By Nelie Diverlus
In the new age of truth and reconciliation, Night Raiders serves as a solid reminder of the constant struggle for rights and land ownership that the Indigenous communities faces each day. When protagonist, Niska, has her young daughter taken away from her to serve an imperialist state, she sets out to gather means to retrieve her daughter, Waseese - while also fighting back against a cruel system. Set as a dystopian film, this story aids in proving that history is cyclical; the turmoil that was endured by Indigenous children not too long ago still has its traumatic roots alive today.
“Set as a dystopian film, this story aids in proving that history is cyclical; the turmoil that was endured by Indigenous children not too long ago still has its traumatic roots alive today.”
Night Raiders enticingly encapsulates the long-standing need for community and allies. Trauma and fear lead Niska to have her guard up throughout the entire story, in order to protect her daughter. All she cares about is saving Waseese, and she refuses to let anything get in the way of that aspiration. Along the way, she learns who she can trust, and slowly leans into community, as that as the best shot at sustainability and survival.
Cree-Métis director Danis Goulet makes her mark with Night Raiders as her feature film debut. As stated in her interview for an interview with CTV, she wishes to “counter the narratives about Indigenous people that have been fed to us, because they’re not true.” This film shows her putting her words into action, as this story sheds light on the damaging narratives that oppressors have imposed on this community – their need to control the children and mould them into servants of the state eerily reflects of the events that occurred at residential schools; a memory that the Indigenous community is still reeling from today. Goulet effectively pays homage to victims of the oppressive state, having the viewer reflect on traumatic experiences that may be foreign to themselves.
“Goulet effectively pays homage to victims of the oppressive state, having the viewer reflect on traumatic experiences that may be foreign to themselves.”
While the dystopian theme feels familiar, it is rather invigorating to have Indigenous faces at the centre of this thriller. The gray, grim lighting reminds us of the countless other post-apocalyptic films – this time, we get to see the perspective of those most likely to be actually endangered, rather than those with more means and access to privilege. The message within this story is heard loud and clear; the land should be returned to its rightful owners, in addition to freeing those made pawns of the system’s imperialist agenda.
The film is mostly comprised of handheld camera shots, further fulfilling the urgency and rush that is perpetuated within this story. We see quite a few close ups, allowing the viewer to fully take in the rawness of the story – puffy eyes, red nose, both from the cold and from grieving. The mise-en-scène masterfully conveys the forces that are against Niska in her quest for her daughter; the brisk cold air, fatigue from running through such large landscapes, and the snow all are factors in keeping her from her goal.
“The mise-en-scène masterfully conveys the forces that are against Niska in her quest for her daughter.”
The sound in this film is also incredibly notable. The ringing heard throughout contributes to the surveillance elements of the story, allowing the viewer to realize that there are forces greater than them, with the intention of suppressing their aspirations for a better life. The drone sounds are practically infused into the soundtrack, transporting the viewer into their monitored livelihoods. On the contrary, however, it is also worth mentioning that the Foley sounds used at selective, distinct moments seem mismatched; seeing that has the potential to prohibit the viewer from suspending their disbelief and transporting them out of the film experience.
“The ringing heard throughout contributes to the surveillance elements of the story, allowing the viewer to realize that there are forces greater than them, with the intention of suppressing their aspirations for a better life.”
Collectively, this film blares a profound message for all. Indigenous sovereignty extends beyond land acknowledgements, but rather by putting actions to words, similarly to how director Danis Goulet beautifully executed her vision for cinema. There is quite a bit of work to be done when unlearning colonial practices – Night Raiders provides some solutions.