Ceux comme La Terre: Nuanced Portrait of the Dene People

Ceux Comme la Terre. Aileen Drybones. Photo credit Nicolas Paquet Ceux Comme la Terre. Aileen Drybones. Photo credit Nicolas Paquet.

Ceux comme la terre is an intimate portrait of the Dene people who inhabit the shores of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. It lucidly addresses the “Indian problem” from an Indigenous perspective through peoples’ stories, the sure voice of Deneza Nakekh’o, visions of vast landscapes, silence, and a good old sprinkling of northern humour.

The Dene Nation are said to be indigenous to the Northwest Territories, a non-name Deneza Nakekh’o identifies as “a direction from Ottawa,” or rather Denendeh, as they prefer to call it for over 40,000 years. They form a demographic majority in the region and were given the right to vote in federal elections in 1960, approximately 40 years after the signing of Treaty 11, which stipulates that the Dene are allowed to live as they always have, but subjects what is beneath the land to the Crown. In 1976 the Dene Nation proclaimed their right to self-determination through the Dene Declaration, and thereby inspired the drafting of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1985.

 

This feature length documentary film follows the interwoven words and lives of René Fumoleau, who has lived among the Dene in Lutsul’Ke for 60 years, Deneza Nakekh’o, who runs the community radio, Bobby Drygeese, a guide working out of Yellowknife, and Pete Enzoe, a trapper and fisherman. The protagonists bring us into their daily lives through their stories, experience and their relationship to the vast northern territories.

 

Images from the lens of a Denendeh pace of life, a lively silence, an appreciation of nature, humour, and a sense of community solidarity, contrast with the prominent theme of change and the intergenerational effects of colonization in Canada’s north. The sharp disparity gives the audience an idea of what it means to be Dene today.

Ceux comme la terre. Ainees. Photo credit Nicolas Paquet

Ceux comme la terre. Ainees. Photo credit Nicolas Paquet

 

The most compelling qualities of the film are the breathtaking landscapes and a wonderful encounter with the Dene people themselves, who are certainly not approached through a prejudiced conception of a pan-Aboriginal Canada.

 

Inspired by the writings of René Fumoleau, documentary filmmaker and political philosopher Nicolas Pacquet and his team ventured to the Northwest Territories on three occasions to interview the oblate from Vendée, France. The director furthermore succeeded in delivering a walking road movie that highlights the place of the Dene in Canada’s historical dialogue with its Aboriginal peoples, and quite justly, gives them a voice that is uniquely theirs.

Ceux Comme La Terre is available online now from the Excentris/ONF and will be showing in Vancouver until February 16 at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois et francophone.

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