The Lake Winnipeg Project is a four-part National Film Board of Canada production that focuses on four different communities: Matheson Island, Poplar River, Camp Morningstar and Fisher River.
Each of these communities has a unique story to tell about the land, the water and how they are navigating the external forces impacting traditional ways of life.
Community has always been important to Settee (Anishinaabe/Cree), who both wrote and directed the series. A community facilitator with deep ties throughout the Lake Winnipeg area, he wanted to ensure that the stories of each community were not only told, but told in a way that was guided by the communities themselves. He selected the communities thoughtfully, with much consideration given to their level of comfort and interest.
“It’s a community-based filmmaking project,” he says. “The whole idea was to try a new approach that isn’t really done all the time when it comes to filmmaking. Normally, what happens is somebody will have an idea and they’ll take it somewhere.” Instead, Settee went to each community to discover what they wanted to share, and made sure to get their blessing before filming them.
In Matheson Island, the first film in the series, Settee documents the story of three brothers who’ve been fishermen for almost half a century. He looks at issues like the bond between family, the impact of commercial fishing, and health.
In Poplar River, the focus is on land, water, protection and stewardship.
“They have been protecting their land for decades and it shows,” Settee says. “If you ever get the chance to go there, it’s untouched. There are so many birds. All you hear is birds.”
The third film in the series, Camp Morningstar, raises awareness about the impact of resource extraction, process and protocol.The camp was initially created in opposition to a silica sand mine that was being developed without proper consultation.
In the final film, Fisher River, the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are explored, in areas such as employment, motherhood and education. Kailey Arthurson (Anishinaabe/Nehiyaw) is one of the subjects of this part of the project.
Arthurson had been following the development of The Lake Winnipeg Project through social media. She connected with Settee online when he reached out to learn more about what was going on in the community of Fisher River.
The 25-year-old mother earned her Bachelor of Arts degree last summer during the pandemic and is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Education program at University College of the North. The program is offered on-reserve and runs evenings and weekends, making it highly accessible for busy parents and people from remote communities. The film looks at the impact of the pandemic on the community, as well as Arthurson’s life as a student, educator and mother in the era of COVID.
“It felt really good to just be a part of the project and how it was put together,” she says about the documentary. “It really was beautiful. I hope that people will understand our connection to the land and the water, and how important it is for us.”
Ultimately, The Lake Winnipeg Project shows how all four communities are united in stewardship and land and water protection, and how important it is for these underrepresented voices to be heard and listened to.
The Lake Winnipeg Project is produced by Alicia Smith and executive produced by David Christensen at the NFB’s Northwest Studio in Winnipeg. The latest addition to the NFB’s Indigenous Cinema collection, the series can be streamed free on NFB.ca starting June 21 to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba.