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[Today journalist and Canadian correspondent Dodie Graham McKay shares an interview with a Alma Kakikepinace, a woman who was protesting living conditions on Sagkeeng First Nation.  If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now in the home stretch. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that supports your spiritual community. Donate to The Wild Hunt today.]

SAGKEENG FIRST NATION First Nation, MB – On Sept. 21, Alma Kakikepinace embarked on a hunger strike to protest the lack of safe and healthy housing in her community. In addition to not eating any solid food, she has set up a protest camp and moved into a tent on the land adjacent to the trailer that she once called home.

Alma Kakikepinace (photo by D.G. McKay)

Alma Kakikepinace [Photo by D.G. McKay]

Four years ago, her trailer was damaged by a storm, in which a sheer wind knocked it off of its foundation. Since that point, the trailer has not had electricity or running water. It has also become infested with black mold, which has been making her sick. For years, her band council has repeatedly promised to assist and to find a new home, but nothing has been delivered.

Kakikepinace is now waiting at her camp for Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson to deliver the promised help. Delays and politics are long and complicated with any First Nations issues. Various levels of government and bureaucracy, from the federal Canadian government to the band chief and council, are involved.

These conditions are commonplace on many of Canada’s First Nations reservations, and the province of Manitoba has some of the worst conditions in the country. Government documents, obtained by The Canadian Press through Access-to-Information legislation show Manitoba has the second-highest percentage of First Nations people living in dilapidated housing in the country. According to a 2014 United Nations Human Development Index report, quality of life on Manitoba First Nations ranks the lowest in Canada.

The black mold in Kakikepinace’s trailer is a common problem in Sagkeeng. These shelters were not designed to withstand the climate. But they are cheap for the government to supply, and commonly used on First Nations land across the country. Kakikepinace explained how federal health inspectors visited her:

“My house was studied three times. And when the federal health representative came up, I said you know you have done this three times, why are you doing this, what’s the point, nothing has changed in four administrations. He told me ‘Every time we study your home, Sagkeeng gets a shot in the arm for mold repairs.’ So if I’ve been studied three times, why haven’t I been repaired at least once? This is typical of reservations all across Turtle Island. I can say whatever I want, it’s not a black eye to the chief and council; It’s a black eye in the way the government is held over the First Nation people.”

Kakikepinace lives on her ancestral land at Sagkeeng First Nation, located 125 KM (78 miles) north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1871, her great-great grandfather was one of the chiefs who signed Treaty #1, the agreement between the First Nations people and the white settlers for the land of southern Manitoba. By 1968 the housing crisis was already out of control.

Kakiepinace’s father was speaking out publicly about the deplorable conditions at Sagkeeng and was featured on the national news program “W5,” describing how the government bought and then gave to his family a condemned 20’ X 16’ house. The newsreel shows Kakikepinace as a smiling six-year-old child in a white dress,with her parents and eight siblings, all crammed into the tiny house.

Sam Mann, father of Alma Kakikepinace, and six-year-old Alma (screen grab from W5 expose, 1968)

Sam Mann, father of Alma Kakikepinace, and six-year-old Alma [Screen shot from W5 expose, 1968]

Not much has changed since then. In an interview at her camp with The Wild Hunt,  Kakikepinace spoke of how her home community was just one example of the failure of the system around her: “Sagkeeng is representative of many, many First Nations in what we know as Canada. But in truth, Sagkeeng is representative of the housing and the politics and the conditions across what I prefer to call, in the elder legends, Turtle Island.”

She also has this special message for the leader of Canada: “Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, Justin Trudeau – I need to speak to you, face to face. I have a message about the First Nation housing crisis. I need to speak it to your face. I trust in Justin Trudeau to receive this message, which was cut off by the mainstream media.”

Many people have come to her aid, offering moral, financial, and spiritual support. One such helper is Michelle McNeill, a Witch and activist from Winnipeg. “I first met Alma in June of 2013 at a Womyn’s Gathering of All Nations, spear-headed by the indigenous women who got the direction through a shake tent ceremony, with bones that were unearthed from an ancient ancestor on sacred land in the Whiteshell (a provincial park and heritage site). Alma officially became a clan mother at the end of that first retreat in 2013. In 2014, she returned to the 2nd Womyn’s Gathering of All Nations to continue to share her teachings and spiritual service. We bonded deeply at these gatherings as spiritual allies.”

In addition to being in regular contact with Kakikepinace for moral support, McNeill has been making the drive from Winnipeg to transport supplies and visitors to Sagkeeng. She also set up a funding campaign to raise money for additional supplies, such as firewood, tarps, and equipment to keep the camp running. She stresses that all of the money raised goes directly to this cause.

Kakikepinace's camp, with mold-infested trailer in background (photo by Dodie McKay)

Kakikepinace’s camp, with mold-infested trailer in background [Photo by D. G. McKay]

Chief Derrick Henderson did communicate with Kakikepinace on several occasions via phone and text. He also made some visits to the camp promising that the funds, which had been earmarked for mold repair, would be signed over to her. With those funds, he reportedly said, she could purchase a new trailer, and get out of the elements for the winter until a more permanent home could be arranged.

The days of her hunger strike stretched into weeks, and no settlement was forthcoming.

As her protest progressed, Kakikepinace found herself moving into a softer, more spiritual, trance-like place. She was able to receive guidance and teachings from the Creator. It was then that she began referring to her protest as a spiritual fast to reflect this transition.

Other visitors to the camp included two provincial politicians, Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Judy Klassen, MLA for Kewatinook, along with Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights and former Manitoba Liberal Party Leader. They promised to help carry her message to Ottawa, the capitol of Canada, and to Parliament.

By Oct. 5, and day 15 of her spiritual fast, Kakikepinace came to the conclusion that her beloved cat, Pootie, would need to find a new home. She could no longer care for him properly at the camp. She had rescued him from the local dump as a tiny kitten, but with the uncertainties she was facing, Kakikepinace felt that he deserved better. A post was made to the Facebook page for the camp on Pootie’s behalf. He now has a new home in Winnipeg.

Visitors from Standing Rock with Kakikepinace (centre) Courtesy photo

Visitors from Standing Rock with Kakikepinace (centre) [Courtesy photo]

On Oct 14, visitors from Standing Rock, North Dakota and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) came to lend their support to Kakikepinace. They brought with them two charred logs from the sacred fire at Standing Rock. They pitched in to help with chores and held a ceremony, joining Kakikepinace’s sacred fire to the one at Standing Rock.

On Oct. 19 and Day 29 of her spiritual fast, Kakikepinace was midway through her interview with us when she received a text from Chief Derrick Henderson. He was offering to give her a cheque, to settle her claim for mold damage. This would enable her to purchase a shelter to get through the imminent winter. With temperatures going down to freezing at night, this could not have happened soon enough. Through an exchange of texts, witnessed by TWH, an understanding was made that the cheque would be forthcoming by early the following week, Oct 23 – 29.

Based on this information and in good faith, Kakikepinace broke her fast that evening. After 29 days without consuming anything except lemon water and tiny amounts of bone broth, an exhausted, cold, and drained Alma Kakikepinace was able to eat food again. She was determined to maintain the camp and sacred fire until the funds were transferred, and the new winter shelter arrived.

The following day, her spokesperson, helper and adopted brother, Robert Peters, posted the following to Facebook:

Alma’s health has taken a turn for the worse, with issues around ending her month-long fast. An ambulance was sent to the campsite two hours ago, but she has refused medical care. She is determined to hear from Chief Henderson the words “Your cheque is ready.” He has been promising this for over a week now (when he last visited her at the camp), and still only sends her text messages saying “I am working on it.

Things became very touch and go over the next few days. A nurse who had frequently visited her in the camp throughout the spiritual fast went to check on her and assess her physical state. Kakikepinace accepted traditional medicine. This worked to balance out her medical problems that appear to have been a cardiac episode.

As of Oct. 26, Kakikepinace has accepted delivery of an 18-foot trailer, which is being winterized with help from her friends. She will not leave her ancestral land and is committed to staying for the winter in the trailer, which is now located beside the protest camp. Her fight is not just to secure her own housing; her fight is to draw attention to the unacceptable housing that First Nations people across the country are forced to accept.

How far will she go? How long will she fight? In her own words, Kakikepinace said:

‘Until I die’ – it was not flippantly said. I am willing to give my life. Tired of the status quo, tired of a dark world where indifference has become the norm, tired of my tribe being left out and imprisoned in a world of imbalance. Harsh words? Harsh world, from my perspective. My truth, many people’s truth. I’m sure there are many people who could say this in the world and be there, living it. So not to be using all the baser emotions, fear based, you name it – but if all the nations rise together at this time, and topple the lie that became truth, and put it back into perspective, this change that needs to happen, is not on a physical plane, and I’m not afraid to sound like a nutty case when I say that, there are many, many people who can relate to what I’m saying

The protest camp has been open to visitors from all paths and cultures. Kakikepinace has served as an elder and mentor for many people, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, who want to learn and understand the traditional ways of the First People of Turtle Island. Her thoughts are quoted in the introduction to the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission’s final report that was published last year:

The healing is happening – the reconciliation…I feel that there’s some hope for us not just as Canadians, but for the world, because I know I’m not the only one. I know that Anishinaabe people across Canada, First Nations, are not the only ones. My brothers and sisters in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland – there’s different areas of the world where this type of stuff happened…I don’t see it happening in a year, but we can start making changes to laws and to education systems…so that we can move forward.

Michelle McNeill sees this as an opportunity for Witches, Pagans and practitioners of earth-based spirituality to stand together. She said: “We are stronger when we are able to rise up together united as people of the earth who are here to honor and protect the earth. We all practice earth-based spirituality and are united in our mutual reverence for the earth, elements, and cycles. I honestly believe we all hold pieces of a much larger puzzle and when we are open to healing and sharing with each other the puzzle pieces start to come other and the teaching of our ancestors become more potent and powerful.”

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Michelle McNeill and Alma Kakikepinace [Courtesy photo]

At long last, on the anniversary of the fifth week of her protest at 5:00 pm, the moment Kakikepinace has struggled to achieve finally happened. Chief Henderson drove up the muddy driveway to the trailer. He delivered the long-overdue settlement cheque to Kakikepinace personally. It is not enough to purchase or build a new permanent home, but it is a start.

As per the agreement, Kakikepinace took down the “Housing Needed” sign that had marked the gateway to her camp. The tents will be taken down by a volunteer work party on Saturday. However, this is just the end of the first chapter in the long road of advocacy on which Kakikepinace has embarked. She will not back down in her fight to make sure the others in her community in need of clean, safe, and healthy housing get help. She refers to these neighbours as “The 500,” as she estimates there are at least 500 homes in need of repair or replacement. Many of The 500 visited her camp to offer support when she needed it, and now she will return the favour.

Funds are still being accepted by McNeill at the GoFundMe page, and updates on the protest can be found on the Facebook page.

 

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The land has its own magic. The whispers of the rolling hills of Northern California speak in a different tongue than that of the long flat lands of lower Alabama. The spirit of place can greatly contribute to the culture, presence and practice of magic in any one regional area.

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

There are different terms, traditions and beliefs that encompass concepts of regional magic or spirit of place. Different cultures relate to it in unique ways; yet there is continued historical significance to the practices of cultures and of people who have a reverence for the specific magic of local lands and regional areas. The spirit of place often refers to physical characteristics of a location, and can also reference attributes that have to do with myths, history, ancestors, spirits, art, stories, communities, superstitions or even collective memories. The energy and associations changes from one regional area to another.

Today, many modern magic practitioners work with regional magic as a part of their normal practice.

The pulse of the land tells many stories. People of many different Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen and earth worshiping traditions tap into the mysteries of place, looking for the soul of the space in which they work. The regional stories of particular areas can be a significant link between spirituality, home, worship, and belonging. These regional differences often contribute to rituals, observances, practices, and cultures all of which, as a result, are very personal to the specific area or a specific group of people.

I became increasingly fascinated with what I refer to as “regional magic” after my own trip down south to the birthplace of my mother. The magic I felt there was unlike anything I experienced at home in California; the magic of the land in Alabama was vastly different. when I touched and worked with the soil in my mother’s hometown, I was able to connect to such a sense of survival, history, culture and intense historical significance. The magic in the land moved me immensely, and I made a point to touch and collect a piece of it throughout the city while I was there. This brought up a lot of questions about my relationship to the land, the way that regional connections impact practice, and how the spirit of a place can connect to us in ways that we cannot always anticipate.

Photo by Crystal Blanton

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

How does the spirit of place influence magical practice? I reached out to a few others who have varied traditions and are from different places in order to see what they thought.

Many polytheists of revived religions honor spirits, gods, and other divine beings tied to particular places. I, and many other polytheists, worship Old Man Mississippi, the nymph of Cold Water Springs, and the good spirits of our particular neighborhood. – Cara Schulz

I’m blessed to live in Michigan, home of the Great Lakes. These are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, containing more than a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. The inland of Michigan contains about 11,000 lakes, 300 rivers and more than 12,000 miles if fresh water trout streams. Michigan is water, and water is a primary sacred medicine in my magical path.

