By Julia Magsombol

Local Journalism Initiative

For over a hundred years, thousands of Indigenous children were taken by the Canadian government and forcibly sent to residential schools where they were imprisoned under the rule of religious officials. 

Many children died behind the walls of these frightening institutions, and their bodies are still being discovered in unmarked graves. Many survivors continue to suffer and struggle to find peace and justice. Their stories are unimaginable and painful to hear, but it is quite different to see it play out in a movie Bones of Crows, a Canadian film released in spring 2023. 

The film is about the genocide that took place in these schools. Written and directed by Métis director Marie Clements, it focuses on the perspective of the protagonist, Aline Spears (played by Grace Dove, Carla-Rae, and Summer Testawich), a Cree woman who was taken to a residential school in Manitoba with her three siblings in the 1930s. 

The film is challenging to watch for some people as it tackles the negative lifetime effects of the residential school on the characters. The movie revolves around mental health issues and the long-time trauma on families as well. 

The movie has a non-linear plot, showing every significant and memorable moment of the characters’ lives — good or bad; it makes it easier to understand each of their present actions and choices.

For Aline, her present life seems to be affected whenever she remembers her time in the school. In one scene, the old Aline remembers being punished when she stood on the stool outside during the winter, damaging her hands. She loses consciousness in this part of the movie. She stands up on a stool once again outside of her home. With her children’s help, she goes down and regains consciousness. 

Aline’s husband, Adam Whallach (played by Phillip Lewitski and Tyler Peters), is also one of the significant characters in the movie. He suffers from a drinking addiction and survives the war. But he also suffers from the flashbacks of when he attended a residential school and witnessed a suicide. As a handicapped non-status Indigenous veteran, he could not get any support from the government. Through him, the audience learns how a man can be failed by his country by being an Indian. Adam is traumatized by the horror of the school and the war, which leads him to some of his choices at the end of the movie. 

One of the major supporting characters is Aline’s sister, Perseverance Spears (played by Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Sierra Rose McRae, and Kwetca’min Dawn Pierre); like Adam, she also suffers from addiction. She would also have several flashbacks, which made her addictions severe, and she eventually lost her children to this. 

The three characters survived the school, but not the trauma and painful memory it gave them. 

To go over what’s in this film is what Canada’s Indigenous Peoples need to face and endure. Again, their existence seems to be failed by the Canadian government, justified through colonialism and racism. 

This movie proves how residential schools and the trauma they gave to survivors can never be forgotten, and it’s all engraved in their minds and hearts. 

At the same time, what makes the most sense in this movie is what the survivors have before and after attending the school — their families and the happy memories surrounding them. 

Unlike the other characters in the story, Aline seems to realize something at the end. As a survivor, she continues to fight for herself and her people. What helps her to continue to fight is the preserved, beautiful memories she has — her family dancing and celebrating their heritage, the time she first met her husband, her pregnancy with her kids, and so on. 

This movie is not disjointed after all those non-linear plots of Aline and the other characters. Instead, the non-linear plots help the characters’ actions be more understandable and empathetic. The performances of each cast are also impressive, as it feels very much authentic. 

From the astounding shots of landscapes in Canada to the claustrophobic, dark shots of residential schools, the film’s themes are easily shown. 

I personally give this film a score of 4 out of 5. The only flaw is the scene where the director somehow tried to humanize the nun’s actions. It could be a character development for her or to show that humanity isn’t dead. But from this movie and its point of view, the religious officials’ actions should never be justified or humanized. However, it can definitely be debatable for some viewers. 

Bones of Crows is a challenging yet powerful film that shows the truth of what many Indigenous children experienced. 

The black crows play an essential role in the movie. Crows are shown in different scenes throughout the film, but at the end, a dove takes over in the part where Aline tells her story. It may be a hint that a dove is the start of something. But this scene proves that fear exists within survivors, but love, hope, new beginnings, and resiliency are much stronger. 

A mini-series expansion will be coming out later this year on CBC, so check it out if you are interested. People who are interested can watch Bones of Crows here: