Documentarian and human rights activist, Kim O’Bomsawin, has created a body of work that interrogates colonialism and features Indigenous experiences. Her most recent film, Call Me Human, tells the story of acclaimed Innu poet Joséphine Bacon.
Bacon explains that the word “poetry” does not exist in the Innu language, saying, “I don’t think we needed the word ‘poetry’ or ‘poem’ in our language, because we were poets, simply by living in harmony with the land.” Her writing shows the coalescence between the human spirit and the natural world. Bacon’s generation grapples with the stark reality that as they age and as they pass away, so too does their culture and language. Her written works, published in Innu-aimun and French, serve as an act of resistance against the historical weaponization of language to stifle Indigenous culture. Speaking Innu-aimun is not merely an exercise of linguistics; it breathes life into Innu culture and defies the corrosive intentions of colonialism. Bacon often selects rarely-used Innu-aimun words in her work in order to give them new purpose, building a contemporary Innu literature that nourishes the language.
As Bacon walks down René Lévesque Boulevard, in Montréal, she shares memories of arriving in town in the 1960s. She casually speaks of spells of homelessess and it becomes apparent that she is not one to indulge in anguish. The film takes care to mention the Sept-Îsle Residential School that Bacon attended through her childhood and adolescence. Though Bacon briefly speaks to the intergenerational trauma that the school inflicted on her family and community but she does not dwell on the subject. She remains poised and says she prefers for other residential school survivors to tell the stories.
Bacon returns to her home in Pessamit, Quebec, with the documentary crew. The tundra reveals a rainbow of earth tones in the moss and lichen, showing the vibrant life in the north. This is juxtaposed to the footage from Montreal that shows a grey concrete artifice fading into grey overcast skies. Here, Bacon engages in traditional practices like separating the bones from the meat on a trout’s head and watching the horizon for caribou. Her writing takes the most simple parts of living and recognizes the significance, reminding the viewer that our lives are the substance of poetry. Bacon ultimately rejects the title of poet because in Innu culture the relationship between humanity, spirituality and nature is intrinsic, therefore language is too.
Call Me Human will be available from January 22 to January 29 through the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong ReFrame Film Festival.
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