CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 13 . . . . February 16, 2007
When two things collide, generally, there is damage and then hopefully, the repairs can begin. However, if the collisions are constant, repairs are impossible; the damage simply gets worse. Two Worlds Colliding focuses on the relationship between Aboriginal Canadians and the Saskatoon Police Force. While the film is centred in Saskatoon, this could be seen as a microcosmic view of Native and non-Native relationships in Canada.
On the night of 28 January, 2000, Darrell Night, an Aboriginal man leaves a party that is getting out of hand. He does not get far before he is picked up by two policemen. Night tells the police that he has done nothing wrong. They do not care, and, after some verbal abuse, he is driven out of the city, told to get out of the car and left to fend for himself. That night it was -20°C. Fortunately for Night, he finds a power station and is able to get in out of the cold. However, Rodney Naistus and Lawrence Wegner were not so fortunate. Both Aboriginal, they were also picked up by the police and taken out of the city. Neither man made it back; both were found frozen to death near the area where Night was taken.
Shortly after, on a seatbelt check, Night is pulled over by the police, and he makes a comment to the Officer, Bruce Ahold, about Naistus’ death. Expecting to be ignored, Night is surprised that, when he tells Ahold about his ordeal, the officer actually believes him. The film features this exchange as a series of cuts between Night and Ahold. Each is allowed to tell events as he remembers them. This sets off an investigation of the Saskatoon Police Force which exposes an ugly culture of racism towards Aboriginals.
Not trusting the RCMP to do a clean investigation, Oliver Williams, a Native police officer, comes out of retirement to oversee the proceedings. He is aware of the situation, and, to gather more information, he sets up a call line. In a short time, he receives over 800 calls outlining abuses in the system. He states that, as a policeman, he is ashamed; as a citizen, he is appalled, and, as an Aboriginal, he is angry.
Lawrence Wegner’s parents speak of their son and cannot accept the official report that he, intoxicated, wandered out of the city and died of the cold. The fact that he was found wearing only his socks and a t-shirt does not seem odd to the police. That his socks were clean and showed no sign of wear is not seen as suspicious either. This, even after investigators showed that a pair of socks would not last a few blocks without wearing through. The Wegners not only grieve the loss of their son, but they have to endure the lies as well. Their emotion is raw and heartrending. They were not allowed to see their son’s body as it was too frozen. There was not enough evidence to convict anyone, and the following inquest appeased no one. Mrs. Wegner states, “We’re not valued as human beings—we are Indians.”
After the investigation into the treatment of Darrel Night, two officers admit that they had taken Night out of town, but they claim that he had asked them to drop him off. The two officers are fired, sentenced to eight months in jail and serve four. The trial divides the community, and the ugliness is clear in a confrontation between two women, one Native, the other not. While the non-Native woman claims she has a number of Indian friends, she shouts at the Native woman, “How many beers have you had? How many bingos?” Clearly, the issue of someone left out to freeze to death is not foremost on her mind.
While bleak, the film shows that there are police officers who are trying to bridge the gap between the two cultures. A new chief is hired and is shown taking part in sweetgrass ceremonies and other rituals. He meets with Native elders and asks for guidance in how to make things work.
Clearly when both meet in respect, a bridge might be built.
However, just as progress is attempted, another Native man, Neil Stonechild, is found frozen outside of the city. Once again the blue wall is solid, and silence takes over.
Two Worlds Colliding is a depressing film as there does not seem to be much hope. For every step forward, there seems to be many more back. The film states that an Aboriginal man is more likely to be in jail than finish high school. Saskatoon has the highest number of urban Aboriginals, and Saskatchewan has the highest number of Aboriginal incarcerations. There are good people in this film, and, while balance is attempted, this is not a case where balance exists.
Parts of the film are incredibly powerful, but, as a whole, there is too much going on--the case of Darrell Night, the deaths of Naistus and Wegner and then the death of Stonechild. Each case deserves fuller treatment. However, the “collision” of the two cultures in clear. For those in communities where there is a visible Native population, this film should generate valuable discussion. Where there is not a visible Native population, this film exposes the problems that exist.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian in St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.