By Brian Sumner
Knowing that Muffins For Granny deals with elders’ experiences in an Ontario residential school, I also knew that viewing the film, which was shown January 16 at the Performing Arts Centre, would be difficult. I had not anticipated just how difficult and more importantly how transformative these ninety minutes would be.
As a young art student grieving the loss of her grandmother, Nadia McLaren endeavoured to capture the stories of physical, emotional, sexual and cultural abuse inflicted upon her grandmother’s childhood friends.
We see the precious life cycle of northern Ontario, a bear with cubs, an owl moving at her own pace and we are shaken awake by scenes of rolling thunder, and always the broad shifting drama in the sky.
Experts on conflict resolution have suggested that we can create three stories to help us understand events that overwhelm us. The ‘what happened’ story; the emotional story; and the identity story.
In this film the elders describe ‘what happened’ to them as if it were today-we are present with them in their relentless nightmare lives –from entering the school at six- the imagination running wild at the image of a man nailed to a cross, to being paid in cigarettes for sex at fourteen. The emotional story enters us. Two days later the film was still with me and quietly shovelling our Revelstoke snow, I was able to reflect on the deeper threads of their interwoven identity stories. Every single person had a survivor narrative, resisting the declaration that they were “of the devil” …”worthless”. As they recounted their painful life, stories of alcohol, drugs, and suicide attempts; the eruption of anger and violence, met with jail, each person had found some treasure within themselves – some part of that child they had somehow protected.
Almost all of us are aware of indigenous tricksters, Raven, Coyote… that things are more than they seem; that shapes can shift and in the survival story we can be something else. Post-modern positive psychology shares this view. There is a stance that can (and will) generate post traumatic growth from post traumatic stress. In aboriginal culture this wisdom goes back thousands of years. It is alive and well in gift-giver Nadia McLaren.
From what I can understand, in indigenous cultures gift-giving is a sacred act requiring a reciprocal response -sometimes difficult but invariably tending the soil in which we thrive. Make your gift ninety minutes with Muffins for Granny. It simply must be shown again in Revelstoke soon.
Brian Sumner is a long-time Revelstoke resident a retired social worker