The CBC recently aired a film that deals with the issue of intergenerational trauma in Indigenous peoples and communities. The film is now available online, and you need to watch it.
Tony: Back From the Brink, tells the story of Tony Kalluk, an Inuk from Clyde River, Nunavut, who was in conflict with the law for the first 40 years of his life. The film details Tony’s extreme anger and violence toward others, but it also rewrites the all-too-familiar narrative of Indigenous-person-in-crisis. Director Mike Jaypoody – himself an Inuk – doesn’t stop at the surface issues of addiction or mental health. Instead, Jaypoody unravels the underlying reasons why Tony is angry and violent. Abandoned by his mother and a witness to the murder of his father, Tony’s story is really the story of Indigenous family breakdown.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t mention the role that colonialism had in breaking down social structures within Indigenous communities, which may leave some viewers to explain the poor parenting that Tony and so many other Indigenous peoples receive with familiar myths and stereotypes that judge Indigenous societies as inferior or backward. But the film does do a remarkably good job in examining the issues surrounding developmental trauma in children: how emotionally neglected and abused children learn to assume a caretaking role for their traumatized parents, how children learn to protect their abusers, and how children will internalize the blame for their own abuse. At one point in the film, we hear Tony say that “I wasn’t a good boy” and that he needs to “make amends” with his mother. The film clearly reveals what early interpersonal trauma does to a child’s personality, and how this developmental trauma manifests into the familiar social issues we see in Indigenous communities as these traumatized children become adults and parents themselves.
At the end of the film, Tony asks, “How do I do this?” By highlighting the lack of resources available at the community level, and the pressure that is placed on survivors to help their own people while they are still struggling with their own issues, the film frames healing as a collective endeavour. Tony makes lots of mistakes as he attempts to build a new life, but his story illustrates the central and most important aspect of healing: building connections to others, to the external world, and to self.
Watch the film here.
For an in-depth discussion of the film from an Inuit perspective, and commentary from both Tony Kalluk and director Mike Jaypoody, read this article in Nunatsiaq Online.