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Ktunaxa film workshop brings Indigenous stories to life

Submitted film 'No Trees Without Roots,' takes viewers on a healing journey of cultural rediscovery

Indigenous artists were able to bring their culture to the big screen through a film making workshop that ran at Aq'am May 27 to June 2.

The course, lead by Vancouver film director Farhan Umedaly and financed by Telus Storyhive, taught aspiring Indigenous filmmakers the ins and outs of video equipment, and how to shoot and edit their own work. More than 20 people, age 12 to 70, participated in the free course, making short films that reflected their experiences with personal growth, traditional teachings, community, nature, and trauma and inter-generational grief.

"I think it's really important that what we do supports First Nations, to see these stories on their homes and traditional culture represented in the national media landscape, giving more access for Canadians to see these stories on their screens," said Telus partnerships and training manager T. Bannister.

"It can often be challenging for storytellers in more rural communities to access support and funding to create meaningful content," Bannister added.

Sammie Coates and Blaine Burgoyne created a 10 minute film called No Trees Without Roots, based on Coates's life, specifically the loss of cultural identity she experienced at the hands of the foster care system, and the subsequent addiction that followed.

Coates is from Beardy's and Okemasis' Cree Nation, located just outside Prince Albert, SK, but she grew up a few hours east of the reserve in a rural town called Hudson Bay. She said being torn from her culture led to identity issues, but that she eventually found acceptance at Ktunaxa First Nation after meeting her partner Burgoyne, who was born and raised at Aq'am.

"That led to alcoholism and addiction issues and it caused me to find comfort in all the wrong places," she said.

Coates said she wants their film to shine a light on the healing journey that many Indigenous people undertake to reconnect with their culture.

"I really wanted to express the importance of community and returning to culture; how regaining your sense of identity will propel you to learning your purpose. That sense of belonging, I just hope other people who struggle with the same issue will get to find that because it saved my life," she said.

"I hope it gives non-Indigenous people a bit more patience and understanding when it comes to the healing it takes for Indigenous communities and how much of an effort that is," she added.

The couple recorded their film at various locations at Aq'am, including an area that was ravaged by fire last year, which Burgoyne said had an eerie feeling that helped set the mood. Their friends and family were also involved with their project.

A public film screening was held on June 2 at ʔaq̓amnik̓  Elementary School, with 75 people in attendance, including Elders, and Chief and council. Coates and Burgoyne won the Digital Warrior Award and the Telus Storyhive Emerging Talent Award. They were also given $500 for camera equipment.

Coates said the workshop was a cathartic experience for her.

"I really believe this was an absolute milestone in my healing journey ... I had a community that saw me. They heard my story. I was acknowledged. I was seen."

Burgoyne said this project has inspired them to wade deeper into the world of film and create other projects in future.

"We have more messages we want to tell, more stories we want to create ... There's a lot of things that go on on reserves that a lot of people don't understand and I think [film] it would be a great way to present it to people and let everyone know."

The films will air on Telus Optic TV on channel nine, and will also be posted to the Empowered Filmmaker YouTube channel in the coming months.

About the Author: Gillian Francis

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