screening is at Scotiabank Theatre at 4:30 pm this Sunday.

Putuparri with Elders Spider, Dolly, Japeth and director Nicole
Putuparri and Japeth with Elders Spider and Dolly and director Nicole Ma | Image source:
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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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