After a whirlwind summer and a chance meeting, a new documentary featuring the story of residential school survivor Sonya Rock has premiered on Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Rock is from Gitxsan Nation, Frog Clan and is a teacher at Nusdeh Yoh Elementary in Prince George. Her story is featured in the new documentary “Can They Hear Us Now” directed by California-based cinematographer Aaron Harris.
“This whole summer everything just happened all at once, everything unfolded, the way it should be and I'm very, very honoured to be able to share my story,” said Rock.
After the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 children at the former site of Kamloops Indian Residential School, Harris connected online with producer Rae Lawrence in Prince George and the two decided to make a documentary to raise awareness.
Lawrence then saw Rock share a post on social media about her experiences and asked if she’d be willing to participate in the documentary.
“I was in a lot of pain, everything came back to me about my experience in residential school,” said Rock, about the discovery in Kamloops.
“What I said at that moment was I'm not going to be a victim here. I'm going to do something else instead. I'm going to do something to remember these little children.”
Rock said she agreed to share her story to inspire others and keep the conversation alive.
“I think it's incredibly important that Canada realizing the significance of what has happened to the indigenous people here and what their life was in that and to take that responsibility.”
Rock went to Port Alberni Residential School and her 10 siblings, as well as both her parents before her, all attended residential schools.
She said she’s never dealt with the pain she’s carried from residential school but was able to be very honest about her experiences when making the documentary.
“My mother never spoke about it. My father never spoke about it. And there are others that I know, even just within my own community that will not speak about it,” said Rock.
“What I'm hoping to do, is that by sharing my story, I'm hoping that it will open up opportunities and let survivors know that it's okay to share. That it's empowering and it's healing. I feel like I went through a healing process making this movie.”
Rock said it wasn’t just her family, but she’s witnessed her whole Nation and community affected by intergenerational trauma.
“I speak out and share my story for the youth,” said Rock. “They are going through so much and they don't understand why they're in the situation that they're in and so I'm hoping that I pass on hope for the youth.”
Even while directing the documentary remotely from California, Harris said the filmmaking process has also been a healing experience.
“This film has become a passion project and lit the fire of getting in touch with my Indigenous roots and understanding of my native heritage,” said Harris.
“It’s made me stop, think, and truly understand these children might have been my ancestors and relatives. Which is truly heart-wrenching. I’ve counted down the days to be able to share this beautiful story of strength, resilience, power to overcome and heal from abuse, and trauma.”
Harris who is currently in school for cinematography completed the project with no funding but hopes to enter it into festivals next year.
“This subject and project has brought tears, emotions, and healing to my heart,” said Harris.
“My hopes for this film is when people watch this they too get the fire lit and help in the efforts of bringing justice and awareness to the children who lost their lives and the survivors who are still healing from this dark part and very recent history for Canada and United States, only 24 years since the last school closing.”
The documentary Can They Hear Us Now is available to watch online for free.