Documentary about Seal River Watershed Alliance premieres in Winnipeg

Tells tale of Sayisi Dene, Northlands Denesuline, Barren Lands and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin protectingland for future generations

A chorus of drums ushered in the world premiere of We Are Made from the Land at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The documentary chronicles the creation of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, a group of four northern Manitoba First Nations that came together in 2019 to protect the land around the Seal River.

The communities of the Sayisi Dene, Northlands Denesuline, Barren Lands and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin live in the watershed territory, approximately 1080 km north of Winnipeg, and want to protect it for future generations.

“What we did is historic,” said O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation Chief Shirley Ducharme at the premiere, “…for the world to know that as Indigenous people, the land and the waters are sacred.”

“That’s how we brought this forth – thinking about our ancestors and how we wanted to preserve our culture through these lands and the waters. This is how it came to be.”

Memorandum of understanding

The alliance signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal and provincial governments in January to conduct a feasibility study on establishing an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in the watershed.

The study is expected to take two years to complete.

The IPCA designation supports Indigenous-led conservation efforts by upholding principles of self-governance.

Stephanie Thorassie, executive director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, starred in and produced the documentary.

Her parents were among the Sayisi Dene forced to relocate from their territories to the outskirts of Churchill, Man., in 1956. She says the IPCA designation would prevent future displacement from the land.

A documentary about the Seal River Watershed Alliance had its premiere in Winnipeg. Photo: Cierra Betten/APTN News

“I’m the first generation out of a devastating relocation where one-third of the members of my nation died as a result of the disconnect from the land,” Thorassie said in an interview.

“So, therefore, we know from personal experience that this is not something we can have happen to our people again.”

Much of the documentary focuses on the importance of sharing land-based knowledge with future generations.

As a youth land guardian, Trevin Baker from O-Pipon-Na-Piwin, is among those taking the lead.

“I help get declaration feedback for the IPCA,” Baker said at the premiere. “I do a bunch of training, too, like get my First Aid certificate, my wilderness, and all that helps me help the youth.”

Thorassie says others may support the project by signing the alliance’s open letter to the province. The documentary can be viewed for free on the alliance’s website.

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