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2019 Film Festival – Profile: Raven People Rising

    Film Festival    February 21, 2019

The following article was written by Jennifer Cikaluk as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 1-3, 2019. Filmmaker Andrea Palframan who resides on Salt Spring will be attending the festival and leading a discussion about the film following the screening. The Filmmaker series is sponsored by Mid Island Co-op

RAVEN PEOPLE RISING: An interview with Director Andrea Palframan

On October 13, 2016 the tug boat Nathan E. Stewart ran aground off the shores of the Heiltsuk people’s territory in one of the most pristine habitats in the world and one of the last and largest intact temperate rain forests on the planet. The Heiltsuk have been faithful stewards of this territory along the Central Coast of British Columbia for centuries. It’s a place where sea meets the land within the Great Bear Rain Forest.

“Heiltsuk territory is a vast and beautiful place. It’s a place which I call home with all my relatives. My home consists of wind torn outer islands with sandy beaches and blue seas.” (Raven People Rising)

A catastrophic diesel spill of over 110,000 liters of fuel seeped into the channel, around the surrounding islands, over the seabed, up the inlets and onto the shores.  The spill invaded the home of the Heiltsuk people who have lived on as the main descents of the Hailhzaqvla-speaking peoples for over 14,000 years. It is a home where whales, salmon, wolves, grizzly bears and 1000-year-old cedar trees reside.

 “You have these whales in our channels, you have grizzly bears that make their way through corridors to eat salmon that go all the way around the Pacific before making their way home.” (Raven People Rising)

The stunning cinematography in Raven People Rising captures the extreme beauty of this raw and vivid landscape. This is a story told through the passionate people of the Heiltsuk Nation who have fortified their identity and their voice despite years of colonial repression. They respect the laws of their ancestors and are guided by their ancestral teachings, which oblige them to manage and protect their land, their waters and all living beings within their territory.

“In Heiltsuk territory we have a very unique story to tell about not only 14,000 years and beyond of being in a place” (Raven People Rising)

Empowered by the inherent strength of their lineage and the love for their land they fought back and took a frontline position as the protectors and the stewards of this great territory.

“We say No! In the spirit of resistance and protection that has been handed down to us through generations of Heiltsuk ancestors, We Pushed Back!” (Raven People Rising)

The Heiltsuk were one of the Nations who opposed and rejected the intrusion of an oil pipeline on aboriginal lands and won a landmark case which stopped the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in 2016.  Fighting ‘Big Oil’ and winning, established the unshakable voice of the Heiltsuk people. Sadly, shortly after the victories of Enbridge, disaster struck when the Nathan E Stewart sank. The Heiltsuk people rose and took the lead to ‘push back’ and defend their territory.

“They have suffered a violent disruption to their way of life, their economy, their history and identity and their spiritual connection to the land.” (raventrust.com)

The Heiltsuk are taking the governments of Canada and British Columbia and the polluter – shipping company Kirby Corporation, to court over the catastrophic diesel oil spill in their territory.

“The Nation seeks to strengthen oil shipping safety and spill response by forcing regulators to engage with and draw from the expertise of Indigenous Peoples.” (Andrea Palframan / andreapalframan.com)

Film Director, Andrea Palframan who lives on Salt Spring is the Director of Engagement and Communication with RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs). She has spent decades travelling and working with communities confronted with social, political and environmental challenges. Using a story-based strategy to craft compelling narratives, she helps to amplify the voices of these communities, to communicate their initiatives and to connect with others to create a compelling call to action.

RAVEN raises legal defence funds to assist Indigenous Peoples who enforce their rights and title to protect their traditional territories. Palframan’s 30-minute film combines beautiful cinematography with a compelling narrative to successfully engage citizens and elicit a strong call to action.

I reached out to Director, Andrea Palframan to talk to her about the film and her experience as a filmmaker on Raven People Rising.


Andrea, How did you come to know the Heiltsuk people and why did you decided to direct a film about their quest to find legal justice for the damages to their culture, their economy and to their Nation’s traditional territory within the Great Bear Rain Forest?

I was really lucky to get to go to Bella Bella last spring with fellow islanders Gary McNutt and Alex Harris. I’m involved with RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs) and had been introduced to a few Heiltsuk people who were leaders in the struggle to defend the coast from the Northern Gateway pipelines and tankers project. We’d been watching the horror show that was the aftermath of the Nathan E. Stewart spill from afar and seen numerous docs and news stories about the destruction of the Heiltsuk’s main fishing grounds. But all of the stories seemed to portray people in victimhood. I understand the power of people’s emotions to propel a story, but the portrayals that had made the news didn’t mesh with the tough, brilliant and often hilarious Heiltsuk people I’d met when I was working on the Pull Together campaign to stop Enbridge. My goal, when I packed my bags and headed to the central coast of BC, was to show the community in its strength. I joke that I wanted to tell a feel-good story about an oil spill which, well, isn’t what happened. I hope there was more nuance and more of a guiding hand from the Heiltsuk in how this story was told.

Raven People Rising is your first Directorial experience. Can you share with us which part of the filmmaking process was most challenging and most rewarding for you personally?  What personal skills or attributes did you bring to the film?

Well, the first day I arrived in Bella Bella I was sat down at a long table with lifelong fishermen, marine biologists, elders, hereditary chiefs, young up-and-coming lawyers and council members who basically grilled me about my intentions. The Heiltsuk are super savvy about the often-extractive nature of media, ethnography and outsider­ do-gooders. So, they took my measure, and pushed back against some of my sillier ideas, challenged my use of language, and set firm boundaries around what and how they were willing to share. That was the first morning! Once they figured I was at least teachable, we got to work.

The film’s cinematography captures the pristine beauty and diversity of the Heiltsuk territory in such a vivid and impressive way. Tell us about the location filming.

The Heiltsuk have quite a progressive policy for any films or interviews made of people in the territory; the footage belongs to the Nation. They have the final say about who gets to use the footage, and how. This comes out of years of being portrayed inaccurately or having their images exploited for other­ than­ stated purposes. This is a real claiming of the ‘nothing about us, without us’ ethos and for me it meant that because I was co­producing the film with the Nation I had access to a treasure trove of incredible footage from some of the best filmmakers in B.C. So why the film looks so great, has a lot to do with the talent of Alex and Gary and quite a lot to do with the b-­roll supplied by the likes of Damien Gillis, April Bencze, Ian McAllister and underwater photographer Tavish Campbell.

That said, we also had an archive of great shots from protest marches and the Walk for Reconciliation thanks to Gary McNutt, who can often be found at such events with camera in hand. We also shot a bunch of video with local youth as part of a 3­-day media workshop which yielded some fun shots and brought us to some beautiful out of the way locations that the kids took us to see, including one memorable boat trip where the ‘captain’ who drove our boat was a 5 year old!!

How strongly do you feel about the importance of the Heiltsuk people obtaining a legal victory and what impact do you think it could potentially have for Salt Springer’s and other BC Coastal communities?

A win for the Heiltsuk would be a win for us all. Their claim of ‘title’ to the seabed and foreshore would have significant implications on fish farms in BC, whose pollution contaminates the seafloor at present with impunity. As far as the ability for Indigenous Peoples to control what types of substances are transported and by what means through their territories: the impact of a win would influence outcomes of pipeline and port development projects. Finally, the involvement of First Nations as first responders to spills is already known; First Nations are already the first ones on the scene in marine disasters and accidents. Empowering them with the tools, legal authority and budgets to do their jobs properly could be an outcome of this case and, from what I have witnessed, would bring a huge amount of expertise and local knowledge to the table when implementing our much touted “world class spill response’ protocol.

Tell us a little bit about RAVEN and why its role is important to the Heiltsuk people and other First Nations people.

RAVEN exists to provide access to justice for Indigenous Peoples. The organization fundraises for legal challenges initiated by First Nations and uses the power of networked organizing to engage ordinary people in fundraising, organizing events and making tax deductible donations to raise millions of dollars for important court cases. Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, though they have some of the strongest environmental rights in the world, are so often sidelined in decision making about resource projects on their territories. When they take to the courts to uphold their rights — be it in the aftermath of an oil spill, or in many cases to protect and prevent wild and sacred places from destruction — they are outspent by governments and corporations by a factor of at least 10:1. The Canadian government alone spends $100 million per year fighting Indigenous Nations in court. So RAVEN tries to level the playing field. It’s a way to take the fuzzy idea of ‘reconciliation’ and retool it into something sharper: redress. And it’s working. Indigenous Peoples are winning case after case in Canadian courts and reshaping the legal landscape in a way that will be written on the land and water for generations to come. If people admire the courage and the achievements of Indigenous Nations who, in taking a stand for rights, ultimately protect us all, then RAVEN is a place that appreciation can be translated into tangible support.

By Jennifer Cikaluk

2019 Festival Program

2019 Festival Schedule

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