CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 10 . . . . November 6, 2009
Aboriginal filmmakers, Dennis and Melanie Jackson, have a sure-fire hit on their hands with the award-winning Wapos Bay series of DVDs. The stop-motion animation series centres around three young Cree children: 10-year-old T-Bear, nine-year-old Talon and six-year-old Raven, who live in Wapos (pronounced Wah-poose) Bay, a remote community of northern Saskatchewan. Viewers are introduced to life in an Aboriginal community where ancient traditions, such as offering sage and tobacco, and modern conveniences, such as video games and cell phones, both have their place. The children are guided by elders and family members as they learn about nature, hunting, dog sledding and ancient legends, as well as important values, including respect, cooperation and honesty. Each episode has a specific theme and is infused with light humour. Viewers will soon get to know each of the characters and her.his particular idiosyncracies, but Kohkum Mary, with her forgetful ways and tendency to ramble, is likely to become a favourite. Well-known Aboriginal actors lend their voices to the characters. Two examples are Gordon Tootoosis of North of 60 and Lorne Cardinal of Corner Gas fame. The DVDs are filmed in both English and Cree (with English sub-titles) and are 24 minutes in duration. Also included on the DVDs, in PDF format, are study guides for each episode. (These are also available on the National Film Board web site.) Study guides include an episode summary, background information, themes, pre and post-viewing activities, and project ideas. These guides offer some excellent ideas for the classroom teacher and are sure to spark discussion, divergent thinking and creativity.
NHL player Jordin Tootoo makes a guest appearance in All's Fair as part of Wapos Bay's Role Model Program. The community, in preparation for the Indigenous Winter Games, is holding hockey try-outs, and T-Bear is practically a shoo-in. But a new student, Elue, arrives at school from Rankin Inlet, and he, too, is an excellent athlete. Jordin accepts an invitation from Talon and Alphonse to check on Alphonse's trapline. When a wolverine spooks the dog team, the dogs run home, leaving Jordin, Talon and Alphonse stranded in a developing blizzard. They make an evergreen shelter, and Jordin teaches them how to keep warm by using a soapstone oil lamp which he has brought along. In a short while, they are rescued by T-Bear, his mushom (grandfather) and Elue. Back in Wapos Bay, T-Bear and Elue compete for the role of hockey captain. The lesson in this episode is cooperation and sharing leadership. (As an aside, a couple of the episodes feature cameo appearances of Ron McCrane and Don Red Cherry, Wapos Bay's answer to Ron McLean and Don Cherry- very funny!).
In As the Bannock Browns, the carnival is in town, and T-Bear is smitten with the carnival owner's daughter, Evelyn. Taking advantage of T-Bear's crush on her, Evelyn enlists his help in delivering flyers and doing other odd jobs. Jacob, T-Bear's father, worries that his son is falling for a "carnie" and that the carnival will have a negative influence on the youth of Wapos Bay. Meanwhile, Raven has chicken pox and goes to visit Kohkum Mary who knows how to use plant remedies, such as muskeg tea, to relieve the itchiness. When Raven and Kohkum watch Kohkum's favourite soap opera on TV, Raven learns the concept of the "evil twin." This gives Jacob an idea. He disguises himself with an eye patch and dismantles the carnival in the dark of night. He reveals to T-Bear that, when he was in university, he worked for a carnival during the summer and fell in love with one of the employees, but she left him broken-hearted when the carnival left town. And, he tells T-Bear about how the various carnival games are rigged so that fewer people win the prizes. The lessons in this episode are that love is blind and that people shouldn't believe everything they see on television.
