As Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School principal Evan Taypotat says, “Never judge a person ’til you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.”
Opening the festival this year, Bee Nation focuses on the lives of several First Nations children, including Grade 3 student William Kaysaywaysemat III as they compete in the first province-wide First Nations Spelling Bee. For William and many others, there’s one way to spell success, but many ways to define it. Bee Nation highlights kids who have dedicated themselves to their education in an inspiring story that encourages us all to be our best selves.
In an interesting twist, Bee Nation focuses its cameras as much on the lives of the children on the reserve as it does on the bee itself. In doing so, the film presents the Bee as an act of justice, creating new opportunities for children who are sociologically marginalized. Repeatedly, we are reminded that participation in the Bee is an opportunity begin an education that could help them to potentially break free from the reserve. As a result, Nation gives a window into the pressures and stresses that these kids put themselves under in order to claim that rare flight to Toronto for Nationals.
Of course, in doing so, the film also reminds us of the ongoing injustice associated with the reserve system as it often creates a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape in the first place. With limited resources and funding in their schools, we are also witness the challenges that the children face in order to receive the same opportunities as others. (“The funding gap is about… $795 000 that we’re underfunded at our school and that’s just our school… It actually breaks my heart right now,” shares one principal.)
However, one of the most glaring positives about Nation is that we witness the support that the children receive from their families and communities. While other films and television shows focused around child competitions often highlight the pressure put on by parents, etc. for the children to succeed, Nation shows the pride that the reserve communities have in their youth as they attempt to improve their education. In other words, Nation reveals the tremendous love and hope amidst the first nations population as they celebrate their children’s hard work as they desire to see their children reach their full potential. Their communities play out as supportive cheerleaders, shouting words of encouragement from the sidelines.
Therein lies the magic of Bee Nation. Of course, throughout the film, we wish the children to succeed. We recognize the inequality that exists for First Nations people and wonder how, within the borders of Canada, such systemic oppression still exists. Still, while our heart breaks in the demand for change, we also bear witness the loving safety net of family that awaits the children behind the scenes, whether they win or lose. In this way, the film upends First Nations stereotypes and challenges us to revise our understandings.
In the end, it’s the heart behind Bee Nation that truly makes it buzzworthy.
Bee Nation plays at the Isabel Bader Theatre on Saturday, May 6th at 6:45pm