Protecting water is an essential part of the magic I do. There are many threats to Michigan’s fresh water. This sacred resource is threatened by agricultural runoff, large scale factory farming, hydraulic fracturing (fracking)/injection wells and privatized water companies to name a few. I chant songs about the water, offer up prayers with a Pipe, offer my thirst and sweat in the Lodge and put my boots on the ground when it’s time to stand up and be heard. I do all this practical and esoteric magic in the name of water.

I am also blessed to live on the Chippewa River, where the sounds of water and the life it sustains are abundant. Next to the river, a large patch of sweetgrass grows each summer.  Sweetgrass is another sacred medicine to me and it is heavily dependent upon water. Harvesting it to give-away and sell at spiritual gatherings is a yearly ritual that ties me to the people, land and water. Michigan’s bountiful waters have guided my path much like the banks of the river guide the flow of sacred water to the sea. Water connects us all! – Jim Esralian

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

We celebrate the Pachamama in Argentina and we do offerings to her such as fruits, grains etc. I think this is one of the reasons why I love connecting with Mother Nature and a great part of my practice has that orientation. For me is important because it connects me with my roots and my ancestors by continuing connecting with the land. When I go back, I usually bring back soil and water to use in my magical work here in USA. The Spirit of the place is very powerful and very different from the spirit of the place I live here. My magic does not seem impacted but the support and the vibrations are different. There is more than one way to lead you to rome so the destination may be the same but the way you get there is different. – Carolina A. Amor

Outside of First Nation’s Spirituality there is not really any kind of regional based magick in my local area, although Canada is quite vast and depending on where one lives, experiences can be quite diverse. Seeing as Manitoba is located in the bible belt of Canada and Winnipeg is primarily land locked (Minneapolis is the closest major centre), magickal practices are slow moving in coming to the area, which is one of the major reasons why serious local magickal practitioners tend to travel.

In my local community you have two choices for regional based magic: First Nation’s Spirituality or the surrounding land itself becomes the source of magick and spiritual inspiration. Being acutely conscious of not wanting to contribute to colonization and mis-appropriation of First Nation’s Spirituality, the land becomes hugely important in my personal practice and in the practice of my working group. Last year, I spent the entire summer building an outdoor temple space with a cairn that acts as a permanent altar and shrine for the local land spirits. While I do have an indoor temple space, the outdoor space allows for a connection to the land and spirits while still being located in a heavily populated core area of Winnipeg. It truly becomes a world between worlds.

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Winnipeg is located where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River (called The Forks) and for centuries was a major trade centre and Aboriginal meeting place. The land has seen much; is rich with history and energetic presence, in the end, most of the magickal practices here are imports that are superimposed or assimilated into the landscape that creates a patchwork quilt of experiences for the individual practitioner.

The influences of the land  and the events that have occurred in the area have affected everything about my personal magickal practice. It has created a strong need for environmental and anti-racist activism. It has also allowed room for much healing work, which extends to myself personally, to others and to the land. The Winnipeg magickal community is still quite young and still trying to find itself. This unfortunately means that my explanation on regional magick doesn’t come in a nice neat bow. – Dominique Smith

For lack of a better explanation, I am a city priestess. I connect to the energies of land, human history, and geologic/meterological history in densely populated places and use it to weave connective tissue between city and citizens. To me magic happens in several different spheres. But to truly prosper you must do your best to become symbiotic to your environs. This can take a long time and is an imperfect process.

As the connection to a city deepens, it reveals more of its secrets and mysteries. San Francisco is bombastic – wants to show you everything all at once. Minneapolis has trust issues and offers a little bit more at every gesture of curiosity. It isn’t quite the same as land magic as we usually know it because to some degree you accept the environmental damage and try to make it into a greater good rather than trying to heal it into its original form. A little more repurpose and recycle, though reduce still has its place. It also involves seeing all politics as a system of illusions – even my own. To part the veil of the city is to see through its history, to understand its fights, and thus to see its heart. – Diana Rajchel

As an activist, my regional magic is focused on creating societal change. As a nexus point of change for this country, working magic like that allows me to tap right into the core of decision-making in this country. Most witches in DC take our role as stewards of positive change, activism, and healing very seriously because of that.

