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Cheering on <em>The Grizzlies</em>

(Soda Studios)


Cheering on The Grizzlies

Sports film takes an honest look at the deep pain at the heart of an Indigenous community in Canada

Suicide has been a growing problem in the West for decades now. But drastically higher rates of suicide have consistently plagued Native communities in both the United States and Canada as those populations struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, and poverty. In Canada, an Indigenous person is three times more likely to die by his own hand than a non-Indigenous person. 

This is the world a young, bright-eyed Russ Sheppard ignorantly enters when he takes a job teaching history in Kugluktuk, a small Inuit village in Nunavut, a Canadian province in the far north in The Grizzlies. Sheppard, played wonderfully by Ben Schnetzer, plans to spend one year teaching underprivileged Indigenous students in order to use the experience as a resumé booster to teach at any prep school in the country. 

It doesn’t take long for Sheppard to realize—and for his students to convince him—that a year may be too long in this town. His students don’t see a point to writing essays or earning a high-school diploma when most of their families are just trying to put food on the table and the nearest college is 400 miles away. 

Struggling with hopelessness, many young people turn to drugs and alcohol, so Russ Sheppard decides to start a sports team. No, not a hockey team. A lacrosse team. He wants to give the kids of Kugluktuk an outlet to have fun and spend their time doing something constructive. However, to get them to join the team, he has to earn their trust. Not an easy task for an outsider. 

Based on a true story, The Grizzlies wrestles with what it means for a culture to adapt to changing times while still standing on its traditions. Some parents and grandparents would rather have their sons hunting seals or caribou than playing a “white-man’s” game (although lacrosse was first played by American Indians). The film has some bad language and deals with difficult but realistic issues like suicide, alcohol, and domestic violence, landing it an R rating.

The Grizzles, slowly rolling out to theaters across the country, is honest about the limits of hope a sport can provide. Even though team play does provide laughter, camaraderie, and purpose, it can’t heal the deep pain at the heart of Kugluktuk. But it does help. In an interview with WORLD, the real-life Russ Sheppard said it’s been 15 years since he first started the lacrosse team, and those teenagers are now the leaders of their community, instilling the values of hope, hard work, and community into their own children. 

In the end, Russ Sheppard’s one year way up North turned into seven.


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  •  Varenikje's picture
    Posted: Wed, 08/26/2020 02:29 pm

    Is there a book?