Digital stories take Indigenous knowledge to the big screen

SSHRC-funded research film featured at world’s largest Indigenous film festival

Glwa: Resurgence of the Ocean-Going Canoe, a documentary film coproduced by the Heiltsuk Nation’s Tribal Council and The University of Winnipeg, was screened this October at the ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto.

With multiple world, international, Canadian and North American premieres, imagineNATIVE featured over 100 films, documentaries, shorts and music videos created by Indigenous filmmakers. Glwa: Resurgence of the Ocean-Going Canoe screened in a section that was first to sell out at the festival.

The film was created through a unique collaboration between Heiltsuk and Nuu-Chah-Nulth scholar Vina Brown and non-Indigenous SSHRC-funded master’s student Hillary Beattie.

“The film demonstrates how participatory video research methods can be used to reach and engage audiences outside of academia,” said Beattie, who will include the film in her thesis. Additional chapters will analyze interviews to evaluate the impact of Tribal Canoe Journeys, as well as lessons learned about video-based research methods.

Each stage of the production process—from planning, shooting and editing to distribution—was led by the Heiltsuk community members with support from their academic partners. The process also involved teaching Heiltsuk youth filmmaking skills, so they could help document their own journey.

“Our story is being told authentically, from our perspective,” said Vina Brown. She planned the film as part of her capstone project at Northwest Indian College, where she now works. “This film has been guided and developed by our people,” she said.

The documentary follows co-producer Frank Brown and a group of Heiltsuk youth as they paddle down along the coast of Washington state to honour the invitation of ancestral groups of the Nisqually Tribe for Tribal Journeys 2016.

The youth reconnected with the natural environment and with other coastal Indigenous nations, and began working towards reversing intergenerational trauma.

“Over the last three decades, Tribal Journeys have revitalized and strengthened our Nation,” said Brown, himself Heiltsuk. “This film captures that story and helps us share it with the world.”

The film was also coproduced by Beattie’s thesis supervisor Ian Mauro, himself an award-winning filmmaker, who is a co-investigator on a SSHRC Partnership Grant called Ocean Canada that helped support the project. “The film is being released at an interesting time, given the societal dialogue regarding Canada 150, and this project makes an important contribution by demonstrating how research can be a form of truth and reconciliation in action,” said Mauro.

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