Eight northerners put their personal journeys through addiction on show in Yellowknife as a documentary series named Turning Points receiving its first airing.
Producers of the series – made by the University of British Columbia’s Global Reporting Centre – say they handed creative control of each video to the people being featured.
“It stemmed from this idea that we could rethink how we report on the world – flip the model of parachute journalism on its head,” said producer Britney Dennison.
The documentaries were screened for the first time at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre on Saturday. They are expected to be released online in the near future.
The eight videos, each roughly five minutes long, show northerners recounting the impact of addiction and alcoholism on their lives – and how they have addressed the challenges they faced.
William Greenland, whose video tells his story in the form of a letter to his son, introduced the first screening by telling an audience of 100 people: “A lot of things that happen in our lives. There’s got to be a turning point as to where we turned it around and decided to do something better in our life.”
Greenland added: “A lot of times in the past, we heard stories of our people created by non-Indigenous journalists. Sometimes when they told that story, it wasn’t what we meant – it’s not how we looked at ourselves – but through the eyes of somebody else down south, who said, ‘This is their problem,’ when it really wasn’t.
“In this project, journalists came and sat with us, built trust, and we could begin the process of putting the story out about who we are and where we come from.”
Speaking to Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News, Dennison said journalists “should spend the time” to build trust with people before telling their stories.
Asked for advice to others who had similar stories to share, she said: “If you are working with somebody and they’re not willing to [spend time building trust], then they’re probably not worth you spending your time with them to share your story.
“That can be a challenge with the way traditional journalists have done it and the way traditional media has approached things.”
Turning Points took more than three years to create. Two counsellors attended Saturday’s screening to provide support to audience members and those whose videos were being shown.
Participants in the videos are Catherine Lafferty, Donald Prince, Eric Wardell, Devin Hinchey, Louise Beaulieu, Chief Ernest Betsina, the late Muriel Betsina, and Greenland.
The documentary shorts were screened for the first time on Saturday. Permanent online homes for the videos will follow. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Both Lafferty and Hinchey, in their videos, speak of Yellowknife’s complex relationship with alcohol.
“Yellowknife is a drinking town,” Lafferty says as her video opens, while Hinchey says: “It’s so easy, up here, to go down the rabbit-hole. I feel like there’s a stigma around sobriety and recovery.”
In one of the series’ most poignant moments, Donald Prince – now best-known for his work helping people at the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation’s Yellowknife healing camp – describes how his life began to turn around when someone asked about his own childhood trauma.
“Nobody ever asked me what happened to me,” Prince, now sober for more than 20 years, says in his video.
“I look back now and that was the key to unlocking all that bitterness, hate, and anger I had for the world. I haven’t had a drug or a drink since.”
Dennison, the series’ producer, said it’s not yet clear exactly how and when each of the eight videos will be made available online.
“We went to each storyteller after they had signed off on the piece and said, ‘Ideally, how would you want people to see this? Who is your audience?'” she said.
“And so our goals for each piece will be a little different, depending on what people said they wanted.”