The Fight for our Lives: Budding T’it’q’et filmmakers in Lillooet, BC focus on the importance of salmon to their community and culture

By Jeremy Williams –

Over ten days in August, I had the honour and pleasure of facilitating a crash course in documentary filmmaking workshop, which helped train four young women 16–28 years old from T’it’q’et, one of the ten St’at’imc communities in Lillooet.

Sarah Napoleon (L) and Marie Scotchman (R) interview Chief Michelle Edwards for their film about the importance of salmon to the St'at'imc Nation. Photos: Jeremy Williams

Sarah Napoleon (L) and Marie Scotchman (R) interview Chief Michelle Edwards for their film about the importance of salmon to the St’at’imc Nation. Photo: Jeremy Williams

During the ten days, the team – Lakota James, Sarah Napoleon, Tabitha Leach, and Marie Scotchman – learned how to use a video camera, edit their footage, and craft a story. They learned from their community leaders and elders about the concerns facing the salmon and the fight to protect them.

“We are in the fight for our lives, to feed our families, to retain our language, to bring back our language, and our culture,” says T’it’q’etKukwpi7 / Tribal Chief Shelley Leech in the film, entitled Sts̓úqwaz̓ (salmon).

“That mine breach is the biggest catastrophe that Canada has ever seen,” says T’it’q’etKukwpi7 / Chief Kevin Whitney. “There is a law case pending right now that the St’at’imc have entered into. We have a lawsuit against the Mt. Polley mine… to hold them accountable.”

I have seen the impacts to the Fraser River first hand as I have spent months floating down the Fraser River over the last 15 years on several expeditions with the Rivershed Society of BC, which takes youth down the Fraser River every year on their Sustainable Living Leadership Program, a 26-day life-changing adventure.

I have been producing films in partnership with indigenous communities across BC since 2000, and I have produced several independent films focused on the Fraser River including Downstream, (co-produced with the Wilderness Committee) (https://vimeo.com/156357147) which reveals the dire situation with mining pollution in the Fraser River. This goes beyond the 24 million litres of effluent spilled into the watershed at the Mt. Polley mine disaster in 2014 to include 5 billion litres of untreated effluent released into the Fraser River annually by Taseko Mines Ltd. at the Gibraltar mine near Marguerite, north of Williams Lake.

“We really need to know that journey and respect the journey that those fish go on because you start taking them away and we will start losing our way of life,” says Chief Michelle Edwards of Sekw’el’was and Qaqy’ten.

The film crew in T’it’qet learned of the historical abundance their elders experienced, the cultural significance of the salmon, and how they are a keystone species that support countless plants and animals above and below the surface, from the sea to the headwaters of the Fraser River.

The team was very passionate, which made learning easy and kept the energy up through the technical challenges associated with filmmaking. Through long, hot, and smoky days, the filmmakers conducted interviews, created a storyboard, and captured some beautiful footage including the Salmon in the Canyon event and Keely Weget-Whitney’s swim from Lillooet to Lytton with the Rivershed Society of BC as part of FraserFEST (celebrate your watershed).

“I’m going to be swimming from Lillooet to the Stein Valley and I am going to be swimming for the salmon,” said Weget-Whitney, in her interview. “These salmon, they’re dying and that’s not ok. I’m not ok with that, and that is why I am doing this swim because I have a lot of love for these salmon.”

Keely Weget-Whitney practised swimming in Seton Lake leading up to her 64 km journey down the Fraser River.

Keely Weget-Whitney practised swimming in Seton Lake leading up to her 64 km journey down the Fraser River. Photo: Jeremy Williams

According the Kukwpi7, Perry Redan, who spent decades conducting research as Chief and advocate for the salmon, there was roughly 100 million salmon in the Fraser River a century ago. Now, there is a plethora of threats facing the salmon including warm waters from deforestation, mine effluent, sewage pollution, industrial fishing, diseases from fish farms along the migration route of the smolts as they make their way to the sea, and of course, the changing climate.

Indeed, we are at a critical moment in time when it comes to the conservation of salmon in the Fraser River. People need to know what’s at stake, what the solutions are, and to take action. With these young filmmakers helping to spread the word, I have hope we can turn things around and help the salmon, help the Fraser River, and work together for a healthy world with abundant runs of salmon returning to spawn.

You can view the film Sts̓úqwaz̓ here: https://vimeo.com/230882526

Jeremy Williams produces films and spends at least a month each year sharing skills to empower young filmmakers in remote communities. You can follow him online at https://www.facebook.com/RiverVoicesProductions/ or visit his website http://RiverVoices.ca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WordPress Anti-Spam by WP-SpamShield