Night Raiders is a new film set in a not too distant post war dystopian future. The film follows Niska and her daughter Waseese as Niska attempts to keep her daughter safe and free in a world where children are legally required to attend a state run “Academy”. However, after Waseese is captured Niska works with a group of underground vigilantes to try and save her daughter from the institution, where she was taken.

Night Raiders is a science fiction thriller that hinges on the love between a mother and daughter, but the inspiration for this film came from real world events in Canada’s history.

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The Illuminerdi had the opportunity to talk to Night Raiders star Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who plays Niska, about what she wants audiences to take away from the film including an understanding of the real events that inspired the story.

“First and foremost, that everything that happens in this film, happened in some form in the reality that we know. Night Raiders happens in this other worldly sort of realm that Danis has created and it’s set in the not too distant future. But everything that she builds in that film is based on truth, in terms of what’s happened to indigenous people.

And so, I hope that audiences walk away with that understanding. That although it’s speculative fiction, and set in the future, it has this sci-fi dystopian aspect to it, that it is rooted in truth. And I also hope that they walk away with an understanding and respect for the strength of indigenous communities, indigenous people, and our ability to resist and fight back and celebrate our cultures and our languages. I think there is so much beauty to the film, especially the love between Wasesee and Niska.”

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The Canadian residential school system was a government funded and christain church run program that separated indigenous children from their families and communities. This was an attempt to isolate and “assimilate” children into the dominant Canadian culture. The residential school system led to horrifying abuse, thousands of school related deaths, and tore families apart.

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In Night Raiders Niska and her daughter are torn apart when Waseese is discovered and taken to the Academy. During our interview Night Raiders star Elle-Máijá explained why this scene was so difficult to shoot and the personal impact it had on her.   

“I think that is just reflective of what happened to so many indigenous parents and families in the residential school era. In that they didn’t have the choice to keep their children at home with them. It was illegal to withhold your child from attending residential schools. So, they were in many instances were carceral institutions, where children were essentially incarcerated by the state and the church.

And so, parents, indigenous parents could very easily go to jail if they were caught hiding their child or withholding them from residential schools. And so that moment is so rooted in truth and it was deeply painful to have to act out that scene, just knowing the history in my own family and how that history exists in every single indigenous community.  And how every indigenous person has some connection to the residential school legacy.”

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Science fiction and fantasy famously tackle real world issues by framing them in a fantastical or futuristic way. Night Raiders similarly shows the truth of the residential school system and its impact by setting the story in a futuristic dystopian world. By adding the drones and artificial intelligence into the story as well as Waseese’s powers Night Raiders is able to tackles a very real, very serious topic by framing it in a sci-fi thriller.

NIGHT RAIDERS STAR EXPLAINS WHY GENRE IS THE PERFECT WAY TO APPROACH STORIES LIKE NIGHT RAIDERS

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During our interview Elle-Máijá revealed why she believes audiences are drawn to science fiction films and how genre helps tackle these real-life stories, like the Canadian residential school system.

“I think there is a lot there.  One is that traditional indigenous stories, from every nation we all have our own stories. They are very fantastical and imaginative and otherworldly. And I think that genre storytelling is very closely related to those incredible traditional stories of ours. And they’re not considered myths, they’re considered stories. 

And also, in terms of indigenous filmmakers wanting to tell stories through this world of genre.  I think there is the ability to, I guess approach, deeper issues through a different lens. There is a certain level of empathy fatigue that I think broader audiences, non-indigenous audiences perhaps feel. And so, there’s a certain sense of inaccessibility points for a larger audience to draw them into the world of genre. To be able to speak to these larger issues in a subversive way.

And then further to that I think it’s just interesting for an indigenous audience in particular to access these histories and these stories of pain and strength that we know through a whole new light. The other thing too is that we have survived the apocalypse in many ways and we’ve survived genocide. And so, these stories like Night Raiders or Blood Quantum, another film I acted in, are very much truths for us. So, there’s a lot there.”

Using genre to reach a wider audience when telling these stories and being able to share history through a new lens is an extremely important part of why genre is so important. It allows people to learn about true events and the impact they have had while also making the experience unique. Night Raiders writer/director Danis Goulet manages to brilliantly intertwine past and future to explore the scars of the residential school system while also warning audiences of the dangers.

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Night Raiders is now in select theaters and available on demand and digital. Are you going to watch Night Raiders? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media and check back with The Illuminerdi for more sci-fi.

KEEP READING: NIGHT RAIDERS DIRECTOR DANIS GOULET REVEALS THE TRUE EVENTS THAT INSPIRED THE SCI-FI THRILLER AND WHY SHE NEEDED TO TELL THIS STORY: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW