Nokomis, Meneath and Jesus. Image: Provided by the National Film Board

Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics marks its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this weekend. This 20-minute animated film is truly a work of self-discovery, love, wisdom and art.

Meneath — “Island” in Anishinaabemowin — is a beautiful Métis baby contently inhabiting Turtle Island. But the wonder and innocence of her childhood is shattered when Jesus decides it’s time to indoctrinate Meneath in the ways of the church, which means of course, explaining her inevitable everlasting fall from grace because of the so-called sins of humanity.  The abuse and racism Meneath endures leaves her riddled with self-loathing and fear.

Meneath is convinced her ultimate fate lies in Hell. Fortunately, Nokomis, the Great Mother of the Ojibway, appears to gently guide Meneath toward her true destiny — her ancestral spiritual journey.

What follows is the re-awakening of Meneath’s mind and spirit as the Seven Deadly sins laid out by Jesus are countered and trumped by the Seven Sacred Teachings that Nokomis knows inherently lie deep within Meneath’s DNA. For every alleged Sin, Meneath is given a Teaching that fills her with strength and pride eventually providing a path that leads to her healing.

Film maker Terril Calder invites viewers to contemplate the shared legacy of those who were the original inhabitants and stewards of Turtle Island and those who arrived uninvited to colonize a land that was not theirs to take. Through Meneath we see that the colonizers have never conquered the indomitable human spirit of those original caretakers of Turtle Island.

Born in Fort Frances, Ontario, and now based in Toronto, Métis artist Terril Calder utilizes darkly beautiful stop-motion animation to lay bare Meneath’s inner turmoil with unflinching honesty. Calder’s tour-de-force unearths a hauntingly familiar yet hopeful world that illuminates the bias of colonial systems.

Featuring the voices of Gail Maurice as Nokomis, Kent McQuaid as Jesus, Lake Delisle as Meneath and Terril Calder as the narrator, Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics is part of the Short Cuts Programme at TIFF. The digital premier screening is Saturday, September 11 at 3 p.m.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence

Image: Provided by the National Film Board.