Short film about former Ile-a-la-Cross Residential School students wins Toronto Documentary Festival award

The Northern Village of Ile-a-la-Crosse as seen from the air in this shot from "Waiting for Justice". Screen capture from ‘Waiting for Justice’.

Former Ile-a-la-Crosse (ILEX) Residential School students say they hope a documentary about their experiences will bring more attention to their cause after winning a major award at the Toronto Documentary Festival (TDF).

‘Waiting for Justice: Discovering the Legacy of the Ile-a-la-Crosse Residential School’ chronicles the lives and struggles of former Metis students and their families, with a focus on how the experience at residential school continues to impact them. The 18-minute documentary was named Best History Film at the TDF, and at least one former student hopes this will lead to action outside the arts world.

“It’s a difficult film for us to watch,” said Louis Gardiner, a former ILEX student featured in the documentary. “But, it’s something we felt necessary to be a part of to keep our stories alive, and apply pressure on the appropriate governments and institutions to reach a settlement before all of our Survivors are lost.”

ILEX is not a formally recognized residential school, meaning former students have never been compensated by the federal or provincial government. Gardiner and other former students filed a class action lawsuit against Canada and Saskatchewan in 2022.

The case is currently before the Court of King’s Bench, but members of the Ile-a-la-Crosse Boarding School Steering Committee have been advocating for former students for more than 20 years.

Metis-Nation – Saskatchewan (MN-S) President Glen McCallum said they have mixed feelings about seeing the documentary win awards while the former students are not recognized by the government.

“The film has garnered this prestigious recognition,” McCallum said in a press release. “Our Survivors have not. It’s difficult to celebrate the award knowing that Survivors are still looking for restitution.”

‘Waiting for Justice’ will be screened at the upcoming Toronto Short Film Festival. MN-S also hopes to screen the film in various Saskatchewan communities, including Ile-a-la-Crosse.

Metis filmmaker Matt Lemay directed ‘Waiting for Justice’. Lemay said it was an honour to work on the project with the Indigenous Geographic team of Kaily Kay, Crystal Martin, and Derek Robitaille.

“We wholeheartedly commit to supporting the ILEX Survivors and their community until justice is finally served,” Lemay said in a press release.