Film about the Kamloops residential school premieres at York

An Aboriginal documentary film that grew out of York University Professor Celia Haig-Brown’s groundbreaking research about students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School will have its Canadian premiere at York on Tuesday, March 17.

The film, Pelq’ìlc (Coming Home), is a collaboration between Haig-Brown and her niece, award-winning filmmaker Helen Haig-Brown of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, located in northern BC near Williams Lake. It tells how the children and grandchildren of people who attended the Kamloops school are regenerating the Secwepemc culture and language and teaching them to their children. The Secwepemc First Nation is located in central BC.

The story begins at the Kamloops school, which was established in Secwepemc territory in 1893. Almost 100 years later, in 1988, Faculty of Education Professor Haig-Brown interviewed a group of the school’s former students and published Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School. Still used by universities and communities across the country, it was one of the first books in Canada to tell the stories of the Kamloops students, and the efforts of residential schools to suppress First Nations languages and cultures.

Almost two decades after the initial research, Haig-Brown and her niece Helen, whose mother had attended the Kamloops residential school, decided to interview the children and grandchildren of the former students.

"A few years ago, I ran into two relatives of people I had originally interviewed for the book, and found they were both working in language immersion schools, teaching children the Secwepemc culture and language, which the residential school had tried to stamp out," says Prof. Haig-Brown. "My niece and I became interested in exploring the place of education in the regeneration of culture."

Right: Filmmaker Helen Haig-Brown (left) and Professor Celia Haig-Brown. Photograph by Alan Haig-Brown.

There are two major themes in the film – the significance of language, and the importance of connection to the land, says Helen Haig-Brown, who has been filming short dramas and documentaries for most of a decade.

"We focused on two families. In one family, the daughter of Kamloops residential school students learned the Secwepemc language when she was in her twenties because she was committed to passing it on to her son," says Helen Haig-Brown. "The other family focuses on raising their children to live with the land."

Pelq’ìlc (Coming Home) was screened at the World of Indigenous People’s Conference on Education, in Melbourne, Australia in December 2008

The Canadian premiere of the film, hosted by the York Centre for Education & Community, is on Tuesday, March 17 from 4:30 to 6:30pm in the Price Family Cinema, 102 Accolade East Building. Admission is free but members of the public should register by March 13, at, or call 416-650-8458.

The screening will be followed by a Q-&-A moderated by Jason Ryle, chair and co-programmer of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.