There is an invisible wall that surrounds Josiah Wilson. Each brick has been built by trauma that was beyond his control. As Yasmine Mathurin’s documentary One of Ours effectively captures, finding the healing tools to break down that wall of pain can be a lengthy process.
Adopted from Haiti as a baby and raised by a blended Indigenous family in Calgary, the Heiltsuk Nation is all Wilson has ever known. He identifies with the community because, by all accounts, it is his community. Proud of his father and grandfather’s heritage, he considered it a great honour to represent the Heiltsuk Nation at the All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. However, despite playing in the tournament for two years in a row, his inclusion soon became a matter of concern to some. They evoked the blood quantum rule that means all players must have one eighth indigenous blood within them, and so Wilson was banned from the competition.
Despite having an Indigenous status card and living fully immersed in the community, the officials stubbornly hid behind the rule as a justification for his exclusion. What made their stance so disturbing is that the blood quantum law was created by colonizers to marginalize the First Nations people. Essentially, they were using this same problematic system to justify their own anti-black racism. While Wilson’s family and the Heiltsuk community rallied behind him during his lengthy fight to get reinstated, declaring him as “one of ours,” the damage had already been done. It was another emotionally painful reminder of rejection—a feeling becoming all too common to him.
At the time, Wilson was already carrying a lot of unresolved baggage due to his grandfather’s passing and his adopted parents divorce. The tournament was just another example of something he loves seemingly abandoning him. On top of that, it brings to mind a difficult but unescapable question: Can he truly belong in a society that, even within a minority community, sees him first and foremost as a Black man?
Mathurin’s documentary paints a complicated and intriguing portrait of the challenges that Wilson and his sister Mariah, also adopted from Haiti, face when navigating both Indigenous and white spaces. Obstacles that their white-passing siblings do not have to endure. Mathurin does not dive deeply into the racial history of the Black and First Nations communities outside of the tournament, where officials eventually and reluctantly overturned their decision, but does show that Wilson and his sister are unable to escape the realities of their Blackness. Whether it is the cringeworthy moments in the film that highlights how hip and prevalent the “n-word” has become with youths of all backgrounds, or it is Mariah lamenting about not being able to find hairdresser or hair products, it is clear they must frequently put on a tough face and bear it.
At times Wilson himself comes across as if he is putting on a mask, trying to convey a certain image of Blackness. However, Mathurin’s compassionate approach slowly chips away at the façade to reveal a man just trying to numb the pain.
As One of Ours delicately peels away the layers to Wilson and his family, it becomes clear that his journey to self-acceptance is something that many in the clan have similarly come to terms with. An intricately conceived film that shows there is no one size fits all approach to healing, One of Ours is a thought-provoking work. Wilson may feel as if he is adrift on his own boat, but Mathurin shows that the Heiltsuk Nation is always there, extending the rope of love and community. After all, he is one of theirs.
One of Ours screens virtually at Hot Docs from April 29 to May 9. Head here for more coverage of this year’s festival.