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Watch: Sahtu’s biosphere reserve shines in national TV series


Watch: Camilla Tutcho passes on knowledge to youth in a clip from Striking Balance.

The second season of a Canadian TV series showcasing biosphere reserves across the country premieres on Sunday. The first episode features the Tsá Tué reserve in Délı̨nę.

Striking Balance, airing on TVO, is the brainchild of Yvonne Drebert and Zach Melnick, filmmakers from southern Ontario. The show documents areas designated as biosphere reserves by UNESCO.

Biosphere reserves are ecosystems which UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, has identified as sustainability hotspots – areas where communities have been able to maintain a relatively pristine landscape.

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Striking Balance explores those communities, their knowledge, and the innovation that is making these reserves tick.

Filmmakers Zach Melnick (left) and Yvonne Drebert, a husband and wife duo from Ontario. Photo: Submitted

“We kept bumping into these biospheres as we worked our way across Ontario, looking at the history of different areas,” Melnick, the series’ director, said.

“The concept of a biosphere reserve – these places where communities are working toward the sustainability of the natural areas around them – sounded pretty cool and pretty important.”

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Season one of Striking Balance aired in 2016 and looked at places such as Georgian Bay in Ontario, Redberry Lake in Saskatchewan, and Bras d’Or on Cape Breton Island.

In season two – narrated by Canadian music heavyweight Jim Cuddy, of Blue Rodeo – the NWT gets top billing, as the first episode explores the Tsá Tué Biosphere Reserve.

At more than 9.3 million hectares, Tsá Tué is situated on the southwestern arm of Great Bear Lake. That part of the Sahtu is the traditional territory of Dene and Métis peoples and home to the charter community of Délı̨nę.

Fish science in Tsá Tué. Photo: Submitted

Boating on Great Bear Lake. Photo: Submitted

Though officially designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2016, the people who live in the reserve have been preserving Great Bear Lake and its wildlife for hundreds of years. It is the only biosphere in the world that has been created and maintained by an Indigenous community.

Melnick and Drebert said they were humbled to film in Délı̨nę and learn from the community and its Elders.

“People were just so generous in sharing the story of what they’re trying to do and it’s an amazing place,” Drebert said.

The Elders’ prediction

The main concern for the community, Melnick and Drebert learned, is protecting the water and wildlife.

Michael Neyelle is a resident of Délı̨nę who worked closely with Melnick and Drebert while they filmed in the community. He’s been involved with local research for many years and said the work of protecting Great Bear Lake was handed down by Elders.

“Our Elders made a prediction,” said Neyelle.

“They said, ‘Look at this world. Great Bear Lake is going to be the last freshwater lake, when the world gets contaminated.’

“This is going to be the last fishing, the last of the great lakes that’s going to be left.

Michael Neyelle, a community member of Délı̨nę, was heavily involved in filming of the episode. Photo: Submitted

“We take that seriously. It’s our Elders talking to us. [We] want to make sure, if there’s going to be development, there’s no contamination – nothing that touches the water at all.”

The water within Great Bear Lake has already changed thanks to climate change. Neyelle said Fisheries and Oceans Canada tested the water about 15 years ago and again a few months ago. In those 15 years, Neyelle said, the water had warmed significantly.

This is concerning for a community that relies on fishing for subsistence, culture, and nourishment.

A community member prepares fish. Photo: Submitted

Aurora at Tsá Tué. Photo: Submitted

“We are a freshwater lake. It’s supposed to be nice, cold water and good fisheries and everything,” Neyelle said. “We’ve got seven species of fish here on Great Bear Lake and, if that thing gets warmer, then there might be some alien species. I’m worried about that.”

While the show tackles the challenges wrought by climate change and colonialism, it celebrates the success of communities in persevering and maintaining their biosphere reserves, Melnick and Drebert said.

Within the past 20 years, Délı̨nę and nearby communities have created a caribou and Great Bear Lake watershed management plan using Indigenous forms of governance, as well as a new guardianship program to monitor the water and wildlife.

“What you have in the Tsá Tué Biosphere Reserve is really the next level in Indigenous communities tackling conservation on their own terms, and it’s pretty exciting,” Melnick said.

“Hopefully, we can look forward to more of these things happening throughout Canada, led by Délı̨nę’s example there.”

Neyelle agreed.

“Délı̨nę has been leading a lot of this forefront protection [and] conservation issues, and other nations are following,” he said. “The more we protect, the longer our children are going to enjoy what we’re trying to protect for them.”

Season Two of Striking Balance premieres on TVO’s YouTube Channel on October 4. It’ll be free to stream.

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