We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
As the Language and Culture Director for the Tahltan Nation and a Tahltan academic, I believe giving voice to our people is crucial. Until recent times, the academy has privileged the voices of settlers and outsiders in the telling of Indigenous peoples’ stories and experiences. While I have spoken to many of our people about this film, the voices of Tahltan filmmaker Michael Bourquin and Ts’mysen-Tahltan graduate student Shalane Pauls specifically supported my voice in this review.
The Tāłtān title Konelīne and its English subtitle our land beautiful seems to indicate that the story would be told by us and would be about our relationship with the land. However, that is not the case. Several Tāłtān first language speakers have said that konelīne means “beautiful place” or “beautiful country.” With the misuse of the Tāłtān title, along with the outsiders’ view of the impact of industrial development on our people and our lands, we feel that our language and our struggle have been commodified.
The footage chosen by Nettie Wild highlights industry and how it threatens to change our lands, with a focus on how this will impact some of our people, as well as focusing on several settlers and visitors to our lands. As the artist, she chose the colours – the voices – to paint the canvas, to narrate a perspective. Our Tahltan eyes focus on how our relationship with the land is being fractured due to colonization and the need for jobs, and how our people may be perceived through the footage chosen. As humans, everything we encounter is filtered through our lived experiences. Because of this, we feel that the story told through the lens of non-Tahltan people has not been helpful to Indigenous-settler relations.
The film poorly portrays Tahltan people on our territory. An example of this is the juxtaposition of the Tahltan hunters and the settler hunters. The Tahltan hunters use high-powered rifles and drive a pickup truck. The settler hunters visiting our lands carry bows and arrows and are shown walking in the pristine wilderness while talking about being one with nature. This is reminiscent of the “pizza test,” a term used during the Delgamuukw court case in northern British Columbia. The lawyer for the Crown argued that if Indigenous peoples ate contemporary foods, such as pizza, as opposed to eating only traditional Indigenous foods, then it not only extinguished their Aboriginal rights but also negated their “Indian” authenticity, a ridiculous premise. Using this unfair test, our hunters might no longer be considered Indigenous, with the settler hunters appearing more so. Having said this, we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of feeling obliged to explain our people’s actions and situations to outsiders.
Many settlers and visitors to our lands were a focus of this film. Big-game outfitting in British Columbia is a lucrative business, and our people have a long history of guiding outsiders who have come into our lands, about where and what to hunt. In terms of how industry is affecting outfitters’ livelihoods, the settler outfitter spoke about how it is driving the animals away, but her focus was on how it is bad for business. Our focus is on how it is disrupting our people’s lives, as well as the animals that we share the land with. It is a tough situation our people are in, with our need to survive by making money to live and support our families. Because of colonization, we often have to turn our backs on our Ancestors’ teachings about protecting the land and nurturing our relationship with the land and all those we share it with.
Wild’s film demonstrates that settlers have a long way to go in understanding colonization, both past and present. Canada was founded on the appropriation of our lands and our ways of life. In order for reconciliation to occur, settlers need to relinquish the desire to speak for us; they need to become allies as we make room to tell our stories with our voices. Ts’mysen scholar Charles Menzies (2016) says that when carrying out research with Indigenous peoples, non-Indigenous researchers need to step back, turn their gaze, and follow rather than direct – advice non-Indigenous filmmakers need to respect and abide by.
Konelīne: our land beautiful
Vancouver: Canada Wild Productions, 2016. 96 mins.
Menzies, Charles. 2016. People of the Saltwater: An ethnography of Git lax m’oon. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.