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Script Review : Agwajiing the Sanatorium

The undying bonds of the family have proven to be lifesavers throughout the history of mankind. Even during the darkest times, family is there to protect and save us, even while facing peril themselves. The story of ‘Agwajiing the Sanatorium’ is based on two sisters, for whom this statement applies well.

Written by Winona LaDuke and scripted by Michael O'Rourke, the story of ‘Agwajiing the Sanatorium’ is based on Ojibwe history and set in 1920. During those times, tuberculosis or “white man coughing sickness” was rampant. Two Ojibwe sisters, Margaret (9) and Charlotte (11) Oshkinnah are removed from their reservation and admitted with tuberculosis at a Minnesota sanitarium which they called ‘Agwajiing’, meaning 'Outside'. It was named thus because the windows of the sanitarium, full of patients ravaged by tuberculosis, were kept open throughout the night for open-air therapy. On one such extremely cold night, Margaret passes away while trying to keep her sister warm and now it’s Charlotte’s turn to ensure that Margaret gets a proper burial according to their traditional rituals, and her soul passes to the Northern Lights.

As an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg, writer Winona LaDuke has worked on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for frontline native environmental groups. Scriptwriter Michael O'Rourke has received multiple grants for the development of heritage scripts, and his adaptation of Winona LaDuke’s novel 'Last Standing Woman' has received multiple awards. Together, they form a formidable duo of storytellers who narrate the essential indigenous stories of Native Americans.

Within a short period, they have touched upon a host of topics deftly in ‘Agwajiing’. The themes of disparity between the two cultures, the importance of cultural identity, lack of proper medical care and awareness in the early 20th century, and the importance of traditions and roots have been explored in this story. But the most prominent theme has been the bond between the two Ojibwe sisters, who are the protagonists of this film.

Despite their tender age, both of them keep the care and interests of the other sister before their own. And that manifests the values that have been instilled in them in their early childhood. The importance of preserving one's cultural heritage and the essentiality of unity between members of a tribe in a tragedy - are the most important takeaways from the script of Agwajiing the Sanatorium.

Writer Biography - Story by Winona LaDuke, Script by Michael O'Rourke

Michael O'Rourke co-founded Actors’ Theatre in Southern Oregon in 1982, producing 100 productions in 13 years, and served as executive director for the capital campaign to purchase and remodel a vaudeville house as the company’s 100-seat black box.

Michael’s collaboration with Lakota actor Robert Graygrass resulted in a one-man show (“Walking on Turtle Island”) that toured internationally for 16 years. As managing artistic director of Anchorage Community Theatre he co-produced collaborations with the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which resulted in a Native American Music Award for Best Music Video (2005).

Recipient of grants for development of heritage scripts celebrating the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion, he wrote “In the Land Where Acorns Dance,” a screenplay based on a young poet’s life among the Shasta Indians during the Gold Rush in Northern California. The script received the 2015 Grand Prize from the Yosemite International Film Festival. His adaptation of Native American activist Winona LaDuke’s novel “Last Standing Woman” was awarded Best Feature Script by Uruvatti International Film Fest (2020), International Film Festival of Andaman & Nicobar (2020), Picasso Einstein Buddha International Film Festival (2020), as well as Most Original Concept with Best Global Scripts (2021).

His mini-series adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities” was selected as the Best Global Script of 2017 at Oaxaca, as well as finalist with Jaipur International Screenplay Competition 2018. O’Rourke’s credits include script consulting on the independent feature “All for Liberty,” earning a “Top 10 Revolutionary War Movie” in the Journal of the American Revolution.

Winona LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations, and is the mother of three children. She is also the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for frontline native environmental groups.

In 1994, Winona was nominated by Time magazine as one of America's fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. She has been awarded the Thomas Merton Award in 1996, the BIHA Community Service Award in 1997, the Ann Bancroft Award for Women's Leadership Fellowship, and the Reebok Human Rights Award, with which she began the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, Winona has written extensively on Native American and Environmental issues. She is a former board member of Greenpeace USA and serves, as co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network, a North American and Pacific indigenous women's organization. In 1998, Ms. Magazine named her Woman of the Year for her work with Honor the Earth.


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