DƏNE YI’INJETL | The Scattering of Man
(Canada, 75 min.)
Dir. Luke Gleeson
As much as it is a love letter to the land, DƏNE YI’INJETL | The Scattering of Man is an artful unravelling of decades of an Indigenous community’s trauma and grief. The Tsay Keh Dene Nation tells its own story of displacement by the construction of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, capturing the devastating damage felt across generations.
A deep sense of betrayal pulses through the film, as strong as the currents BC Hydro began to harness for profit and power in the 1960s. Director Luke Gleeson, a member of the Tsay Keh Dene, captures it knowingly. The doc was backed by the Nation itself, both in funding and vision. It’s evident in the eyes of the members interviewed that they trust Gleeson and his crew with their stories.
The doc blinks back and forth between the full-steam-ahead attitude of the government and the bewildered, bulldozed accounts of the local community. When the Williston Reservoir was created by the dam, the Tsay Keh Dene peoples’ territory was decimated by flooding. Homes were swept away along with animals they relied on for food, and the familiar waters they used to cross became gaping and lethal.
DƏNE YI’INJETL cuts in historical footage to profound emotional effect. Images of white prosperity and celebrations of ‘progress’ are dropped amidst those of Indigenous devastation. “We’re having just the most lovely summer ever,” quips the then-premier and the dam’s namesake on a press tour. Later, a ‘60s-era television clip shows the hasty shacks the community is expected to live in, far from their own land, while the reservoir laps at graves on its shore.
The sometimes dramatic score keeps the film clipping along at a healthy pace. Old clips of BC Hydro efforts get the villain soundtrack treatment. The film breathes in long, soaring shots of the Tsay Keh Dene traditional territory. Towering mountains and glistening waters are captured in all their beauty and their loss. Barren, dried up banks of the reservoir blow hazardous dust out over the present-day valley.
After decades of grief, the film sees the Tsay Keh Dene people continue to be left with the aftermath. Although the community tends to the dam, they don’t even reap its rewards. Their power comes from diesel, despite living next to one of the biggest reservoirs in the world, which powers households across BC. Many community members help clean up the seemingly endless mountains of debris clogging the waters. “It’s a debris program, but we call it cleaning up Hydro’s mess,” says Johnny Pierre, a worker and member of the Tsay Keh Dene Nation, in voiceover.
While the Tsay Keh Dene Nation’s resilience is remarkable, the film stings with the desire for them to have never had to deal with it at all. Despite this, the Nation refuses to end their story that way. The community continues the effort to heal and revitalize their culture, traditions, and the continued care of the land. In taking the narrative into their own hands, the Tsay Keh Dene Nation has woven a nuanced account of their troubled yet triumphant history like no exhibit or article ever could.
DƏNE YI’INJETL | The Scattering of Man screens at RIDM on Nov. 17.