Documentary highlights importance of caribou to Déné
- EFN Staff | October 31, 2018
On October 21st, Etthén Heldeli: Caribou Eaters premiered on Citytv Saskatchewan. This one-hour documentary followed Déné people as they hunt, harvest, butcher, feast, and celebrate the caribou, an iconic species that has sustained and defined their people for thousands of years.
The film is a celebration of the Déné people’s rich, ancient culture, a culture based on the interconnected elements of humans, caribou, and the land. Etthén Heldeli: Caribou Eaters is also a visual, poetic document lamenting age-old traditions that are in danger of vanishing if the caribou disappear.
Director and cinematographer Ian Toews said it took two years to see this documentary to completion.
“ focus on nature, wildlife and First Nations people often end up in our films,” he said. “I was thinking of other stories in Saskatchewan that we haven’t told…and I about the Déné people. I started thinking what was key there and that the caribou.”
Etthén Heldeli: Caribou Eaters is the first documentary production collaboration between 291 Film Company and Twisted Pair Productions, with the production based in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The documentary originated with a winter development trip to northern Saskatchewan. Toews followed a caribou hunt with Déné First Nations people from Black Lake, SK in which the expedition took them hundreds of kilometres by snowmobile, to the northern border of Saskatchewan and beyond - into the Northwest Territories.
The Déné are faced with numerous challenges as they struggle to maintain their traditional, caribou-dependent lives. The animals are threatened, as always, by natural predation, disease, weather, and human harvest. Now, on top of that, insects and forest fires endanger their food sources and, increasingly, roads and power lines built by mining companies disrupt their migratory routes. For 18 years the Déne people have been negotiating with the Canadian government over Treaties 8 and 10, aiming to ensure Déné boundary rights to land that includes the caribou migratory routes as well as Déné cultural sites.
According to the Saskatchewan government, Canada has listed the woodland caribou as a “threatened” species. Environment Canada created a national recovery strategy. Knowing there is a need to bring more awareness to the importance of caribou, Toews was even more fueled to understand the importance of caribou through making this film.
“One of the factors that we identified in the film with the help of First Nations and also biologists is that forest fires have played a significant role in knocking back the habitat of caribou,” he said.
Toews hopes viewers take away from the documentary is
“For non-Aboriginal viewers, hope to enlighten them as to another group of First Nations people in the province,” he said. “For most Indigenous people, to celebrate how great their culture is…I hope they it as a fair treatment of their culture and what they do. I hope it resonates properly with everybody and people can appreciate the unique culture of those who live on caribou.”
Although the Etthén Heldeli: Caribou Eaters documentary has aired already, viewers still have a chance to catch it on Citytv Saskatchewan on the days of November 4th, 18th and December 2 at 10pm.