The yearly Celebration of Nations in the Niagara Region was held for the sixth consecutive time throughout the weekend of Sept. 9-11, with the purpose of honouring Indigenous artists and their traditions based on the philosophies found in the Two Row Wampum.
For the 2022 celebration, there is a theme of honouring Indigenous matriarchs, and similarly placing a spotlight on the work of female Indigenous leaders, such as Autumn Peltier, the current Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation.
On Sept. 8, the short documentary The Water Walker, which exposes Autumn’s experience advocating for clean water at the United Nations General Assembly, was showcased at The Film House in St. Catharines’ FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Along with the documentary, those who were at the event were able to hear the Mohawk filmmaker, Layla Staats, talk about the devastating experiences that Indigenous people on Turtle Island go through, especially in terms of water insecurity and the mental health struggles that come with it.
Prior to the screening of the documentary, Layla Staats shared a video with the audience of a traditional Haudenosaunee “Thanksgiving Address” in Mohawk, to allow the audience to embrace and thank the Earth, the water and all the other natural resources that surround us.
Following the Thanksgiving Address, the audience had the opportunity to watch the film, which followed Autumn Peltier’s journey as a young environmental activist, and the preparations that she went through before speaking in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and later on in her life pleading the United Nations to work together to combat climate change and water insecurity.
The film itself employed multiple mediums to get its message across, including animated sequences by Christi Belcourt, to communicate Autumn’s struggles as a water advocate, as well as fantastic poetry to convey Autumn’s story on a deeper level.
Additionally, as Staats proceeded to explain once the film was over, Autumn comes from a bloodline of water advocates, such as the Anishinaabe leader, Josephine Mandamin, her great aunt. Likewise, Mandamin was known for her water rights activism, characterized by the fact that she brought awareness to the water pollution issue in Canada by walking the Great Lakes. The audience also had the pleasure to watch Peltier’s full speech at the United Nations, once again presented by Staats.
Nearing the end of the evening, Staats proceeded to engage the audience by allowing a Q&A period. With her vast knowledge of Indigenous struggles, she was able to answer questions regarding boil water advisories and the water insecurity experiences of the Indigenous communities she has visited as part of her journey to create her new upcoming film regarding the issue.
The film screening for the Water Walker was a truly impactful experience that left the audience with much to think about regarding the water advisory issue in Canada, as well as the much larger issues of environmental racism and climate change. That said, the event would not have been able to leave such an emotional impact to the audience without the contributions and wisdom shared by Layla Staats.