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New Central North Coast documentary earning international recognition

Keepers of the Land documents the Kitasoo Nation’s trailblazing land stewardship efforts.
The Kitasoo nation in the coastal village of Klemtu have been trailblazers with stewardship on their traditional lands. Kitosoo youth are seen in “Keepers of the Land” connecting with their ancestral lands. (Photo submitted by “Keepers of the Land”)

A Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation Nation documentary has been nominated for the Global Voices award at the 2023 Jackson Hole Wild Film Festival on Sept. 28.

Filmmaker Deirdre Leowinata’s three-year project Keepers of the Land, focused on the small coastal Nation’s stewardship efforts and their fight to look after their unceded land through a combination of traditional teachings and Western science.

The documentary portrayed the village of Klemtu and its gorgeous coastal lands, which chief councillor and stewardship director Doug Neasloss is hoping to revitalize. Grizzly bears, salmon, herring and other wildlife feature prominently in vibrant scenes during the documentary. Even the seldomly seen spirit bear made an appearance in the film.

Kitasoo Hereditary Chief Haay-Maas (Ernest Mason Jr.) said in the film the village’s stewardship projects are in recognition of the Nation’s ancestral teachings.

“You look after the land and the land looks after you,” he said.

Leowinata described the film as an “archive of lessons from the hereditary chief who is trying to pass on his knowledge.”

What Leowinata saw during her extensive time with the Nation was youth stepping up to the plate to protect traditional Kitasoo land.

“They’ve done a really incredible job at really cultivating a culture of stewardship,” she said. “I think that’s in large part due to the youth and the programs, like the seas program, that really connect these youth to their territory.”

Neasloss, who was also co-director of the film, has taken pride in the conservation involvement from Klemtu youth who he has been educating to become future custodians of the Nation’s environment. In Keepers of the Land, young land stewards are seen on Cultural Inventory Feature surveys, which aim to connect them to their ancestral lands.

“A big part of our program is to really tie the youth to the outdoors, tie them to the culture, take them out there and show them cultural sites,” he said. “Being there in person, I think it’s super powerful. They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives, and when it comes time for them to be a decision maker, hopefully, they’ll make some good choices and make sure that we have something for the next generations.”

READ MORE: Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation creates their own Marine Protected Area in Great Bear Rainforest

In June 2022, the Kitasoo Nation declared Kitasu Bay waters as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), giving the Nation complete stewardship over their unceded lands, which had often been overlooked and infrequently visited by provincial and federal conservation organizations.

After years of seeing natural resources plummet around them, Neasloss said the Kitasoo Nation began challenging typical conservation power dynamics with provincial and federal bodies.

“We’ve watched people draw a circle on a map and call it protected,” he said. “We’re coming up with some of the strongest information that’s informing decision-making and I think it’s very exciting. I think we are coming to the table with a wealth of knowledge, wealth of information and helping shape the new world.”

Kitasoo’s MPA will be seen as a blueprint for other Indigenous communities looking to conserve their natural resources, Neasloss hopes.

“We hope to provide a model that others can use, others can follow if they choose,” he said.

Being able to reach an international audience is a major accomplishment for Leowinata and her team. She said it is especially rewarding to see a Central North Coast First Nation on the international film circuit.

”It can really be a model for how things are done on a global level,” she said. “So I really am excited that they’re getting their story out at an international level.”

Keepers of the Land, which has yet to be fully released, has gotten a great reception in the community, according to Leowinata. The filmmaker said the stewardship team had plenty of say over what ended up in the final cut.

“We spent a really long time with community and in the community trying to do this right,” she said. “Our first screening was in community because we wanted to make sure that they approved of it before we aired it to the rest of the world. So I think that pays off.”

The documentary will also be featured in film festivals in New York, Los Angeles and a Canadian premiere in Toronto in the coming months.

To learn more about Keepers of the Land or to watch the trailer, go to their website.