Poster for a film coming to Meaford which tells the story of 10 Indigenous boys who carried a torch 800 kilometres to open the 1967 Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg — only to see a non-Indigenous runner carry the torch into the stadium without them. (Supplied image) Native and non-native runners will leave Neyaashiinigmiing at sunrise next Sunday on an 80-kilometre run ending at Meaford Hall later that day.
That night, the chiefs of Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Saugeen Unceded First Nation and others their community and the Meaford community will watch the film Niigaanibatowaad: FrontRunners.
The screening is an initiative of Christ Church Anglican Church in Meaford. The movie starts at 7 p.m. and admission is free or by donation.
The film tells the story of 10 Indigenous boys who ran 800 kilometres along an ancient message route to bring a torch to the opening ceremonies of the 1967 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg.
They arrived only to see that a non-Indigenous runner would carry the torch into the stadium, while they were sent to restaurant and watched the games on TV.
Nine of the 10 runners were attending residential schools at the time, many of whom suffered abuse at those church-run institutions. They were sent their separate ways, back to their schools.
Two of the 10 original runners will attend the Meaford screening. William Merasty and Bill Chippeway will tell their stories before people break for tea and bannock.
They’ll talk about the role running plays in Indigenous communities, their residential school experience and their healing journey, Laura Robinson said.
Robinson, a writer living in Southampton, in 2000 started writing a play about this historical slight against the boys and their heritage. The play was filmed for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, which co-produced it and aired it in 2007.
“The guys about whose lives the film was based became sort of rock stars. They’re now men in their early 70s,” Robinson said in an interview Sunday. She will introduce the film at the screening.
“And because it’s cited so clearly in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, it has had a wonderful renaissance. And the churches all over Canada are using it for what the churches are calling ‘right relations,’” Robinson said.
The 2015 final report reproduced comments Robinson gave to the commission about her film’s subject, including an interesting footnote to the story.
She told the commission that in 1999, when Winnipeg again hosted the Pan-Am Games, organizers “tracked down the original runners, apologized, and thirty-two years later, as men in their fifties, those runners finished that 400 metres and brought the torch in . . . .”
The commission found “Such stories are indicative of the need for the rich history of Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to sport to become part of Canadian sport history.” Some of its calls to action addressed this.
Robinson interviewed seven of the original 10 runners, and the families of the other three.
She created a composite character for the play, named Thomas, who in the play is sitting in his hotel room in 1999, finally about to enter the stadium for the Pan-Am Games.While he sits there, he reflects on shameful residential school experiences. “He had to come to terms with what he did and what he had no choice about,” Robinson said. “And he can’t move on and pass that torch onto the next generation, until he resolves his past.” Trending in Canada
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