First Contact Canada cast member speaks to GNPS

by Sylene Argent

On Friday, the grade seven and eight students at Gosfield North Public School listened intently to special guest speaker, Jamie-Sue Sykes of Chatham, who participated in the filming of the three-part documentary series, First Contact Canada, as a cast member.

  According to, the documentary has six average Canadians, with strong opinions about Indigenous People, participate in a unique 28-day journey into Indigenous Canada. It continues that the experience was meant to challenge their perceptions and confront their opinions about a world they never imagined they would see.

  She said the individuals selected as cast members were outspoken, opinionated, and adventurous people. “I was all three,” Sykes said. She had to fill out a questionnaire and submit a video to make it to the interview process.

  The selected cast members did not know the documentary was going to be about Indigenous People until they were well into the casting process.

  When the cast members found out the topic of the documentary, Sykes said she was excited, but also a little bit anxious at the same time as she hadn’t had a lot of interaction with Indigenous people.

  “So, what I had heard were perceptions and stereotypes, so I really did want to learn. I had only read a little about residential schools, but had no idea about the devastating impact and, you know, why we are seeing what we are today,” Sykes said.

  The filming of the documentary took place last August, and aired on APTN recently.

  Sykes and fellow cast members travelled to Nunavut, Winnipeg, Northern Ontario, Calgary, Edmonton, and BC for the filming, where they were introduced to Indigenous life. For instance, Sykes said she participated in a seal hunt and “dragged the red.” Both experiences were difficult for different reasons.

  The Red River in Winnipeg is where many bodies of missing individuals end up, the majority of which, she said, are the missing or murdered. Dragging the red helps recover evidence or bodies.

  She was also able to participate in a powwow, a sweat lodge ceremony, speak to a woman in a federal prison who was there for murder, and serve meals to the homeless in an Indigenous community.    

  “[We] stayed in people’s homes to learn about their way and their cultures. They really opened up their world and showed us.”

Residential School, Sykes believes, “are at the root cause of everything that needs to be fix for reconciliation.” She explained seven generations experience residential schools, and there are many unmarked graves across Canada, “They don’t even have the number from the government as far as how many children were displaced or killed…and then, when you have that generation-after-generation, they are basically creating cultural genocide because they are removing the language, the history, the land-base, living. We’re going to see a lot of mental health issues and sexual abuse issues.”

  Her visit with the students at Gosfield North Public School was her first public speaking engagement about the documentary, and she was impressed with the students’ keen interest and questions.

  “They were asking, great, awesome question. I was really blown away,” she said. “I’m proud of them.”

  She hopes in being able to visit schools and organizations in the future, she will be able to speak about the truth and the misconceptions she had before getting involved with the documentary. For instance, she said, today, there are well over 100 communities that don’t have drinkable water in Canada.  

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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