Mushom, Jacob, T-Bear and Talon take a boat ride to an island to look for animal tracks in the episode entitled Guardians. When T-Bear remains behind in the boat to videotape some baby eagles in a nest, he thinks he sees a Sasquatch in the woods. His shock causes him to drop the camera and break it. Jacob, wanting to put Wapos Bay on the map, decides to sell the video footage, if they can retrieve it, for $1 million on the Internet. In the meantime, Sarah, Raven and Kohkum go into the woods to pick blueberries and also spy a Bigfoot. Lee Majors, of the Six Million Dollar Man, makes a guest appearance as Steve from Austin, a member of the Observation of Sasquatch Institute. It turns out that the Sasquatch sightings were somewhat of a hoax: Alphonse and Uncle Peter had been cleaning chimneys at the elders' island camps all day and got covered in soot.
In All Access, Jacob is building a wheelchair ramp in preparation for Cousin Betty's visit. Because Betty's legs are in casts due to a degenerative bone disease, Jacob warns T-Bear that, when Betty arrives, he is not to play rough. The community is staging a talent contest, the first prize being "Chief for a Day." T-Bear, Talon and Devon decide to imitate their favourite band, Lipsync, while Betty and Raven opt for native drumming, and with the help of Sarah, the girls also learn some traditional singing. Though T-Bear and Betty have been close in the past, Betty wonders why T-Bear is ignoring her, not realizing that it's because he does not want to hurt her. When the boys win the talent contest, T-Bear declares that, as Chief, he wants to make the entire community wheelchair accessible. (Older viewers might recognize the Village People in this episode.)
T-Bear and Talon help their kohkums with their groceries and come to the realization that Wapos Bay does not have any programs for the elderly. In As Long as the River Flows, Talon has a lot of great ideas about what could be done, but T-Bear passes them off as his own. Jacob, in his zeal to get T-Bear elected as the President of the National Aboriginal Youth Council, takes advantage of the All Chief's Conference, which is being held this year in Wapos Bay, to promote T-Bear and his ideas. T-Bear appears on a local radio show and, after deciding to walk from Wapos Bay to Prince Albert to raise money and awareness for programs for the elderly, challenges the chiefs to match donations. Finally, T-Bear declines the nomination for presidency of the NAY Council, giving credit to Talon for all his wonderful ideas. The boys agree to share the responsibility, with Talon as president and T-Bear as VP.
With only three houses in Wapos Bay, trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en lacks excitement, and so the adults decide to make the holiday extra special for the kids this year. They hatch a plan to tell a story in three parts, with one part being told at each of the homes. Aunty Ann begins the story of the "Woman of the Woods" which is about a young woman waiting by a cave for her boyfriend. After hearing the first part of the story, the children take a sage offering to the cave where the woman's spirit sometimes appears. After Kohkum tells the second part, the children must make a trip to the tree where the spirit also visits and leave a tobacco offering. At the cave and at the tree, the children see the ghost of the woman, but they think it is Mushom in disguise and playing a trick on them. They return to Kohkum Mary's for the last part of the story to find out that the woman dies before her boyfriend could see her. At that point, in walks Mushom, claiming that, due to unforeseen circumstances, he was unable to take part in the hoax. In Trick'n'Treats, viewers are left wondering if the children really did see a spirit.
Kohkum Mary has been nominated for an Aboriginal Accomplishment Award for lifetime achievement. The people in Wapos Bay decide to prepare a traditional feast to celebrate. The Hunt chronicles the men's moose-hunting trip on their ATVs. Near-sighted Old Man Gabriel, out in the woods as well, shoots a mother moose, just clipping her side. Frightened by the sound of the shot, her calf runs off. The men try to find the injured mother in order to reunite her with her calf. A game warden appears via helicopter and provides the hunters with some tranquilizer darts. Jacon accidentally shoots himself with the darts- twice! When the cow moose and her calf are safely tranquilized, they are taken to a protected game preserve to recuperate before they are released into the wild. The key themes in this episode are the importance of recognizing individuals' talents and special gifts, ethical hunting practices, and the need to restore balance to the environment, an important belief in Aboriginal culture.
Educational, enjoyable and highly entertaining, this DVD series has a definite place in school libraries.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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