First Nations

A Theatre Near You

Gab Films produced a video of interest to past and present residents of Powell River, a town that was home in my young life. The video is about the movie theatre where I first held Gwen’s hand. Decades later, she now holds my hand.

Elsie Paul‘s segment early in the piece brought forward a junior high school memory.

It was of a grade 8 teacher singing to our class Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, an American civil rights anthem. We talked about Martin Luther King Jr. being one of many arrested at a whites-only restaurant in Atlanta. King was sentenced to four months at hard labour on the charge of trespassing.

We felt outrage over this and other indignities experienced by persons of colour in the USA. For some reason though, we paid no attention to segregation in our own community. Perhaps less conspicuous, but it was real.

Powell River’s pulp and paper operation was built at the mouth of a river where indigenous people lived for millennia. In the sixties, of more than 2,000 people employed by the MacMillan Bloedel mill, almost none were First Nations people. Powell River’s highs schools were almost equally devoid of indigenous students.

Yet, most of us thought we lived in an enlightened community and were entitled to criticize American neighbours.

These are words of Tla’amin Nation elder Elsie Paul:

In 2009, Vancouver Island University announced:

Elsie Paul, known on Vancouver Island for bridging cultures, will receive an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Vancouver Island University.

Paul, 78, is known in the Coast Salish region by her traditional name, Qazustala’s, which means a welcoming person with a wealth of knowledge, someone who shares her culture.

“This is a remarkably suitable name, given that Elsie is one of the few remaining Elders of Tla’Amin First Nation who is fluent in the Tla’Amin language and who has dedicated her life to creating healthy communities through learning,” said Arlette Raean, Campus Principal at VIU’s Powell River Campus.

“She has spent her life in service to others, in a variety of forms of justice reform and social activism, drawing on traditional teachings. She has set an example in living her own life and has shared these practices through her many professional activities.”

Teaching one more lesson to us all, Qazustala’s displays not a hint of bitterness in the video:



FN 500

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6 replies »

  1. Norm, the film triggers many feelings. One senses the need to get back to that genuine and loving lifestyle. We’re in a rush nowadays. To where? Thank you for providing this break.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Norm, thank you for this.
    To the first part, Tla’amin, (known as Sliammon as I grew up in Powell River) and your reference to the lack of First Nations people in the schools and mill, I dug into my memory and ’56-‘62 year books.

    There may have been others but I was only able to pull up two indigenous students at Brooks Jr. Sr. High School in grade 8, years 1956-57.

    In 1963-64 I knew a fellow who lived in Sliammon and worked on the boom at the mill. I only knew him because we played ball together. I did know others but not from the mill or school.

    To the second part, the Patricia Theatre; my first two dates involved that grand old palace. The first, we stood each other up. We had arranged to meet at the Saturday matinee and she, being from Cranberry, went to the Patricia while I, being from Myrtle Point, went to the Roxy in Westview. We did however manage to co-ordinate the next Saturday, at the Patricia, without getting lost.

    I also remember the Patricia as a place of bonding during two strikes in the 50s and 60s. Everyone was feeling the pinch and the Patricia drew us together to enjoy free nights of local grown entertainment, from young baton twirlers to talented musicians.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for this lovely film about a sense of community many people wish they had.
    It transcends the pursuit of money in one’s life with a meaning like no other. Its the magic.
    A community where equality thrives no matter who you are.
    At Jack’s Boat yard in Lund this summer for 11 days.
    How to recreate this sense of community is our challenge for the planet, and its unimaginable politics is up to it for these pretenders. It fails us everywhere we look.
    Why is the question.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The main point of the blog is, of course, right on. Viola Desmond had a similar experience in Nova Scotia, because she was black. Similar exclusions undoubtedly happened in many movie theatres between Halifax and Powell River. It has been said that accessibility is a matter of letting someone into the dance hall: inclusion is a matter of asking them to dance. Perhaps accessibility is a matter of letting someone into the movie theatre: inclusion is allowing them to sit with us on the main floor. Aside from the post itself, I am grateful for having been led to the the movie. It speaks volumes about community. Thank you.

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  5. Hopefully “A Theatre Near You” will soon come to classrooms near us. Classrooms where our children and grandchildren, their minds unclouded by the nostalgia for “simpler” times, will see that the indigenous people are still fighting injustice.

    Injustice that once kept them from an equal place in theatres and schools now threatens to flood their traditional lands and despoil their traditional fishing grounds.

    The corporate power that many years ago could reach across oceans to remove enlisted men from another theatre (of war), now controls our governments to an even greater degree.

    Qazustala’s eloquently posed the question:

    “Who set those rules? Who put those boundaries in place?”

    We know who. The courts are now answering the question of whether those rules and boundaries are just and lawful.

    Our children and grandchildren will go beyond who and how and demand to know why.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Our own segregation was so complete, you’d be hard pressed to even know First Nations lived in Powell River,. When I was asked by my employer to go and work in the office there for a month, in the early 70s I do not recall ever seeing a First Nations person.

    Canadian’s segregation was “enforced” by the Reservations First Nations people were sent to live on. Usually they were outside of a town and not part of it. Out of sight, out of mind. That has had destructive effects on First Nations and now its time to clean up the mess we made.

    Liked by 1 person

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