#tbt Anne Wheeler’s ‘Augusta’

By Pat Mullen

“Augusta is 88 years old,” says Anne Wheeler (Chi) in voiceover as her subject, Augusta Evans, strolls by the waters of Williams Lake. “She remembers the Indian trails, the stagecoaches, the river steamers, the Gold Rush days, the first cattle ranchers, and the new settlers, but she’s never traveled anywhere else beyond these hills.”

Wheeler’s Augusta offers a slice of life portrait of Augusta Evans, a non-status Shuswap Indian living in the Williams Lake area of British Columbia. This NFB production joins Augusta in her modest home as she shares a story of a life that’s seen it all from the relatively small space of the subject’s neighborhood. The film shows how Evans lives day to day on a meager pension (only $250 a month), but also notes a remarkable outlook as she explains how her work as a midwife was never about making money. After getting the right equipment from the Sears catalogue, Augusta delivered babies for free because, as she says in the film, taking money for the work just didn’t feel right.

Augusta also sees Evans recall her experience at residential school, which is noteworthy for a film from 1976 since it took another 20 years for the last of the schools to close. Evans explains the all-too-familiar story of being separated from her family and being robbed of her language. In the film, she recounts how the punishment for failing to speak English would be to write “I will not speak Indian” fifty times on both sides of a slate. As she takes the camera into her home, her church, and through the hills, she shares with Wheeler the small acts that one person can do to keep her history and culture alive.

Revisit Augusta below:

Augusta, Anne Wheeler, provided by the National Film Board of Canada