Women save an Indigenous language in new documentary

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'Keep Talking' is screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival

As mainstream Canadian conversations are finally honed in on reconciliation, it’s essential that progressives continue to reframe the colonial narrative and support indigenous struggles for decolonization and self-determination.

A vital element of this is the reclaiming of language and story.

This year, the Vancouver International Film Festival 2017 premieres the film Keep Talking directed by Karen Lynn Weinberg.

Keep Talking documents the mission of four young women in Kodiak, Alaska, and their efforts to revitalize the endangered Alutiiq language.

The film successfully interconnects the great strides taken by the women, who set out to educate the local youth on the Alutiiq language, with the greater historical trauma which the local community has suffered. A microcosm for self-determination the world over, the film shines a light on the power of preserving language and culture as a way of collective healing.

Weinberg, who had originally been called to the region to provide training in editing, grew close to the community in Kodiak and was invited back to film the documentary over the course of what became five years. Her experiences learning from the local community have inspired her and led her to examine what it means to be a community, fighting the odds, pulling people from tragedy, and what we can all learn from that.

“The power of language is largely untapped,” Weinberg states. Western-centric knowledge doesn’t acknowledge the importance of indigenous storytelling. It often places a hegemony on story, holding up biblical tales as the norm, and traditional indigenous stories as ‘folklore.’ As such, the preservation and reclamation of Alutiiq language and story is a “metaphor for the various challenges and historical trauma the community has faced.”

Despite the inevitable and necessary heavy subject matter, Keep Talking permits a look forward to women as the guardians of their culture, and agents of change. Much like the title of the film and the efforts of its leaders, we are invited to keep striving for change, whether on the economic, social, or familial level; and whether perfect or a work in progress—as long as indigenous communities have the resources to reclaim their language, and by means of which, their story.

For those in Vancouver, the film’s second screening will be this Thursday at 10:45am at International Village Theatre.

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