Film about Edmonton’s Indigenous history no walk in the park

Originally published on UAlberta News.

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Conor McNally above the historic Garneau Theatre

Making a film isn’t a walk in the park, but Conor McNally (BA’15) may have found a way to make it about a walk.

The graduate from the Faculty of Native Studies was in his final semester when he was encouraged to go on a river valley walk with Education professor Dwayne Donald. Donald uses the walks to paint a picture of the Indigenous history of the river valley surrounding the University of Alberta’s North Campus and tell traditional Cree stories. The film, ôtênaw, which is Cree for “a settlement” or “a city”, gives viewers the chance to explore what Donald calls “the pentimento” or layers of Edmonton.

“The thing that really struck me was the delivery,” says McNally about Donald’s walks. “Presenting that history on the land, in the locations he’s talking about and interweaving it with Cree philosophies– I thought, ‘This is the best!’”

The experience inspired McNally to pitch the idea of filming the walk to Donald. McNally sees natural similarities between oral storytelling and film-making, which is why he thought it would make a perfect documentary.

“For Indigenous storytelling, there are limitations to the written word,” McNally explains. “A lot of it is being with people and people feel it differently as opposed to reading it in bed, wearing pyjamas. There’s more respect in person.”

The film, which is screening at Metro Cinema as part of April’s FAVA Fest, was awarded the festival’s Award of Excellence for “Outstanding Long-Form Documentary”.

ôtênaw: uncovering the layers of community

otenawfilmstill

Film still of Dr. Dwayne Donald

Once he got the green light, McNally leveraged some additional resources, such as a freezer full of 16mm film and grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council.  In ôtênaw, McNally superimposes different shots of the river valley and archival images over Donald’s storytelling. McNally explains that Donald’s narration lead the way for the visuals.

“Looking at the rough edit I had, I’d say ‘it’d be great if I went down to the EPCOR power plant and shot some stuff there’,” says McNally.

McNally utilized another valuable resource while making the film– his community and their artistic skills. With the help of a friend, he reused animated painted slides from another project to emphasize Donald uncovering layers of Edmonton’s history. He also brought in other film-making friends to help him collect extra footage.

“It’s weird to call it ‘my film’ when there’s so many other people involved in every step of it,” says McNally. “The day we filmed Dwayne’s walk, I had this whole crew of people helping. My parents were watching my daughter and they invited the team  over for chili after the walk.”

McNally notes that it was easy to connect with Donald beyond the film’s subject matter, bonding over their favourite hockey team, the Oilers.

“We had this moment where Dwayne thought he’d met me before and I was sure we hadn’t, but sometimes you meet someone and you think ‘We could be old friends’,” says McNally.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much from him, especially after watching the film a trillion times!”

The feeling of respect forged between McNally and Donald is mutual.

“Conor is a pretty cool guy and I admire him a lot,” says Donald. “He’s very passionate and committed to doing work that shows connectivities. To be a self-taught filmmaker and employ the sensibilities he does in this film– I love the music, the Elder’s words and the artfullness of it all.”

While Donald wasn’t originally comfortable with the idea of making a film about the river walks and storytelling he shares, he had the sense that something good could come of McNally’s initiative, and trusted him. McNally hopes that viewers take home a little more knowledge about their city and its story.

“All my films are about Edmonton in some way– I was born here and I’m not leaving anytime soon,” explains McNally. “I just want to raise awareness about these stories, because so many Edmontonians have no clue about any of this history. While Dwayne’s walks are free and open to the public, with film, one advantage is that it can be shown across the country. In that regard, I think it’s cool to tell very local stories and share them with a global audience.”


ôtênaw will screen at FAVA Fest on Wednesday, April 19 at Metro Cinema and at Vancouver’s DOXA Film Festival in May.

Finding a path through education

Originally published on UAlberta News.

Lydia Menna outside of the historical Garneau Theatre.

Lydia Menna outside of the historical Garneau Theatre.

A mosaic-tiled rotunda caps an Italian Neo-Romaneque building and staircases wrap around four giant cedar totem poles from the Nsga’a Nation. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is an iconic building, and a childhood visit there put Elementary Education professor Lydia Menna on a path that would lead her to become a faculty member at the University of Alberta.

