Gladys Cook, who suffered abuse at a residential school, rediscovered her faith – a blend of Christian and native spirituality – as an adult. Her story is documented in Topahdewin: The Gladys Cook Story.
The Toronto Police Service, one of Canada’s largest police forces, has sought and been granted permission to use an award-winning documentary by Anglican Video as a reference material for its training program for city police officers.
Topahdewin: The Gladys Cook Story is a powerful film about an aboriginal Anglican woman who survived a damaged childhood to become a prominent drug and alcohol abuse counselor. A recipient of a 1996 Governor General’s Award for promoting women’s rights, Ms. Cook was sexually abused while attending a residential school. The one-hour documentary uses archival footage, still photography and 13 years of interviews with Ms. Cook, now 74, in which she talks about her journey of despair, rediscovery of faith and her work with native women, addicts, prisoners and survivors of abuse.
“This is very exciting for us and the whole church, to know that our work can make a difference in the way aboriginal people may be treated by the police force,” said filmmaker Lisa Barry. She said that the video has also been purchased for use by some correctional facilities and social work programs, aside from being screened at various healing circles across Canada.
Ms. Barry said the Toronto police human relations department, through a training officer, Sgt. Mark Fehr, had made the request to use the video for its training program. “He said that he and his group had found the program very powerful and in particular, want to use the historic aspects of the program. They hope that it will raise awareness among police officers around many issues that aboriginal people are dealing with.” Ms. Barry said that Anglican Video has signed a contract with the Toronto police force, allowing them to use the film for a three-year period. The force declined to comment on how the video will be used.
Topahdewin begins with Ms. Cook’s early life in the Sioux Valley Reserve, west of Brandon, Man. It tells the story of how, at the age of four, she was sent to an Anglican-run residential school in Elkhorn Lake, Man; at the age of nine she was raped at the school as she lay ill with mumps.
After the horrors of residential school came marriage to an abusive, alcoholic man, the struggle to raise her children, her own abuse of alcohol, and later, her own healing journey inspired by faith.