A Lifetime Dedicated to Telling the Truth
More from On Manitoba contributor Christine Hanlon's
interview with Coleen Rajotte
by Christine Hanlon [BA/85, BEd/89]
Compelled by the defining experience of the Sixties Scoop, Rajotte, an award-winning independent documentary filmmaker, spent several years researching and producing Confronting the Past, an in-depth examination of the practices surrounding Aboriginal adoptions in Canada during the 1960s,’70s and early ’80s. Approximately 3,000 children were adopted out, some to the United States and beyond. The three-part series aired on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) in 2006 and 2007, twice in Cree and once in English.
“It is so important to me that people understand the full impact of the Sixties Scoop,” says Rajotte, “and that it is a hidden legacy of residential schools.”
Her own Cree birth mother was a victim of the schools, returned to her community after years in an environment bent on “taking the Indian out of the child”. She was struggling with an identity crisis when she became pregnant with Rajotte.
After growing up without any connection to her Cree-Métis roots, Rajotte has made it her life’s mission to ensure the next generations of Aboriginal youth are well aware of their past. “I feel strongly that we have to look at the impacts of colonization,” she explains, “especially for youth, so they can understand why some of their families might be in the situations that they are in today.”
A co-founder of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival—the third largest in North America and now in its 10th year—she was surprised to discover that many of the children attending the films did not know if their grandparents had attended residential schools. “As a child, when I turned on the television, I would see only white faces,” recalls Rajotte. “I told myself, I am going to become a journalist so that one day I can tell the stories of my people.”
In 1990, she joined the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, becoming the first Indigenous woman on network news. Then nine years later, she struck out on her own, launching Rajotte Productions and eventually, Vitality Television, a lifestyle program showcasing health issues—including organic gardening—from a distinctly Aboriginal perspective.
Over the years, Rajotte has been recognized with many awards for her work, including a Blizzard Award from the Manitoba Motion Picture Association and accolades from the Columbus International Film Festival for Jaynelle: It’s Never Easy to Escape the Past. The film profiles a single mother from the Sayisi Dene First Nation trying to rise above the social problems and extreme poverty caused when the federal government relocated the Dene from Duck Lake to Churchill Falls in the 1950s.
Also acclaimed is Rajotte’s Back to Pikangikum, a documentary on Indigenous youth suicide in a community where people live in crowded sub-standard conditions. The film has been broadcast both on APTN and on Maori TV in New Zealand.
During her work with 8th Fire, Rajotte had the opportunity to revisit Pikangikum First Nation for one of several “Dispatches” she prepared for the series’ website. To her dismay, she found the situation to be even worse. An integral part of 8th Fire, the Dispatches also include further work she has done both on the Jaynelle story and the Sixties Scoop.
Image on this page from CBC.ca/doczone/8thfire