Staff at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning say a new short film documenting a community fish camp this past winter is a “love letter to Denendeh.”
Łiwe Camp: Fishing and Governance on Dene Land was filmed late February on Mackenzie Island outside of Dettah, capturing the second iteration of the camp hosted by Dechinta and the Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife.
The first one, held in 2020, was “a really big hit,” according to Dechinta’s land-based academic and regional outreach coordinator Kyla LeSage.
“We’re realizing how much of the community needs this and how they are losing their culture and losing the traditional teachings,” LeSage said.
“This fish camp is … very intergenerational, and we really just want to bring these teachings back to the community and provide a safe place for people to come, learn, and really connect with the territory that we’re living on.”
For two weeks, people of all ages gathered to learn how to prepare fish the Yellowknives Dene way. Attendees would check fish nets in the ice every morning and put the day’s catch into a bucket. Dene Elder Irene Sangris gave demonstrations on how to gut and fillet the fish before hanging the pieces to be dried.
There were a number of participants, including Elders, Yellowknives Dene chiefs and council, representatives from the Native Women’s Association, and children from both the Rainbow Coalition and Foster Family Coalition.
The importance of educational opportunities such as a community fish camp can’t be overstated for LeSage. As an Indigenous woman and Dechinta alumni herself, she said she has learned so much from the land and her Elders.
“I think it’s important to really feel the beauty of community, and that it takes a community to run a program, and it takes a community to re-teach our youth and re-connect our youth to the land,” she said.
“Returning to land and returning to the traditional practices – they go hand in hand. You can’t return to one without the other, because the land is our teacher. The land is always teaching me different decolonial ways of living and learning … and you can really see that and feel that in the film itself.”
Capturing community on film
The 14-minute film centred around the fish camp was shot and edited by Morgan Tsetta, a Yellowknives Dene filmmaker, photographer, and TikTok creator who serves as the digital media coordinator for Dechinta.
Tsetta said she tries to highlight, honour, and uplift the Dene in her work – such as capturing the intergenerational transfer of knowledge at the fish camp.
“It’s just incredibly powerful to be this vessel for future documentation for our community,” she said.
The film includes an Elder speaking the Dene language, introduces viewers to Dechinta staff, and explores the importance of land-based education in revitalizing culture and wellness. It was a featured film in the virtual 2021 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) Conference this past June.
Tsetta hopes the film will be able to show viewers “what makes Denendeh so beautiful,” she continued.
“A lot of people might not acknowledge the northern territories or might not recognize the sub-Arctic in the grand scheme of all that amazing, beautiful land,” Tsetta said.
“I really think that it’s such a great love letter to our specific community, and I hope that people can see it, learn from it and just fall in love with Yellowknives Dene and Chief Drygeese territory.”
Alongside the film, Dechinta has released a field guide to further educate audiences on Dene laws, ways of life, and resurgence.
“An Indigenous field guide for fish camp is not just about helping us identify different types of fish,” the guide reads.
“It is about being in a living relationship with this territory and living in accordance to the Dene laws that govern this territory. It is about understanding how we exist in relation to those elements, and what those elements teach us about how to live with each other and govern ourselves.
“At Łiwe Camp, ‘the guide’ is both the Yellowknives Dene Elders, who have a deep understanding and knowledge of the land and the living elements on this territory, as well as the land itself. The land is the ultimate guide to learning how to live and be in the world around us.”
The film and guide are available on Dechinta’s website.