Two Gwich’in filmmakers from Fairbanks, Alaska, are bringing their language to the big-screen.
Alisha Carlson and Princess Daazhraii Johnson are the creative force behind Diiyeghan naii Taii Tr’eedaa (We Will Walk the Trail of our Ancestors).
The short film examines the theme of reciprocity, the exchange of goods or services to the benefit of both parties, and how it relates to the Gwich’in language by following Carlson as she participates in cultural practices with her family.
The film is part of Reciprocity Project: Season 1, a series consisting of seven Indigenous-made documentary shorts intended to inspire conversation and action on climate change.
“The meaning of the word reciprocity is embedded in our values of how we relate to the elements, how we relate to the water, the land, the animals (and) one another,” Johnson told APTN News.
Promotional material for the film states it’s also believed to be the first documentary filmed entirely in the Gwich’in language.
“We were very intentional in wanting to use the language and it’s (Carlson’s) voice that we hear on the voiceover,” Johnson said. “She was a little nervous about doing that because it’s a big deal to speak our language, even though we’ve been learning it and we’re adult learners…I think it’s just really meaningful that we try it, even if we’re not perfect, that we attempt and do our best to really speak it out into the world.”
Much of the film is focused on the importance and cultural connection to the Porcupine caribou herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and how it is reciprocal with the Gwich’in people.
Johnson noted the refuge has been under threat due to proposed oil and gas development on its coastal plain.
“This was an opportunity to kind of just show our humanity, our spirit, our spiritual relationship, how truly connected we are to those animals,” she said.
“We have that sacred connection, all of us do, to our mother earth and the elements that we depend upon. We have an obligation to protect the animals, the land, the water that we all depend upon (for future generations).”
Diiyeghan naii Taii Tr’eedaa was an official selection of this year’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and has screened a several other festivals, including Anchorage International Film Festival, Skábmagovat Indigenous Peoples’ Film Festival and Māoriland Film Festival.