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Where the Spirit Lives (1989)

A young Native Canadian (First Nations person) fights to keep her culture and identity when she is abducted to a residential school.


Bruce Pittman


Keith Ross Leckie (original screenplay by)
7 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Michelle St. John ... Komi / Amelia
Kim Bruisedhead Fox Kim Bruisedhead Fox ... Anataki
Marianne Jones Marianne Jones ... Komi's Mother
Gus Chief Moon Gus Chief Moon ... Ka-moos-ee
Clayton Julian Clayton Julian ... Pita / Abraham
Margaret Cozry Margaret Cozry ... Grandmother (as Margaret R. Cozry)
Marge Fox Marge Fox ... Anataki's Mother
Ron White ... Taggert
Ann-Marie MacDonald Ann-Marie MacDonald ... Kathleen
Sean Mulcahy Sean Mulcahy ... Priest
Sam Malkin Sam Malkin ... Mr. Crawford
Doris Petrie Doris Petrie ... Miss Weir
Chapelle Jaffe ... Miss Appleby
Tina Louise Bomberry Tina Louise Bomberry ... Assistant Supervisor #2 (as Tina Bomberry)
Barbara Wheeldon ... Matron


In 1937, a young First Nations (Canadian native) girl named Ashtecome is kidnapped along with several other children from a village as part of a deliberate Canadian policy to force First Nations children to abandon their culture in order to be assimilated into white Canadian/British society. She is taken to a boarding school where she is forced to adopt Western Euro-centric ways and learn English, often under brutal treatment. Only one sympathetic white teacher who is more and more repelled by this bigotry offers her any help from among the staff. That, with her force of will, Ashtecome (forced to take the name Amelia) is determined to hold on to her identity and that of her siblings, who were also abducted. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A moving tribute to a young girl's courage and indomitable spirit...









Release Date:

6 June 1990 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Henkien tanssi See more »

Filming Locations:

Toronto, Ontario, Canada See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film had a special 25th anniversary showing at the 2013 Cinefest in Sudbury Ontario. See more »


Komi: Dear Jesus, if this is a bad thing, I hope you forgive us.
[smiles as Esther begins ritual]
Esther: You are my friend and now we are sisters. The moon is our grandmother. She brings... she brings...
Komi: ...life to the earth.
  • life to the earth and the dew of the night as you will bring life to the earth. You are Amelia and now you will be - what should I call you?

Komi: You say.
Esther: I don't know. What did your name used to be?
Komi: Astokomi.
Esther: And now you will be Astokomi, again. Even when we become stars in the sky and your...
See more »

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User Reviews

Historical fiction based upon one chapter in the systematic destruction of native American culture.
17 May 2006 | by polach-joeSee all my reviews

Where the Spirit Lives is a powerful and emotional movie underpinned with both Canadian and US history, superb acting, and beautiful landscape. The movie, taking place during the 1930s in Nova Scotia, takes a sensitive and moving look at how a dominant culture oppresses and/or destroys other cultures whose behavior is contrary to the dominant culture's norms and values. The movie also demonstrates the courage and tenacity of people as they struggle to hold on to their identity and to their families despite enormous odds. The film demonstrates some stereotypical character development: the pious but misdirected priest, the naive but good-intentioned new teacher, the highly cultured wealthy woman who intends on adopting the protagonist, the ugly, evil, and abusive assistant who sees the students as wicked savages. I use this movie in my English classroom in conjunction with the Social Studies curriculum on Minnesota and native American history. We specifically juxtapose commonalities such as theme with The Diary of Anne Frank and the novel by Minnesota author Jon Hassler, Jemmy, culminating in a compare/contrast essay.

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