After being separated from his family at age seven, Metatawabin was assigned a number and stripped of his Cree identity. At his residential school, St. Anne’s in northern Ontario—one of the worst in Canada—he was physically and emotionally abused, and was sexually abused by one of the staff. Leaving high school, he turned to alcohol to forget the trauma. He later left behind his wife and family, and fled to Edmonton, where he joined an Indigenous support group that helped him come to terms with his addiction and face his PTSD. By listening to elders’ wisdom, he learned how to live an authentic Indigenous life within a modern context, thereby restoring what had been taken from him years earlier.
Metatawabin has worked tirelessly to bring traditional knowledge to the next generation of Indigenous youth and leaders, as a counsellor at the University of Alberta, Chief in his Fort Albany community, and today as a youth worker, spiritual leader and activist. His work championing Indigenous knowledge, sovereignty and rights spans several decades and has won him awards and national recognition. His story gives a personal face to the problems that beset Indigenous communities and fresh solutions, and untangles the complex dynamics that sparked the Idle No More movement. Haunting and brave, Up Ghost River is a necessary step toward our collective healing. 5-10 B&W Images.