'To know we're not alone,' Indigenous Canadian filmmaker visits Ihumātao

By Jessica Tyson

Whānau holding the fort at Ihumātao were paid a visit by indigenous Canadian film producer Doreen Manuel.

Manuel is in the country after being invited as a guest speaker at two conferences in Auckland, including the Power of Inclusion Summit. With her passion to support indigenous people worldwide, it was a priority of hers to learn more about New Zealand's biggest land dispute.

“I’m more interested in knowing the actual people who are living the lives, everyday lives of indigenous struggle, than anything touristy so when I heard about this camp I wanted to be here,” she told Te Ao during her Saturday visit.

“My people in Canada are going through much of the same sort of things that are going on here. We have laws that are built on doctrines of discovery that make no sense. They're laws that allow the government to confiscate our lands and allow them to build developments on some of our scared areas.”

Doreen Manuel and Pania Newton. Photo/File

She says she enjoyed connecting with the whānau at Ihumātao, including SOUL leader Pania Newton.

“It feeds my soul, it's like a sisterhood and brotherhood to know that we're not alone in the struggles that we're facing. And to see the beauty of the children and work that they're doing on practising their culture, it's beautiful.”

Manuel is a producer and writer known for her films that tell stories of indigenous struggle, including Lucky Spirits, These Walls and Freedom Babies.

“We had a ski resort approaching our territories, and so we built a camp up on a mountain and they came down and ripped our whole camp apart and arrested my two nieces and threw them in prison for a few months, and it just made us stronger.”

Pania Newton and Doreen Manuel. Photo/File

Manuel has an extensive background working in First Nations education and community development. Before entering the education and film industry, she worked to build programmes to help recovering heroin addicts, sexual abuse victims and domestic violence victims. She comes from a family of activists.

Her father was George Manuel, an indigenous political leader in Canada who held a number of influential roles throughout his career. This included becoming the president of the North American Indian Brotherhood of British Colombia in 1959, which launched his political career on a national and international stage. 

“It’s about giving that to our children so that they will have that someday, they'll have total freedom to live their culture, the language and the things that our ancestors knew," Manuel says.