The Waseskun Healing Centre, nestled in the wilderness of Quebec’s Lanaudière region, represents a unique approach to rehabilitation and reconciliation. Run by and for Indigenous people under the purview of the Correctional Service of Canada, this one-of-a-kind facility incorporates traditional healing practices with counseling, arts, and sport programs. Filmmaker Steve Patry compellingly captures the center’s mission and daily life in his 2016 documentary “Waseskun.”

History and Significance of the Waseskun Name

Waseskun, meaning “when clouds part after a storm and sunshine breaks through” in Cree, poetically encapsulates the healing journey of inmates. The name connects to founding goals of ameliorating intergenerational trauma from colonial policies and the residential school system. Since opening in 1995, Waseskun tailors programs to treat substance abuse and cycles of violence in the community. Blending Indigenous spirituality and Western talk therapy, the center empowers inmates to confront past wounds in a supportive space.

Embedding Himself to Capture Candid Footage

To spotlight Waseskun’s distinctive programming, Patry immersed himself in the facility for a year. Spending three to four days a week living among inmates and staff, he earned trust and access to film candid moments. This insider’s glimpse lends the documentary an arresting intimacy. “I disappeared and became part of the scenery, a fly on the wall,” Patry said of capturing footage without interference. The resulting relationships facilitated poignant interviews with inmates about childhood neglect, abuse, and addiction trajectories.

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Traditional Ceremonies and Modern Treatment

Patry’s camera reveals Waseskun’s unique fusion of ceremonial practices like smudging and sweat lodges with contemporary mediums like painting, writing, and music. “We incorporate Indigenous spirituality into everything we do here,” remarks Waseskun head Jean Vicaire. Group sharing circles and counseling augment these creative acts of self-expression. Inmates also play sports like hockey and basketball as outlets for teamwork and aggression. Daily work duties to maintain the center’s expansive grounds teach responsibility. “It keeps us out of trouble,” one resident chuckles. Through this blend of traditional self-care and modern discipline, Waseskun promotes healing on many levels.

Candid Stories of Childhood Struggles

The most impactful sequences feature inmates candidly recounting traumatic upbringings exacerbated by inherited substance abuse and molestation. “My father was an alcoholic too. He abused me verbally, physically, mentally,” shares Gaston Wabanonik, welling up. Others detail similar patterns of parental neglect and violence that pushed them toward drugs, crime, and their own stints of homelessness and incarceration. These revelations starkly convey how personal trauma feeds into systematic marginalization of Indigenous communities. By providing a space for such stories, Waseskun helps offenders reconcile past wounds so they can envision brighter futures.

An Important Step in Rehabilitation and Reconciliation

While following strict security guidelines as a correctional facility, Waseskun departs from institutional stiffness to foster a restorative climate. Producer Denis McCready asserts, “The film shows viewers how providing Indigenous communities means to heal themselves is an important step in reconciliation.” Reactions concur; a Toronto Film Festival reviewer effused that “Waskesun brings a glimmer of hope to the endless cycle of pain in Canada’s First Nations communities.” The documentary renders visible promising yet under-utilized solutions.

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Conclusion: A Model for Healing Justice

Neither glamorizing nor oversimplifying complex issues around intergenerational trauma and incarceration, Patry nonetheless crafts an illuminating glimpse into Waseskun’s rehabilitative ecology. The experiential texture and inmate testimony convey this facility’s invaluable role in cultivating self-awareness and responsibility. “Healing is a lifelong road,” remarks Elder Édouard Kistabish. “We try to give them tools so they can continue…to break the cycle.” Powerful in its candor and humanity, “Waseskun” demonstrates how Indigenous-led facilities can lead the way in providing holistic care and restoring dignity for offenders working to transform their lives. The convers


What is the meaning of “Waseskun”?

Waseskun is a Cree word meaning “when clouds part after a storm and sunshine breaks through.” It poetically reflects the healing journey of inmates at the correctional facility.

How long did the director embed himself at the facility?

Steve Patry lived at Waseskun three to four days a week over the course of an entire year. This allowed him to gain unprecedented access and trust to intimately capture the daily realities there.

What are some key programs shown at Waseskun?

The documentary highlights programs like Indigenous ceremonies, counseling sessions, arts, music, sports, and crafts. It provides a window into this unique fusion of cultural practices and modern rehabilitation techniques.

What stories did inmates openly share?

In revealing interviews, many inmates recount painful histories of parental alcoholism, verbal/physical abuse, neglect. Their stories connect personal trauma to broader marginalization in Indigenous communities.

Why is the film seen as an important voice in reconciliation?

Highlighting Indigenous-led solutions that provide spaces for offenders to heal, “Waseskun” models a path forward for cultivating self-awareness and breaking traumatic cycles in the justice system.

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