“I still have my very first admission token from when I went to the Royal Ontario Museum in Grade 3,” recalls Menna. “That was probably the first time I’d been to a large-scale museum. I was impressed by the monumental size of it.”

Menna’s teaching and research in language and literacy focuses on multiliteracies, a field that recognizes linguistic diversity and a variety of modes of communication, including material culture. Before she joined the University of Alberta, she worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in educational programming and exhibits, then pursued teacher education at the University of Toronto.

After living in Southern Ontario for most of her life, Menna made the move to Edmonton for Fall 2016. From the banks of Lake Ontario to the Prairies, it’s been an adjustment, but she takes it in stride.

“It’s been an exciting experience to move myself into a new situation and environment,” says Menna. “There are differences that you notice– it’s a new curriculum and it’s a different province. It’s exciting getting to know the students and work with them. That’s the part I really enjoy.”

The students are also keen to work with her by helping her explore the city, suggesting festivals or river valley trails to check out.

“When you let them know you’re new to Edmonton, it’s interesting to see what parts of the city speak to them,” explains Menna.

Learning about Edmonton isn’t the only way Menna connects with her students. She’s guiding them as they become teachers. Seeing this growth is heartening for Menna.

“You’re working with student teachers who are developing their professional practice for the work that they’ll do with many classes in many years. There’s impact.”

The Royal Ontario Museum from Avenue Road and Bloor.

The Royal Ontario Museum from Avenue Road and Bloor.

Thinking beyond the classroom walls

While Menna learns about Edmonton from her students, and her students learn about teaching from her, she is cognizant of how educators can make the learning process engaging.

“Learning exists beyond the classroom walls,” explains Menna. “We need to ask what are the kids bringing into the classroom and tap into the classroom we want it to be so we make learning meaningful to them.”

In particular, Menna thinks about the students who import their backgrounds into the classroom, and how that knowledge can be leveraged for learning.

“These students bring in other languages and experiences from other countries,” says Menna. “These are rich resources that they take into the classroom. We want to make sure there is space for that and give the students a chance to realize that these are assets as opposed to deficits. When you think of yourself as a learner, some of the most meaningful experiences were the ones you likely felt connected to.”

As an educator, Menna practices what she teaches by using her personal history with museums to show student teachers how to think about literacy beyond the confines of the written word.

“There’s an assignment that I do with student teachers, similar to an “all-about-me” book. I would present mine on the same day that the students would share theirs. Mine was a piece of creative writing that was revolved around this admission token and the first visit to the museum and how it was a catalyst for a life-long love for learning and museums.”

“It’s funny the path you take,” says Menna. “When I look at my personal trajectory, I see that education was the stream that flowed through it. I see the connection with multiliteracies and mutli-modality. Everybody takes a different path to get there.”

Taking out the trash at UAlberta

Originally posted in Sustainability eNews Vol. 71 – April 2016.  A special thank you to the Students’ Union Facilities and Operations Team and the folks at Energy Management and Sustainable Operations.

All photos, graphics and text by K.Barnes.

Gerry, Leila and Jessie taking part in the waste audit

Gerry, Leila and Jessie taking part in the waste audit

Once it leaves your hand and enters the container, you probably don’t give waste a second thought, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to ensure the university’s waste is being recycled or composted correctly. At home, a lot of what is accidentally thrown away can still be sorted out at the City of Edmonton Waste Management Centre, but it doesn’t work like that at the university.

“If people put things in the wrong bin, we have to reach into the bin and put it in the right one.” – Gerry, Students’ Union Facilities and Operations

“If you don’t know where something is supposed to go, it’s okay to ask us where to put items.” – Emma, Students’ Union Facilities and Operations

The University of Alberta is part of the Institutional, Commercial and Industrial sector, which means it is not part of the municipal waste system you have at home. Instead, the university must have its own waste contractors who collect and process waste and recycling. Someone who lives in a residence in Edmonton pays taxes which go toward municipal services like waste management. The university’s contract requires waste materials to be separated correctly, or it all goes to the landfill. This also means that the material in the university’s “landfill” stream does not get sorted further after it leaves campus – it goes straight to a landfill.

Gerry and Emma collect waste, recyclables and organics from the SUB food court

Emma and Gerry collect and label the bags of waste in SUB’s food court, the first step of the waste audit.

“Landfills are designed to not allow things to break down easily, or liquids to leach out. They are a highly anaerobic environment. Even a piece of food waste, which can compost quite easily, will sit there for years in a landfill.”

– Shannon Leblanc, Sustainability Coordinator, Energy Management & Sustainable Operations

Keeping as many compostable or recyclable items out of the landfill as possible is an institutional sustainability priority. For example, decomposing organics in landfills produce a gas which is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. By keeping compostable items out of the landfill, the university can reduce its ecological footprint. With this in mind, the University of Alberta’s draft Sustainability Plan  has set a target to divert 90 per cent of waste from the landfill by 2020.

Getting to Zero Waste

Purity Chart final

Data collected by EMSO and BGS staff. Purity measures the percentage of items correctly discarded. In SUB, more than 70 per cent of waste in the landfill stream could be recycled or composted instead. This means that many items are being sent to the landfills that don’t have to go there.

To meet that target, the university is piloting Zero Waste stations in the Students’ Union Building, HUB Mall and Lister Centre. These stations move the university from a six-stream system to a simpler four-stream system which captures mixed paper, recyclables, organics and landfill waste.  Once these stations are working, the system will be expanded to the rest of North Campus.

To evaluate the new system, UAlberta’s Energy Management and Sustainable Operations and Buildings and Grounds Services perform regular waste audits to get concrete data about how well the Zero Waste stations are working. That means the waste is collected, labelled and sorted to see how many of the items are correctly disposed of, and see what items cause trouble.

Shannon, Leila and Jessie of EMSO

Shannon, Leila and Jessie of EMSO

Next time you need to toss an item, check out the containers to see where it belongs and help the university keep recyclables and compostable items out of the landfill.

infographic - Waste Audit items final

Either side of the camera: portrait photography

“Your aim as a photographer is to get a picture of that person that means something. Portraits aren’t fantasies; they need to tell a truth.” -Tim Walker

Lately at work I’ve been trying to find different ways to take portraits: different angles, poses, locations, etc. Typically most of my photos are landscapes or architecture, but I’m enjoying the challenge and creativity that comes with portrait photography.

Taking a portrait gives you confidential access; you are duplicating the subject’s essence and identity. It’s like a visual interview, but instead of writing down their responses to questions, you cinematize their reactions and expressions. I can’t wait to grab the camera and capture some more.

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.”
-Edward Steichen

Small summer adventures

I got a new camera last year and I’ve spent some time trying to learn all the settings. At school we used Nikons, so switching to a Canon took a bit to learn. My goal was to see if I could learn to take pictures that I wouldn’t feel the urge to doctor with Photoshop. Here’s a small selection, taken over the course of the summer and autumn.  Alberta is ridiculously pretty.

Adventures in Food: Granola

Maple Cinnamon Granola. K.Barnes

Maple Cinnamon Granola. K.Barnes

I had forgotten how much I loved granola until I met up with a friend at the Highlevel Diner for breakfast a couple of weeks ago. The Highlevel’s granola is crunchy, flavourful, loaded with all sorts of grains, nuts and raisins, and served with fresh fruit. I wanted to make something similar for my breakfast before work (or at work in many cases), and this is the recipe I put together.

I’ll still visit HLD for their amazing cinnamon buns, though!

Maple-Cinnamon Granola

  • 3 cups regular oats (not quick)
  • 1 cup slivered or chopped almonds
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup amber maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 F. Mix all ingredients except for cranberries in a bowl. Spread a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Stir and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes. It should be golden brown when you pull it out of the oven. Let it cool and mix with the dried cranberries. Store in an airtight container. Serve with dairy or non-dairy (I like almond milk) and fresh fruit of your choice.

Music while you cook

I was lucky enough to see the wonderful David Francey perform at Calgary’s Folk Music Festival a few years ago. His music is sweet, soothing, and comforting– perfect pairing with granola.