A film by Giovanni Attili and Leonie Sandercock

This film is divided into three parts, or chapters.

1 The Contagion of Colonisation (23 mins)
Thousands of years before Europeans first set foot in the northern part of the North American continent, diverse Native peoples occupied these lands, each with their own tribal territory that provided the resources for survival.
The arrival of Europeans first disrupted then devastated these First Nations.
European colonization reached the North West in the early 19th century. The land now known as British Columbia was home to between 250,000 and 400,000 Native people at that time. By the end of the 19th century, the Native population of BC had been decimated by a staggering 90% as a result of contact and colonization.
Our story captures the impacts of this ‘contagion of colonization’ on two sub-tribes of the Carrier (Dakelh) people – the Burns Lake Band (Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation), and the Cheslatta Carrier Nation – who live in the north central interior.

It’s a story of Canada’s shame, and its promise.

Through interviews with members of these First Nations today, we learn about life before contact with European settlers, and then of the systematic attempt by colonizers to destroy Native culture: through the Indian Act; the Reserve System of Indian Lands; and the Residential School system.
Through interviews with survivors of the Residential School experience in this region, we learn of the dysfunction brought to Native communities as a result of the Schools’ attempt to eradicate Native languages and culture; Native resistance to the Schools; and finally, in 2008, an historic apology from the Prime Minister of Canada to First Nations.

2High Noon in Burns Lake, 1914-2007 (30 mins)
This chapter tells of the century long conflict between Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band) and the Village of Burns Lake, a conflict primarily about expropriated land, but also about ‘the two solitudes’, the apartheid that has separated Native and non-Native people.

The chapter is based on interviews with First Nations and non-Native residents of the town of Burns Lake, depicting their radically different life experiences and expectations, and the emerging struggle for justice on the part of T’sil Kaz Koh. This struggle climaxes in the late 1990s over land and taxation issues which culminate in the Village of Burns Lake shutting off water, sewer and fire services to TKK’s Reservation, and TKK taking the Village to the Supreme Court and winning.

After the embarrassment of the court case, the Village makes an effort to reinvent its relations with First Nations and TKK reaches out to the Village in an effort to forge partnerships for economic and social development. We look at how change has come about, how far it has gone, what stills needs to be done, through the words of First Nations and non-Native community leaders.

3 Keeping our heads above water: the story of the Cheslatta people, 1952-2007 (33 mins)
This chapter relates the tragic story of the eviction in April 1952 of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation (CCN) from their ancestral lands by the Aluminium Company of Canada (Alcan), in association with the government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia. In the space of 10 days, the Cheslatta are forced from a life of self-sufficiency based on traditional ways to a dependency on welfare payments from the Dept of Indian Affairs and an uncomfortable existence as strangers in what is to them a foreign country, the south side of Francis Lake (20 miles south of Burns Lake). We trace the Cheslatta’s descent into social chaos in the following three decades, as the combined effects of the eviction and of the Residential Schools take their toll on cultural identity. But there is another, more hopeful story, of resistance and a struggle to return to self-sufficiency. The Cheslatta tell their own story of pain, struggle, forgiveness, healing, and revitalization: and their chosen path to economic and social development through partnership and joint ventures with the surrounding non-Native community.

The Cheslatta story is an epic saga that shows a path to healing (for First Nations) that begins with a return to tradition and complements that with a vision for the future. To our non-Native eyes, the most remarkable aspect of both stories is the demonstration on the part of First Nations of a capacity for forgiveness, for reaching out, for relationship building in spite of history’s tragic antagonisms. We witness a healing that has only just begun, across ‘the two solitudes’. From the apartheid that has been Canada’s shame, we explore the promise of working together for justice and respectful and productive co-existence.