‘A story worth telling’

From left to right, Wesmor Students Against Destructive Decisions members Camryn Corrigal, Linden Howlett-Saam, Paywapin Young and Ayla-Rae Parenteau present Mayor Greg Dionne with a copy of the national bestseller “Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People (and yours)” by Harold R. Johnson following a presentation to city council on Monday, Oct. 22. The group also gave Dionne an outline of their Sober House Project plan, and a copy of the youth advocate’s report. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

For the past year, four high school students from Prince Albert have dedicated their lives to the Sober House Project.

Starting on June 3, the rest of Canada will have a chance to hear and see their story.

‘Sober House: A Sign of Change in Cree Nation’ is set to premier on CBC Gem on June 3. The short 22-minute documentary tells the story of Wesmor Public High School students Camryn Corrigal, Linden Howlett-Saam, Paywapin Young and Ayla-Rae Parenteau and their quest to break the community’s cycle of intergenerational damage caused by alcohol.

“It’s really exciting for people to finally see it,” Corrigal said during an interview on Friday. “We got an early screening and it was amazing to see it myself, and to have my family see it.”

Producer/director Wendell G. Collier wasn’t looking to centre on Prince Albert when he started the documentary. His original goal was to focus on acclaimed Indigenous author Harold R. Johnson, whose book ‘Firewater: how alcohol is killing my people and yours’ inspired the Sober House concept.

Collier met with Johnson, who told the director he hadn’t had much time to implement the idea, but he knew of a small group of students in Prince Albert who were.

“I was immediately captivated by their stories,” Collier said. “I knew that this was a story that was very much worth telling, and a movement that was very much worth getting behind.”

The Sober House concept is a simple one. Participants hang a sign in a window of their home showing that this is a home where alcohol is not wanted and intoxication is not welcome. The goal is to strengthen community morale by showing visual proof of just how many people are committed to sober living.

Collier said he hopes the documentary challenges the perceptions people have about alcohol, while also showing that Indigenous youth are taking the issue seriously, and striving to overcome it.

“They instantly captivated the hearts of anyone who came in contact with them,” Collier said when asked about the students. “They have such an earnest approach to their cause and their movement that you can’t help but get caught up in their own excitement. Their drive is very, very contagious.”

Those efforts have paid off. The group not only speaks to their peers, they’ve also started talking with civic leaders, like the Prince Albert City Council. All four students were on hand to make a presentation last October, complete with film cameras in tow.

“It’s been inspiring to see when kids are passionate about something,” said Wesmor teacher Tricia Lucyshyn, one of three adult allies who help the group where needed. “When they are supported and allowed to take something and run with it, you see the difference that they can make, and one of the greatest things I see is how the community has woken up and listened.”

For Corrigal and his classmates, they just hope the documentary will help shine a light on Prince Albert. Corrigal said it’s common to see a lot of focus on the negative things happening in the city, but he and his classmates hope this film will demonstrate that there are plenty of positives.

“We have an amazing city,” he said. “We actually look forward to sobriety and things that are good, instead of looking at all the bad things that happen in our town.”

The project is off to a great start, but the future is far from certain. The group plans to do some travelling to northern communities to help spread the Sober House Project, but students like Corrigal will graduate at the end of the year.

“We’re still trying to figure (the future) our ourselves,” he chuckled.

As for Collier, he would love to do a follow up piece in the future. For now, however, he’s focused on this film, and hoping it will give Canada something to think about.

“It’s really about the fact that this project’s out there,” he said. “It’s part of helping these kids get this movement off the ground.”

‘Sober House: a sign of change in Cree Nation’ premiers on June 3 on CBC Gem, an online streaming service for CBC content. It’s available for free as an app for iOS, tvOS, Fire TV, Android TV and Android phones and tablets. It’s also accessible online at cbcgem.ca.

Viewers interested in learning more about the project can visit www.soberhouse.ca. The website goes live on Monday, June 3.