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Elle–Máijá Tailfeathers, producer and writer of Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy, says the documentary illustrates the impacts of opioid abuse in her home community of Kainai First Nation, or the Blood Reserve of the Blackfoot Confederacy, approximately 200 kilometres south of Calgary. 

On Nov. 21, Calgary Justice Film Festival virtually presented the film as a highlight of its series of seven social-justice documentaries.

“I felt an urgency and a responsibility to document what was happening,” Tailfeathers said at the event. “Especially because the news media was often misrepresenting our community.”

The event included showing a pre-recorded interview with Tailfeathers and others, conducted by the National Film Board. In it, she said she wanted to dismantle substance abuse stigma by sharing the hurt and loss experienced in her community. 

Tailfeathers said she gained inspiration for the film from her mother, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, who treats patients with addictions and provides harm reduction services.

“What you see happening to people is a direct result of the trauma that children experienced in residential school,” Esther said. “We’ve seen at least a doubling of deaths across the country due to overdose.”

 A Blood Tribe Emergency Services Worker as seen in Kimmapiiyipitssini – The Meaning of Empathy, by Elle–Máijá Tailfeathers. PHOTO: National Film Board Website

Esther said she has found that harm reduction methods, like supervised consumption services, could drastically reduce the rate of opioid deaths.

However, Alberta Health Services only offers safe-consumption services in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer.

Esther said the film, “Is like a mirror to us, but a window to Canada.”

The film screening also featured Indigenous-led addiction services, such as the Bringing the Spirit Home detox center in Standoff, a community in the First Nation. The centre is working to help people with addictions without shaming them. 

Lori Eagle Plume, a documentary participant who overcame addiction said she wanted to take part in the documentary because substance abuse is often a silent struggle. 

“There are a lot of people on our reserve, and a lot of close people to me as well that are struggling with addictions,” she said. “Nobody’s alone.”

Prior to the pandemic, the festival was hosted at the River Park Church followed by a question and answer session with the film’s director or local experts. The event had to go virtual in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions. 

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