Boil Alert, the gut-wrenching opener for the 2024 ReFrame Film Festival Directed by Stevie Salas and James Burns, this film will undoubtedly leave you in tears and with new-found anger issues.
The documentary follows activist Layla Staats as she embarks on a mission to heal the water and discover her Mohawk identity.
Staats first travels to Neskantaga First Nation, a remote Oji-Cree community in northern Ontario. Neskantaga First Nation holds the longest standing boil-water advisory in Canadian history, having been in effect since 1995 after the community’s water treatment plant failed. Layla assists in disrupting the community’s rationed supply of bottled drinking water and sees first hand how much the community relies on these deliveries.
We join Layla, as she visits the Navajo Nation, located in the south of the United States. The residents of the Navajo Nation have been victims of uranium poisoning since mining began in the area in the 1940s and the largest radioactive spill in U.S. history contaminated their water in 1979.
The Navajo are not the only Indigenous Nation drinking poisoned water, however, as Layla visited Grassy Narrows First Nation, where several tonnes of mercury was dumped into the river by the Dryden Chemical Company in the 1960s.
The film at this point is throwing a lot of depressing things at you, we watch many Indigenous community members suffer because of their poisoned water. The rationale behind this is not to make the viewer feel bad or guilty, but rather to show the harsh reality Indigenous People face living in these communities. The reserve system pushed Indigenous People aside and used our resources and poisoned what was left. The result left our youth feeling invisible and lost in the world—no one is coming to fix their water, so why should they feel any different?
The children of Neskantaga and Grassy Narrows are given no help from the day they are born, they are left behind, put aside, so their land can be used.
Layla makes a final stop at Wet’suwet’en First Nation and stands in solidarity with them as they fight against the Coastal Gaslink pipeline that is planned to drill under the Wedzin Kwa, “the blue and green river”. The Wedzin Kwa is an essential part of the Wet’suwet’en’s culture and to degrade it would be to take away their culture, their tradition, and their identity.
Many young Indigenous People today face the same problem Layla is facing. Indigeneity is a difficult road to walk nowadays since most connections and cultural outlets were lost with colonialism. The industrializing and pollution of Mother Earth and our water have left us with not even the land to connect with.
Our water is damaged, contaminated, filled with poison, used and profited off by the governments that hold our land. Without our water, we are lost as a culture, as a people, our young people have no way to identify. To heal ourselves, to heal our identities, we must start by healing the water.
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