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Bones of Crows

I recently went to see the film Bones of Crows with three other members of my Hearts Exchanged group. I made sure to put a stash of tissues in my purse - I expected to get quite emotional based on what I had seen in the trailer for the film. I didn’t use any of those tissues. Not because the film avoided hard stories but because the characters were strong and resilient and the painful truths were not manipulated into some kind of gratuitous sentimentality. Still, so many of the painful legacies of the residential school system are woven into the film. There were many moments when a new revelation in the plot brought me back to something that I had explored with my Hearts Exchanged cohort and I was grateful to have experienced that exposure before seeing the film. Knowing that the story is based on true events added an extra layer of shock, disbelief and lament to some of the key scenes. 

One of the main characters, Adam, is a soldier in World War II and is involved in the liberation of the Netherlands. As the daughter of Dutch immigrants to Canada, I grew up hearing many stories of what it was like for some of my family members to have lived through that occupation and I have visited some of the memorials, cemeteries and museums in the Netherlands that preserve that history.  Adam’s experience of being involved in the liberation of a concentration camp was a striking intersection of my family’s history and the Indigenous history portrayed in the film. I was ready to feel gratitude to the liberating soldier(s), but Adam’s reaction in this scene shocked me and sent my heart to grief and lament instead. This is one of the key scenes that has stayed with me and it reminds me that it is imperative that I hear stories in order to move towards a heart exchange, not just information and numbers.

The writer, producer and director Marie Clements speaks of “blood memory” - the idea that we are affected not only by the trauma in our own lives but also by that in the lives of our ancestors. This was evident in the film but it was also clear that there was blood memory of strength and dignity, will and grace. Four generations of strong women love each other fiercely and commission each other to tell the truth and pursue justice in their own unique ways and in their own societal and cultural reality. The film moves smoothly from the past to further back into the past and into the present and the three actors that portray the main character at various points in her life do an excellent job of building the complexity of her personality in a cohesive way. The closing scenes of the film give hope that the First Nations of Turtle Island will not abandon their pursuit of their rightful place, and this hope can inspire non-Indigenous like me to take the next step in climbing the path to the top of the mountain. 

This film is a profound signpost on that path to the top of the mountain and I hope that many justice-seekers who live on this land will take the opportunity to experience Bones of Crows.  

Discussion Questions

Why not watch this film with a group of your own?  Here are some sample questions to guide a discussion after viewing the film.

  • What underlying themes in this film may assist your own thinking as you consider the work of the church (and the CRC) in Canada?
  • What is the film's awareness of the task of humans, communities, societal structures that might be helpful/appropriate for us to consider? 
  • What universal problems confront human beings?  What do humans need in order to flourish?  How/What does the film portray is important in life, and is that portrayal authentic? 
  • How can we respond with sensitivity and integrity to the basic issues of the film? 
  • What challenges does the film create for Christians in the 21st century? 
  • How can you move forward towards an exchange of hearts in light of the themes addressed in the film?  

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