As one character astutely notes in Marie Clements riviting film Bones of Crows, the monster is often not under the bed, but can be found on top of us. This monster takes on many forms throughout the film, but its name remains the same. In capturing the devasting generational legacy of colonialism on Indigenous communities, Clements crafts an epic tale of perseverance in the face of systemic racism, sexual abuse, and more.
Taking audiences on a journey through a side of Canada history rarely taught in schools, Bones of Crows is told from the perspective of Aline Spears (Grace Dove), the Cree matriarch of a family whose history unfolds over a hundred years. Picking up when Spears was a young girl, living a happy existence with her family, the dense fog of colonialism engulfs her when she and her siblings are forced into the horrors of the residential school system. From there the film traverses everything from her time during World War II, where the Cree language was an integral part of Canada’s military code transmission system, to the post-war PTSD her spouse endures to the legal troubles her sister encountered years later to name just a few.
Considering the wide range of topics covered, which span from the 1920s all the way to the 2022 meeting between Indigenous delegates and the Pope in Vatican City, it is a testament to Clements’ direction that the film remains as tightly constructed as it is. While overflowing with trauma and sorrow, Bones of Crows tackles it all with grace. This is a history full of pain, guilt, and unimaginable hardship, however, Clements consistently reminds viewers of the unshakable spirit of indigenous communities.
In keeping the flame of hope burning brightly, Bones of Crows offers a searing indictment of the country that continually tries to extinguish it. While the melodrama is spread on a little thick at times, one cannot ignore the various ways Canada and religious institutions try to dehumanize the indigenous population at every turn.
Anchored by strong performances from Dove and the entire ensemble cast, which includes Rémy Girard, Gail Maurice, Alyssa Wapanatâhk and Phillip Lewitski to name a few, and stunning visuals, the film serves as a necessary reminder of a history many would rather have swept under the rug. An emotionally powerful work, Bones of Crows offers the light of hope while showing how Canada’s past still darkens the present.