Cree Code Talker earns more top awards

Cree Code Talker co-producers Cowboy Smithx, left, and Alexandra Lazarowich, right, receive award from Sandra Kleinfeld, middle, CBC senior director of documentary at the 17th annual ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto.

Richard Froese
A short documentary film about a Grouard man’s unique role in the Second World War has won more awards.

Cree Code Talker, co-produced by Alexandra Lazarowich and Cowboy Smithx, won a $1,000 cash award for best short documentary in the 17th annual ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Oct. 19-23.

“It was wonderful for the film to be recognized in such a way so that we can honor Charles (Checker) Tomkins and the families of the other Aboriginal veterans who fought in the Second World War,” says Lazarowich, a Cree filmmaker with roots in Slave Lake.

Digging deep into the United States archives, the film depicts the true story of Tomkins’ involvement with the US Air Force and the development of the code talkers communication system as the Cree language was used as a vital secret weapon of combat.

“Our initial response was surprise, but it’s also an incredible honor to be awarded such a gift, at a prestigious film festival and to be honored by our peers – the Indigenous filmmaking community,” Lazar- owich says.

Cree Code Talker is expected to be coming to the High Prairie area early in the new year, she adds.

“We are working with the community to host an event and screen the film in High Prairie and also in Grouard,” Lazarowich says.
“Our intent is to help educate and inspire people with this film and the more people that see it, the better”

They hope the high profile of the film will allow people to feel the injustice, and be moved to do something about it.

“We heard wonderful feedback from teachers who want to present the film in classrooms to help educate kids about the role of Aboriginal veterans,” Lazarowich says.
“We heard wonderful feedback from other filmmakers who appreciated the story and storytelling.”

That is also the desire of the co-producer.

“This film should be in every school in Canada as part of the primary social studies curricula across the country,” Smithx says.

He, too, was awed by the award from the film festival.

“To win one of their awards is a high-level achievement,” Smithx says.
“The ImagineNATIVE Film Festival is one of the best film festivals in the world.”

He lauds Lazarowich for leading the way to produce the historical film.

“Alexandra must be commended for being the proponent to get this documentary into production,” Smithx says.

Cree Code Talker also won first at the 2015 Hot Docs BravoFACTUAL Short Documentary Pitch Competition, with a $30,000 award, which Smithx says was key to help make the production a success.

The film was also viewed at the California American Indian and Indigenous Film Festival, The American Indian Film Festival, and The Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival.

Cree Code Talker could not have been made without the support of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta, The National Screen Institute and BravoFact, Lazarowich adds.

Smithx also desires that the film be shown to a wider audience.

“It is important to note the magnitude of this story,” he says.

Indigenous people have always been the first to answer the call when it came to wartime. “Canada is about to celebrate its sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary in 2017, yet Canada has still failed to celebrate or acknowledge the achievement of the Cree Code Talkers,” Smithx says.

“We want to see both the Canadian and American governments acknowledge the work of the Cree Code Talkers – this is long overdue.”

Indigenous people weren’t even allowed to vote at the time these tours of duty took place, he notes. Cree Code Talker was produced in spring 2016 after more than one year of research and interviews.

Several of Tomkins’ relatives and other local people were interviewed as the documenters visited the Grouard area in summer 2014.

“The goal of the project is to honour Charles (Checker) Tomkins and the other Aboriginal veterans who went unrecognized for their entire lifetime for their heroic war effort,” Lazarowich says.
“Unfortunately there are none left living, but we hope this film will shed light on the unique work these men did, their sacrifice and to make sure that they will not be forgotten.”

Cree Code Talker co-producers, left-right, Cowboy Smithx and Alexandra Lazarowich and production manager Rio Mitchell with the award at the 17th annual ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto.
Charles (Checker) Tomkins

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