Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge Releases Video to Commemorate Red Paper Anniversary

Kate Turner - 22 July 2021

In May 2021, the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge (WLGL) released a 15-minute short film entitled Beading Red: The Red Paper Through Generations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Red Paper. The Red Paper, formally known as Citizens Plus, was presented by the Indian Association of Alberta on June 4th 1970 as a response and push back to Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s government’s White Paper, a discussion paper that would have removed Aboriginal and treaty rights and changed the relationships between Canada and First Nations’ peoples.

The documentary is available to view for free on the WLGL’s YouTube page. It describes the history and context of the creation of the Red Paper, focusing on the role of women and familial relationships through the lens of beadwork. The importance of these relationships and the treaty relationships are connected through the responsibility to transmit forward the treaty relationships emphasised through the Red Paper. The video highlights the work of women in politics and their essential roles in the background of, and within, organizations during this period. Beadwork, like the Red Paper, conveys love and hope for the future.

The idea for a commemoration began in December 2019, when Tanya Kappo, executive producer, approached the WLGL about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Red Paper on June 4th 2020. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no opportunity to meet in-person for an anniversary event. Instead, they decided to make the Beading Red film.

Given the pandemic, some changes were made to the creation of the film, Conor McNally, director and executive producer, described. The filming took place in one day in a studio, rather than at people’s homes, which he wanted in his original vision for the film to give the feeling of kitchen table storytelling. However, while the film might have been different without the pandemic, restrictions are not necessarily all bad, he explained.

“I heard a quote recently and I can’t remember which director said this, but ‘if it is exactly as what you envisioned at the beginning of the process, it means that you didn’t actually get into a super creative mode,’ because I think in lots of ways, restrictions, they pose challenges, and so then you kind of have to work around them, and that, in some ways, that kind of forces creativity,” he said.

This project was interesting because he worked so closely with executive producers Dr. Shalene Jobin, executive producer and WLGL co-founder, Tara Kappo, executive producer, and Tanya Kappo, he said. While in his previous films he consulted with the other members of a project, this film was more collaborative.

“[The film being more collaborative] is not a bad thing at all,” he added. “In some ways, I feel better about it, because the story is so personal for Tara and Tanya that it would be weird if I was the total auteur-director. I think that would be the wrong approach in making this kind of film, because it’s their family story, so they should have a ton of input in how that story is told.”

He was drawn to the project because of the importance of the history it shares, he said, and was really proud to be part of it and contribute his skills to telling the story. It wasn’t long ago that he was a university student, writing papers and reading secondary sources, he added, and now he is fortunate to create and work with primary sources and conduct interviews about this history.

The documentary was important to make, Dr. Shalene Jobin described in an interview about the film for ELMNT FM, to pass down these significant moments in Indigenous history to younger generations who might not know the story, and to expand that history.

“Thinking about Indigenous women at that time, and First Nations women and their organizing and their supportive roles at that time was something that we don’t hear enough about, so it was neat to tie that in,” she said.

At the virtual launch of the film on April 30, 2021, Lewis Cardinal, Cardinal family member, talked about how the film emphasizes the power and critical roles of women in supporting leaders to realize their goals, a part of the Indigenous history in Canada that he thinks is missing. This power is demonstrated through the beadwork shown in the film.

“The jackets and the beadwork and the thoughts and everything that was put into it really brings back to me that sense of responsibility and how, because our women worked so hard, that our men were able to succeed,” he said.

One of her hopes for the film, Tanya Kappo shared at the launch, is that it prompts conversations and understanding about women and their roles in the Red Paper.

“As an Indigenous woman, I often look to see where our involvement was in things that happened because I know we were always there. I feel like it’s really critical that we start to make sure that that perspective and that involvement is talked about and taught about...because the whole effort was a collective effort, and so many people were involved,” she said.

She added in the ELMNT FM interview that her father, while usually credited with the Red Paper, said it was a collective effort of the Indian Association of Alberta, with involvement from Elders and leadership throughout Alberta.

In the discussions early on about what the documentary would look like, beading “emerged immediately” as something that should be part of the story the film was sharing because it emphasizes the involvement of women in the Red Paper and politics during that time, Tanya Kappo said.

“Much of the financing that took place to sort of enable the leadership to do what they did was through the selling of arts and crafts, and so that’s another important element of the beadwork to the story of the Red Paper,” she added.

At the virtual launch, Tara Kappo shared about the inclusion of beadwork as a central part of the film and how it related to her master’s thesis work and the connections she was thinking about at the time.

“I’m just so immersed in that, that I kind of start to think through beadwork now...[so] what we were coming to as we were developing this film, it just kind of all connected back. I don’t think that was intentional on our part as much as it was something that needed to come through, and I think part of the reason, perhaps, was because I have that connection right now that it just kind of set the stage,” she said. “But it was one of the things that unfolded so beautifully to me and so meaningfully, and it really does stand in, not just with my kohkom’s work, but really kind of where I was coming from at the time, and still is a really important piece to me is that notion of women’s work, and to be able to celebrate that.”

In the interview, Dr. Jobin and Tanya Kappo spoke about some of the deeper significance of beading and beadwork. It is also a lens into an Indigenous worldview and the teachings within and through the beading, through which we can gain a better understanding of treaty. The beadwork is also a legacy piece, with important things beadwork carries with it through the generations. The prayers are still with the work and the people who wear it.

Lorraine Cardinal-Roy, Cardinal family member, spoke during the launch event about the meaning of the beading on Harold Cardinal’s jackets.

“I think, too, it demonstrated the love that Harold had for our mother and even though she wasn’t a part of it, being [on] the front line, but always in the background. For me, it symbolized that he was proud of who he was, and who created the jacket for him and to, sort of, show that off to the people, what Indigenous women can do with their artwork,” she shared.

Tanya Kappo described the video as a “legacy piece,” which can be referred back to and watched again, compared to an event, which happens and then is over.

Along with the film, the WLGL released a recommended reading and resource list for people interested in learning more about the Red Paper, and in the future there is potential to create a teaching guide to go with the video. Overall, the hope for the video is to share the history and spark larger conversations about the Red Paper, and the impact and activity around the country and in different communities at that time.

“One of the things we’re hoping that it does is to open the door to talking about the bigger story, that people start to think about the Red Paper in the context of their own lives and maybe in their own families...and more of the story will be spoken and talked about and shared and really grow that sort of narrative and important part in our history,” Tanya Kappo said in the interview. “I want to hear those stories,…how did it play out across the country, and bring those stories back to life, to our remembrance, because what it does is it empowers us and helps propel us forward in the work we still need to do,” she shared at the panel.