In the near, dystopian future, a war has waged across North America, leaving destruction in its wake. A military occupation controls the land now, and its citizens. They’re forcibly removing children from their families – it’s literally illegal to have a minor at home – and putting them into State Academies where their education is strictly controlled and could easily be confused for brainwashing and propaganda.
Eleven year old Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) has survived out in the bush with her mother, a subsistance, off-grid lifestyle in order to avoid the facial-recognition drones that are always hunting children. Her mother Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) is a Cree woman who intuitively understands how important it is to keep her daughter hidden, but an accident forces them to breach the city limits for the first time in years, and eventually to separate, with Waseese falling into the hands of the Academy. Emboldened to fight back, Niska joins a group of Cree vigilantes to get her daughter back.
If you’re Canadian (or American or Australian), you might recognize the roots of this story. They are part of our shameful colonizers’ history. After stealing the land from underneath the First Nations people here, we did then snatch their kids, threatening parents with prison or worse for failure to comply, and pack them into residential schools where actual education was besides the point. Mostly the schools wanted to assimilate the kids, to stamp the ‘Indian’ right out of them, outlawing their languages and denying their cultures. Away from their parents and their communities, the children were taught to internalize racist stereotypes under the guise of ‘christian’ values. Many children were abused. Many children never returned home. Many survivors still suffer the consequences today, as do several generations of their families.
Director Danis Goulet, who is Cree-Métis herself, uses this atrocity to build a world that reflect this ugly reality. While immersed in a violent future, we are reminded of the past, Goulet finding a unique way to make the two blend seamlessly. Night Raiders is a new chapter in Canadian story-telling, one that can help inform and inspire new ways of addressing and remembering painful subjects that apply in so many of the world’s countries, founded in colonialism.
Night Raiders is an official selection of TIFF 2021.
This film contains scenes that may distress some viewers, especially those who have experienced harm, abuse, violence, and/or intergenerational trauma due to colonial practices.
Support is available 24 hours a day for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and for those who may be triggered by content dealing with residential schools, child abuse, emotional trauma, and racism. The national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419.