Kyle Kematch and Katherena Vermette on the Red River | Image source: this river
Too many Indigenous women in Canada have disappeared or been murdered and their bodies are rarely found. In 2014, after the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s body in the Red River that flows through Winnipeg, Manitoba, community members were frustrated with the lack of response by police and created a flotilla called, “Drag The Red” (DTR) searching for more missing friends and family.
MUSKRAT Magazine’s Akeesha Footman connected with the creators of this river, Katherena Vermette and Erika MacPherson to learn about their short documentary providing insight into the important work of Drag the Red.
MM: What inspired you to make the doc?
KV: I was working on poetry about the river when Alicia Smith from the National Film Board (NFB) approached me about doing something. We weren’t sure what, but it was going to be something like poetry, but not poetry, and like a documentary but different. She was interested in the story of my [missing] brother- but I didn’t want to tell that story in isolation when devastatingly, stories like that happen way too often. We were inspired by the work of Drag the Red and the connections with the river kept coming up. We wanted to show the river as the beautiful body of water it is, so we got Erika on board because she makes beautiful films.
EM: I have a fascination with the Red River. My Icelandic ancestors arrived in Winnipeg by that river in the late 1800’s, and then left again on that river to go north. It was the conduit for the placement and displacement of both immigrants and Indigenous communities in that era.
MM: How did it feel to be on the Red River with volunteer Kyle Kematch of Drag the Red?
KV: I was amazed -in all the good and bad ways. Being on the river gives you a connection to this place that you can’t get any other way. We literally saw the city from a different angle. But also, being on the boat with Kyle, knowing why we are there and what we have to do was very scary and sad. Dragging the river is a truly gut-wrenching process, and it hurts every time you drop the hooks in the water. I am in awe of the volunteers who do that work every day. It takes so much strength and spirit.
EM: We were a crew of five women in the boat with Kyle. He is gracious and intelligent and generous. I had never been on the Red River before that shoot. Experiencing the city from the river for the first time with Kyle at the helm helped organize my heart. It’s confoundingly beautiful and tragic.
MM: The National Public Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is scheduled to launch August 3rd– the same week your film screens at the Montreal First People’s Festival. What do you hope to see come out of the Inquiry?
KV: I try to live in hope, so I hope some things can be accomplished. Families need to be validated and comforted, so that’s my first and most important hope. Then, hopefully, some answers can be found. I don’t know that everything can be addressed. There are so many questions! But hopefully they can be something to work with and bring us forward. I think Canada needs to make a fundamental shift in how they treat Indigenous women, how all of us are valued, and how crimes against us are dealt with. I think non-Indigenous people need to educate themselves about Indigenous values, issues and history – there is still so much ignorance – and Indigenous woman need to be honoured and listened to, at all levels of government and society as a whole.
EM: I don’t really know about the Inquiry or how it can work. What I hope is that the broader community i.e. those of us who are not Indigenous and think we’re not directly affected by this horror, figure out that we are all accountable for what’s happening and get educated, stand up, speak out, take action. What we learn in the film is that those who are directly affected, “have to do something”. I hope that we all start to understand that we have to do something, anything.
this river will screen at the Montreal First Peoples Festival on Sunday, August 7th at 6:30 pm.
Montreal First Peoples Festival runs August 3rd – 10th, 2016. This annual event features concerts, visual and media arts, seminars and Indigenous film screenings. Full program festival available here.
Katherena Vermette is a Métis writer of poetry, fiction and children’s literature. Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses’ Company) won the 2013 Governor General Literary Award for Poetry and was the 2015 selection for On the Same Page, Manitoba’s Book Club. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines and anthologies. Vermette lives, works and plays in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Erika MacPherson’s video art and documentary films have screened at festivals and galleries Internationally. She recently completed, this river, a film she edited, co-wrote and co-directed for the National film Board of Canada and is currently in post-production on a film about her settler-heritage. Erika makes her home in Winnipeg, MB, Treaty One territory.