What was your role in this exchange with Panama?
As part of the training, I gave a workshop in which youth from all of the nations (Kuna, Embera, Ngäbe and campesinos) participated. I explained my cinematic approach to them in order to inspire and motivate them. I talked about my films, Sakitakwin, Kokom and We Are. I told them about my movie-making methodology, research, where my inspiration comes from, etc. and I felt they were really interested.
What was the highlight of the trip?
The highlight? The tatooing! It is the Jaibana, the “shaman,” who decides what symbol must be tattooed on an individual. In my case, Jaibana Bonifacio took the time to talk it over with me. He told me how he became a Jaibana, and about the experience he has accumulated. The more experienced the Jaibana, the more staffs he has! I then told him how one becomes madakackitowin (medicine man) among the Anishnabe in Kitcisakik. I am very interested in my ancestral culture and in the culture of other nations. Sharing all of this information with him was therefore a very important moment for me – and that is how he defined the tattoo I would carry: the trapiche. The trapiche is an ancestral, multifunctional tool used, among other things, to extract sugar from sugar cane and to gather the seeds of certain plants. It was my interest in ancestral culture that guided his choice. It was young people who tattooed me. Being tattooed was important for me out of solidarity with the Embera, because Ivan, Bonarge and Alba, his wife, had come to our community this summer. For me, this was a way of getting closer to them by accepting an ancestral knowledge revitalized by the youth on my body. Once I was tattoed, our host, Jorge Ventocilla, remarked that it was rare that the Kuna, Embera, Ngäbe and campesinos would all gather together for this kind of activity. I, the Anishnabe, became the canvas for these nations! I was there to create exchanges and build bridges and I felt that when I was being tattooed, that is exactly what was happening.
What do you take away from these exchanges?
My meeting with the Kuna was essential, because in comparison with the Anishnabe, I see that they are much more combative. They won’t climb into bed with the government. They have their own political representatives in Parliament. There are 5 seats out of 72 in Parliament strictly reserved for First Nations: three Kuna, a Ngäbe and an Embera. Between 12 and 15% of Panama’s population is indigenous, and a third of the territory belongs to them. That gives me an idea of what we could do in Canada – and we have our work cut out for us to get there. In Panama, there is transmission to other generations through each nation’s own structures. Here, colonization has steamed ahead unhindered and that is obvious. Although they too are being reached and impacted by the North American lifestyle. Otherwise, in terms of exchanges, the linguistic barrier sometimes made things difficult, even if we managed to find ways to understand each other. I had the impression of having missed certain things because of that. At first, that was frustrating, but you learn to deal with it. I managed to get by in part with Spanish and English. With the basics I know. In fact, it allowed me to become closer to Louisa and Lina, who were accompanying me. We laughed a lot. I have the impression that laughter is a cultural trait of ours, the Anishnabe, as compared to the Kuna or Embera. Laughter is part of a healing process that connects us spiritually. This is perhaps why spirituality is so strong for us, why we hang onto it so.