Film tells story of Sister Dorothy Moore, Mi’kmaw educator who fought for her people – Halifax


Growing up in the Mi’kmaw community of Membertou, Sister Dorothy Moore understood what it meant to lose one’s way and then find one’s way back through human kindness.

The 89-year-old’s life has been documented in a film produced by Mary Jane Harkins, professor of education at Mount Saint Vincent University, and is set to screen this Saturday in Halifax at the Atlantic Film Festival.

In the film, Moore’s soft voice describes her struggle to receive an education, to become the first Mi’kmaw person to enter a Roman Catholic order, and to implement reforms that promoted Indigenous culture and language in the schools and universities.

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His story has been filmed over the past four years by a crew led by Brett Kibbler of Mount Saint Vincent University’s multimedia department, with Harkin doing the interviews in his first documentary.

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Moore attended an Aboriginal day school in Membertou as a youth, then residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, where use of the Mi’kmaq language was banned in the 1940s.

She vividly remembers being punished by nuns for math mistakes she made because of her lack of English.

“The memory of this one is so imprinted in my mind and heart that whatever happens, I will never forget it until my life is over in this world,” she said.

She left residential school, returned home, and “jumped the fence”—referring to the barrier that once separated Membertou from the community of Sydney, Nova Scotia—to enroll in a public school.

In her freshman year, Moore was guided by a teacher who treated her with respect, but in the next class she encountered overwhelming racism.

“I remember it so well. She (a teacher) said, ‘You’re going back to the woods that belong to you,’ and so I left,” she recalled.

But fate intervened with a moment of kindness when Moore met a nun who arranged for her to attend a boarding school for girls in Mabou, on the west coast of Cape Breton, where she studied until her back to Sydney Public School for his final year. High School.

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The theme of the simplicity of human decency is an antidote to obstacles appears several times in the film, including the story of another student teaching Moore mathematics, enabling him to graduate.

As a teenager in the early 1950s, Moore noticed that the Sisters of Saint Martha were teaching in Eskasoni First Nation, 40 kilometers south of Sydney. She was eager to join them.

“I was going towards something that God called me to do,” she recalls. “I was inspired by God to enter religious life and got to know the sisters…and they gave me the potential to move forward.”

His ability to help others then gradually expanded. After earning her bachelor’s degree in education from St. Francis Xavier University, Moore continued to teach at the Eskasoni School beginning in the mid-1970s.

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The documentary includes a series of interviews with former students, including those who were surprised to find a calm yet relentless Mi’kmaw woman among them at the First Nations school.

“Suddenly… I could understand what was being taught,” said Thomas Johnson, a former student who became director of the Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“The generosity of others became a lesson in her life where she paid for it and supported others,” producer Harkins said in a phone interview.

Moore was hired to help students at Cape Breton University, then known as the University College of Cape Breton, and ensured that some students did not give up on their dreams.

“She would drive up, knock on the door and say, ‘I told you you could do it, I’m taking you, you’re going to college.’ She did it for a small group of students who all graduated…and did some really important things,” recalls Keith Brown, vice president of the university.

“She gave academic discipline to the whole world,” Brown said, referring to her desire to study the Mi’kmaq in college.

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At one point in the film, David Dingwall, president of Cape Breton University, estimates that about 2,400 Aboriginal students passed through the school. There are 742 Un’ama’ki College graduates of the university.

“She (Moore) has been the biggest part in this big success story,” Dingwall said.

His methods of defending his language and culture were firm and low-key, Brown said. “Sister Moore builds allegiances and seeks out like-minded people who will support them,” he said.

Towards the end of the film, Darren Googoo, director of education at Membertou Mi’kmaw Nation and former student of Moore’s, attempts to capture how her life as an elder, devoted Christian and educator combine to help her overcome the failures of the Church. and the obstacles to reform it has encountered.

“There’s this notion that she can serve the Lord in her own way, but she can also serve her people at the same time, and I think it’s a real tribute for a person to be able to do that given the story where sometimes it appears these things can be in conflict,” he said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 11, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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