Award winning documentary sheds light on “blind spot” in Canadian society about aboriginal culture

Aldo Columpsi (cameraman), Geoff Leo, and Trevor Aikman (editor)
Aldo Columpsi (cameraman), Geoff Leo, and Trevor Aikman (editor)

Although the problem of absent fathers is well-recognized in the United States, even being powerfully addressed by President Obama, the problem of missing aboriginal fathers in Canada has been so overlooked that it represents a national blind spot.

That’s exactly why Geoff Leo called his award-winning documentary “Blind Spot: What Happened to Canada’s Aboriginal Fathers?”

Leo directed and produced the documentary during 2011, it aired on CBC in January of 2012, and received the Canada Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television in a February 27, 2013, ceremony in Toronto.

“The Canadian Screen Awards is the Canadian version of the Oscars and the Emmys all rolled into one,” says Leo, who is a member and former elder of Redeemer Reformation Church in Regina, SK.

As a father of five and an avid reader, Leo has long been interested in the impact fathers have on their children. When he researched the subject for a paper he wrote during a college class, he was struck by the staggering statistics.

“It blew my mind what an amazing difference fathers make in the lives of their kids in every area,” he says. As a reporter for CBC, he witnessed first hand the extent of the problem within the Aboriginal, or First Nations, population of Canada, who have suffered from generations of governmental programs that rendered fathers unnecessary.

“I was almost always talking with moms, grandmas, or aunties,” he says, “but almost never with dads.”

As he attempted to research the problem, he found amazingly little information. One thing that cropped up was the name of Jessica Ball, a professor at the University of Victoria. In contacting her, he discovered that when she began her research on Aboriginal father absence, she confronted a complete lack of research—something totally unknown in academia. During Leo’s conversation with her, he described the lack of awareness as a “blind spot” and immediately determined that would be the name for his documentary.

About 10% of Saskatchewan’s people are First Nations, but they comprise between 80-90% of the prison population. Leo explains that the disintegration of the family is at the core of the documentary. Fathers originally played a key family role as providers and protectors. But government programs, such as placing people on reserves and removing children from homes to be educated in residential schools, effectively made fathers unnecessary. Such measures may have been intended to be temporary, but became permanent. After several generations, First Nations populations no longer knew what a family unit looked like or how it should function. Leo explains that personal responsibility certainly plays a role, but the detrimental impact of long-term government programs can’t be overlooked.

Geoff & Tanis Leo at the Canadian Screen Awards
Geoff & Tanis Leo at the Canadian Screen Awards

The documentary, which aired in conjunction with related programming on The Current radio show, has increased public awareness of the problem in a powerful way. Leo relates that universities, high schools, social services, and fathers groups around the country are implementing the documentary as a resource. He’s been invited to speak to many of these groups.

“I was hoping to start a conversation,” he says. “That I think is its impact; a conversation starter. It’s about having dads in the picture, to somehow get them to reconnect. I do think it’s pretty core; the core solution is to fix the family. All the other social programs are designed to replace the family.”

Although his solution resonates with Christians and reflects his Christian worldview, Leo wanted this documentary to draw in people from a variety of perspectives and challenge their thinking about the situation.

Although Leo describes receiving the award as “very fun” and appreciated the recognition of this “fairly unique” honor, he most appreciates the opportunity the ceremony gave him to address the issue and increase awareness. “The media is a powerful forum,” he says, “and it can be an incredible force—for bad or for good.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8-9 of the May 1, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

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