Honor Thy Mother
Click here to see the trailer on Vimeo.
Honor Thy Mother is the untold story of 36 Aboriginal women from Canada and Native women from tribes in Washington and Alaska who migrated to Bainbridge Island, the traditional territory of the Suquamish people, in the early 1940s. They came, some still in their teens, to pick berries for Japanese American farmers. Many, just released from the Indian residential schools, fell in love in the berry fields and married Filipino immigrants. Despite having left their homeland and possible disenfranchisement from their tribes, they settled on the Island to raise their mixed heritage (Indipino) children. The voices of the Indipino children, now elders, are integral in the storytelling of their mother’s experiences marrying Asian men and settling in a distant land. They share their confusion of growing up with no sense of belonging in either culture and raised in poverty as the children of berry farmers, some with no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. In a post-World War II racist environment, they grew up in homes burdened with their father and mother’s memory of the 227 Bainbridge Island Japanese Americans forcibly removed from their homes after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19th, 1942. Brought to light, in the oral history interviews of the Indipino elders, is the effect that historical trauma has on children, more specifically children whose mothers survived Indian residential schools.
“The intersection of settler colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism brings into focus the experiences of the women who survived Indian residential school and their descendants. The film echoes the continued erasure of Indigenous histories and kinship while also reminding us of the legacy of labor and dispossession. The experiences shared in the film are integral to sharing stories of intergenerational trauma that continues today. Indipino stories are important to unpacking the difficult conversations needed to better understand specific impacts on the Northwest Coast.
“The film provides insight into significant intersections between women who survived Indian residential schools, immigrant workers, and the influence of land. Although being forced from their homelands, these women raised families on the shores of the Salish Sea. Their children eventually found their way back to their Indigenous heritage while honoring their Indipino identities. Through their narratives, they demonstrate the crucial intersections of Northwest Coast histories. The film is a moving tribute to the many Indigenous mothers that found kinship on Bainbridge Island and built a community to honor their ancestry.
“Honor Thy Mother would be a valuable addition to any course addressing the long-lasting impact of the harms of colonialism, especially on the Northwest Coast. The film utilized beautiful and generous first-person accounts alongside in-depth archival research….
“The film is poignant and timely. The past decade of documentary film has led to a specificity that recognizes the complexities of reclaiming indigeneity. Honor Thy Mother reminds us that we also can celebrate the interconnectedness of gender and race. Despite the “cultural incongruence” of being mixed heritage or struggling to be an Indigenous woman surviving a residential school, the film demonstrates the long-standing resilience found out of the necessity of colonial dispossession.”
Doctoral student in culture and performance
University of California, Los Angeles
“A must-see for all preservice and in-service teachers, Honor Thy Mother – The Untold Story of Aboriginal Women and their Indipino Children, holds up a legacy that is difficult to cover and contain in just one film. With grace, strength, and profound love, they have woven a powerful path of hope and possibilities from the grandmothers, through their own life stories, and forward to the future generations. The imagery is breathtaking, the composition genius, and the storying compelling. Through telling the stories of the thirty-six Indigenous women from nineteen tribal nations who came to Bainbridge Island, land of the Suquamish, for the berry harvest, married Filipino men, and raised their Indipino children, they teach about perseverance over the debilitating effects of settler colonialism and the intense and extensive physical and cultural oppression directed at children, the Indian Residential Schools in Canada and the United States. They teach about the healing power of community, of remembering, and of recovery, as evidenced in the way that that the indipinos of Bainbridge Island see themselves as both 100% Indigenous and 100% Filipino American, with responsibility and care for two sets of cultural values and traditions. Furthermore, Honor Thy Mother serves as a research design model for culturally responsive and decolonizing studies from community or college settings.”
Faculty and Chair of the Teacher Education Program
“This film is an absolute moving testimony of the historical trauma experienced by indigenous First Nations women matriarchs who were birthed by Filipino farm laborers and First Nations women. The term of endearment for this population of mixed racial heritage has come to be known as Indipinos, or “Indipinas.” As I watched this film, I felt strong emotions rise within me as this is also my family story as a mixed blood. I felt the healing that resonated as each elder spoke of the pain their parents went through as boarding school survivors, the targets of violent systemic institutional racism and prejudice. Their testimonies as mixed bloods tell of their painful identity crisis fueled by the extreme prejudice and hate messages that they received from the native, Filipino and white American cultures simultaneously while growing up. This film also reveals the triumph and healing that comes from bearing one’s soul through sharing the pain and the recognition of their historical truth. This is a film for the times and should be watched and should be included in Social Science, American History, and Ethnic or Native Studies school curriculum, particularly those that seek to decolonize institutional racism.”
-Shelly Vendiola, Swinomish/Visayan
Community Educator, Consultant
Community Engagement & Peacemaking Project
Swinomish Higher Education Community Advisory Board
“Honor thy Mother is a moving tribute to the many Indigenous women who labored and raised families on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The film explores how Indigenous and Asian American immigrant families forged relationships of work, love, loss, and survival. Telling the stories of the Indipino elders (Indigenous and Philipino), who were witness to the emergence of a unique Indigenous and Asian American community, is significant and necessary. Through this film, we examine how labor shapes Indigenous land and experience, and learn of the pain of discrimination within and across race. Bringing together narratives along with beautiful archival research, Honor thy Mother offers a path for all viewers to understand the complexity of Indigeneity, gender, and race through processes of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism in both the United States and Canada. It is a remarkable documentary that demonstrates the power, too, of memory and the courage to survive, build community, and form new relationships that honor mixed heritage in the face of debilitating racism.”
Associate Professor of Humanities
Oakton Community College
“I watched Honor Thy Mother and found it compelling: infuriating and heartbreaking on the one hand, but also inspiring and uplifting on the other. I had never heard of this story before; it adds an intriguing element to the story of Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island. I like how multi-faceted the story is and how it touches on many themes that are increasingly relevant today: how western nations have treated indigenous peoples and how we reckon with that today; what it means to be a mixed-race person and not fully accepted by either ancestral community; the importance of reclaiming one’s history and defining one’s community.”
Content Director, Densho
Editor of the Densho Encyclopedia
“The impact of hearing these stories told by members of the Kitsap community is profound. Many of us read about the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples and may have watched a documentary or two, but Honor Thy Mother gives these stories another dimension of reality. The pain, heartbreak, and resilience of the Indipino Community of Bainbridge Island is told through the voices of those who experienced it firsthand. Poignant interviews lay bare a system of inequality and colonial ideals that has caused intergenerational trauma to Indigenous communities. Their stories are critical in the historical narrative of Kitsap County, Washington State, and the U.S. I feel that everyone should watch this film for a deeper understanding of the continued harms of colonialism and the resilience and strength of the Indipino Community.”
Director of Exhibits & Engagement
Kitsap History Museum