DC’s spirit of place is very complex and working with it is challenging. Historically, there is much misery connected with this place. All around me I see land that for so long was poisoned with slavery, systemic economic depression, and unfair labor conditions. But it also holds a spirit of hope, opportunity, and democracy. This requires magic-workers here to both hold space for the injustices that continue to occur here while also doing what we can to push the needle towards fairness. This land requires an acknowledgement of history if one is to work with it with any success. – David Salisbury

Photo of Alabama land by Crystal Blanton

Lands of Alabama [Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

People all over the world have different associations with the land, and the interpretations of the spirit of place is vast. The spiritual implications of a particular place, how it contributes to practice, and people’s association with regional spirituality is complex and often layered. Working within the elements and needs tied to a region can bring forth a myriad of specific magic and connection that only make sense within the context of its location. Working with the magic of the land to heal from the drought makes a lot of sense in California, where it does not make sense in Minnesota.

Whether in the politics of Washington D.C., the dry lands of California, or the waters of the Great Lakes, the land talks and has many stories to tell. Our connections to where we are planted will help to dictate our response to our communities and how we see our responsibility to local needs. It also helps us to shape who we are, and where we are in our spiritual practice and our personal sense of self.

How does your physical location impact or influence your magic or practice? Thinking about our relationship to regional magic and the spirit of place within our own regional communities can give us critical information about culture, spirits and what influences mold our personal practices.

Two weeks ago, I reported on the production and release of the film The WinniPagans by Dodie Graham McKay.  Shortly after that article was posted, Covenant of the Goddess’ North California Local Council (NCLC) offered to host a screening at PantheaCon.  The screening will be held in presidential suite 1054 on Sunday, February 17 at 10am.  Dodie will be on hand to field questions and take comments.

Last week I was fortunate enough to receive my very own copy for review. It wasn’t long after my trip to the mailbox that I was comfortably settled into to my seat, popcorn in hand, to watch the film.  In anticipation of the U.S. premiere of The WinniPagans, here is my review:

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Film Review: The WinniPagans

The twenty-five minute documentary is a gentle examination of Pagan life through the eyes of the WinniPagans.  Dodie takes us on a journey into their personal lives, their homes, their workplaces, and their social spaces.  On camera, the WinniPagans share stories, reflect on experiences and discuss the unique regional challenges that they face in Winnipeg.  The film feels like a sampling or an appetizer, if you will, to something much greater.  It gives us a peak behind a curtain into something that seems foreign but, yet, at the same time very familiar.

Two highlights of Dodie’s film are the lyrical pipe music of Glen Hoban and the poetry of Kate Bitney.   Hoban’s original pipe music decorates the entire film and fits neatly with the central soundtrack.  Because Hoban is member of the WinniPagan community, the use of his music gives the film a fuller authenticity.  I also enjoyed seeing Hoban circling the maypole while playing the pipes. The image is suggestive of Pan and lends a festive, lightheartedness to the scene.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban, and sound editor Norm Dugas

kate_photo

Kate Bitney

Similarly, poet Kate Bitney makes an appearance reading her poem “The Forest Hag” while standing on a snow-covered hill. The composition and the progression of this sequence are quietly beautiful offering a welcomed pause in the film’s narrative.  The winter landscape imagery complements Bitney’s poetry creating a deep feeling of stillness. It is like a contemplation, which Dodie enforces by superimposing a Goddess image on the sun. Visually speaking, Bitney, herself, fits perfectly into the sequence with her white beret and her flowing hair.  Her her own natural grace glows as she shares her poetry.  It’s an entrancing moment.      

Overall, I enjoyed the film.  I only had two minor concerns.  First, there were times when I wanted classic voice-over narration. Dodie uses the progression of interviews to move the narrative along. This is a common documentary device, one that keeps the audience very present in the film.  However, there were times that I longed for more detail that could have been provided by a narrator.

Secondly, I was very eager to learn about the WinniPagans’ unique world.  Unfortunately, the first third of the film focuses more on personal spiritual journeys.  The stories themselves were indeed interesting but I wanted more Winnipeg.  When Dodie does finally get to the community, she paints a very satisfying picture.

With that said, both of my complaints are a matter of viewer perspective.  The film was not intended for me – an American Pagan.  Dodie created a story for general Manitoba audiences.  The intended viewers most likely understood many of the visual cues that I missed.  They saw things that I didn’t, simply because of their perspective. Narration wasn’t necessary for them.

Winnipeg in Winter Courtesy of Flickr's noricum

Winnipeg in Winter
Courtesy of Flickr’s noricum

In the same vein, Dodie had to contextualize the film for her non-Pagan audiences through some basic explanations of Wicca and Witchcraft.  As a Pagan, I didn’t need these explanations so I wanted to move on.  But, Dodie did what good filmmakers do.  She sculpted her story to fit her audience and she did so effectively as proven by the positive viewer responses in Winnipeg.

The WinniPagans ends with Dodie, the crew, and the volunteers celebrating a traditional Winnipeg Beltane.  Despite the overcast skies and chill in the air, the festivities go on.  The shots vary from interviews, to children, to dancing and to the erecting of the maypole.  Surprisingly, Dodie cut in some behind-the-scenes footage of her crew rigging, quite possibly, the first ever “MayPole Cam.”

The Beltane sequence is comprised of a very honest series of moments that juxtapose the structured interviews and landscape photography.  This festive ending is a real tribute to the camaraderie and good-natured fun present in this community.  Dodie continues the fun well into the credits.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's ComeIlMare

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s ComeIlMare

The Beltane ending really brought the film home for me.  As the WinniPagans danced a familiar dance and used familiar words, I joined them in celebration.  As American viewers, we expect this film to take us on a journey somewhere truly unique.  And it does, but at the same time, we find commonalities that allow us to strongly identify with the WinniPagans despite regional differences.  “Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.”

The WinniPagans is an insightful and entertaining documentary with well-spoken interviews and beautiful imagery.  I urge everyone to see this film whether at PantheaCon, next weekend, or at future screenings.  Bravo to Dodie for demonstrating how we can make professional-quality and meaningful indie films about ourselves.  Through films like this, we can introduce new visual definitions of words like “Witch” to general film language. We can also use such films in interfaith work and intrafaith education. The possibilities are endless.  I hope to see more from Dodie in the future.

For those who missed it, here’s the trailer:

 

Correction: Dodie just informed me that her crew was not fashioning the “Maypole Cam” to the pole in the Beltane sequence.  They were tying the ribbons.  However, the video equipment is visible on top so I thought that is what was going on.  Ribbons or Camera… it all worked.

 

Winnipeg is a city of 691,800 people nestled in the Southern portion of Manitoba, Canada.  It is the capital of this central providence and the 8th largest metropolis in the country. On the map, Winnipeg is about 90 miles north of the U.S. border and 650 miles NW of Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the tourism industry, Winnipeg calls itself a “little big city” and the “cultural cradle of Canada.”

Winnipeg

City of Winnipeg
Photo Credit: donnieslarue, Flickr

Within all its hustle and bustle, Winnipeg is home to a group of people who call themselves the WinniPagans. It’s a catchy term; the origins of which are unknown. However, it is used endearingly to refer to a small, tightly-knit community of approximately 600 Pagans who live in and around Winnipeg. In 2012, these WinniPagans became the subject of a short documentary that was written, produced and directed by one of their own, Dodie Graham McKay.

Dodie, a native of Winnipeg, is an indie filmmaker who found a love of filmmaking through unexpected circumstance. In 2005, after returning from living in England, Dodie needed a job – any job.  With a friend’s help, she was hired as a production coordinator in a local documentary film office. From there she learned filmmaking skills which eventually led to her co-directing the documentary-short, “West Central: A View From Here” with her husband, Jeff McKay.

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

Filmmakers Dodie McKay & Jeff McKay

“WinniPagans” is Dodie’s first solo “flight.”  She recalls:

My high school English teacher used to say “Write about something you love”. When I wanted to make my first film I had to think about what I love that would be the subject for my project. My pagan community was the first and foremost thing I could think of.  

The 25-minute documentary explores this thriving Pagan community that resides in Canada’s cultural cradle. Dodie remarks:

“I really felt quite strongly that this community was due for some sort of document to mark the progress we have made. Many of the folks in the film have been active since our community went public in the mid to late 1980s and I wanted to capture some of these stories before they are forgotten.”

In late 2011 Dodie took her idea to MTS, a local telecom company that finances and airs indie films about Manitoba that are produced by local filmmakers. As explained by Craig Lawrence of MTS’ communication department:

MTS TV (Manitoba Telecom Service) supports community producers through Local Expression funding as a condition of our license as a broadcast distribution undertaking (BDU) in Canada… “Stories from Home” programming is quite varied and often represents a personal connection between the filmmaker and the subject, resulting in programming that – like The WinniPagans – can offer glimpses into different ways of life. 

Because of her experience, Dodie had a golden opportunity to pitch “WinniPagans” to Cam Bennett, executive director of “Stories from Home.”  He readily accepted the project and production began on January 21, 2012.

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The film’s small budget consisted of a crew of four with other on-and-off camera volunteers from within the Pagan community.  Production lasted through April 29th with three months of post-production.  In September of 2012, Dodie delivered the final edited product to MTS.  She recalls:

I was so excited that MTS liked the show and accepted it as it was. They even gave us some cash to rent the local art house cinema for a premiere screening. The executive producer, Cam Bennett, asked me if there was a special Pagan holiday coming up. At that point Samhain was the next big date so he offered to make that the broadcast premiere.”

winnipeg cinemathequeOn Monday October 29th, the film premiered at the Cinematheque Art House. Before the actual screening, musician Glen Hoban performed and Kate Bitney read from her book of poetry entitled “Firewalk.”  Then, Cam Bennett stood up to offer some words about the film and to introduce Dodie.

“I was a bundle of nerves the night of the premiere. Just before the doors opened I went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and then the magnitude of what I had done hit me full force – who did I think I was making a film about my own community? I live here and these are my own people, the people I care about, my friends and fellow pagans. My heart was in my mouth as I went out to make my speech and introduce the film, I was so nervous! As the film was playing I sat in the back of the cinema and listened to the 80 or so viewers as they laughed at the funny parts and clapped when they saw familiar faces, it was great! Nobody chucked rotten fruit or stormed out! The response was terrific. Folks seem to be appreciating the spirit of the thing and enjoy the way we are portrayed.”

After the screening, many of the viewers thanked Cam Bennett for his support and in doing so caught him completely off-guard.  Like so many Pagan communities, the WinniPagans rarely have the opportunity to see themselves, or any Pagan, visually portrayed without sensationalized imagery or stereotypes. Even when such a documentary is made, it is rarely funded and openly supported by a mainstream corporation. Cam Bennett didn’t expect the profound level of appreciation that he and MTS would receive.

Since November 3, 2012, “WinniPagans” has been airing on the MTS’ “Stories from Home” series. The film has also been screened in Southern Ontario and in Montreal.  Dodie’s visual story documenting the lives of “her people” has now touched Pagans across Canada’s wide expanse.   She said, “It was exciting to see that you didn’t have to be from Winnipeg to really get something out of the story.”

Why has the story been warmly received?  She attributes its success to some of the intangibles inherent in film production. When a Pagan filmmaker creates a film about his or her own Pagan community, the main production elements (visuals, narrative emphasis and pacing) will be different than when a non-Pagan (or Hollywood) produces the same film. The goal is different.  The perspective is different.  The entire feeling left in the viewers lap will, as a result, be different.

Dodie made a film about what she sees everyday; not what people want to see.  The film is a slice of life documentary – a true “reality show,” if you will.  In this way, it provides a unique opportunity for Pagan viewers to hypothetically cross the threshold of the silver screen and be themselves.  And, it offers the world a chance to see real Witches – minus the glamour of a Hollywood back lot.

Dodie McKay, Glen Hoban, Norm Dugas

Dodie McKay with musician Glen Hoban,
and sound editor Norm Dugas

What’s next for Dodie?  She is currently working on her second film for MTS about a long-time local social activist.  After that, she hopes to expand the “WinniPagan” project into a longer piece about Canadian Pagans, in general.  She has already been offered support from a number of Pagan communities across the country.

Want to see the film?  At this time, “WinniPagans” is only available to MTS’ customers through the on-demand service. However, she will be holding screenings at Paganicon in Minneapolis in March and at Gaia Gathering in Gatineau Quebec in May.  Not attending either event? Dodie will be selling the film online starting in April. All profits from the sale will be donated to a scholarship fund that offsets travel expenses to Gaia Gathering. To keep up with Dodie and the film’s happenings, you can follow the “WinniPagans” FaceBook fan page.

NOTE:  I was not able to view the film in its entirety before this post. Due to an unexpected blizzard in Winnipeg, mail has been delayed. However, after I receive a copy, I will post a complete film review and update.