Masters

We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice

Alanis Obomsawin

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The new film from celebrated documentarian Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance) chronicles the events following the filing of a human-rights complaint by a group of activists, which charged that the federal government's woefully inadequate funding of services for Indigenous children constituted a discriminatory practice.

For more than four decades, Alanis Obomsawin has chronicled the discriminatory treatment and neglect of First Nations people by the Canadian government, creating some of the most vital and powerful documentaries of our time. Even within this stellar body of work, her latest film stands out. We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice documents the events following the filing of a human rights complaint by a group of activists — including the Assembly of First Nations and the Caring Society, led by the heroic and indefatigable Cindy Blackstock — which charged that the federal government's woefully inadequate funding of services for Indigenous children constituted a discriminatory practice.

As the case wends its way through the legal system, it becomes increasingly clear that this underfunding is a de facto continuation of the notorious residential school system, forcing First Nations to leave their families and reserves in order to access adequate health care, among other things. In one of the most appalling revelations, Obomsawin shows that the bureaucrats responsible for instituting Jordan's Principle — a program designed to help Indigenous kids in dire medical need by removing jurisdictional barriers to government support for long-term care — were either instructed or felt it was their duty to ensure that not a single dime of the program's $11 million in funding would be spent on the children who were supposed to benefit from it. Despite legal setbacks, unconscionable delays, and abhorrent political grandstanding from the government, Blackstock and her fellow activists refuse to give up the fight.

As the legal wrangling drags on, Obomsawin reminds us that children were suffering unnecessarily while the government argued over matters of jurisdiction and took refuge in technicalities. Imbued with Obomsawin's unfailing moral clarity and sense of urgency, We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice is not only a milestone in political documentary but an epic chronicle of a battle against injustice.

STEVE GRAVESTOCK

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