On Oct. 17, the 16th annual imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival in Toronto featured former UVic student and local filmmaker Steven Davies. Davies is a documentary filmmaker and media artist who has worked with Coast Salish communities for a number of years. With his films, he hopes that he can draw attention to the many issues that indigenous communities face in a manner that respects all perspectives.
“I think it’s really important for me and my art to kind of present dignified voices that are going to make [Indigenous communities] proud,” said Davies.
The imagineNATIVE festival is the largest indigenous arts and media gathering in North America, and it generates a huge impact on indigenous communities.
“imagineNATIVE plays an important role in the dissemination and export of Indigenous works by promoting and exhibiting artists’ films, videos, audio, and digital media artworks to Canadian and international festivals, markets, distributors, and broadcasters and by facilitating sales and acquisitions,” wrote the founders of imagineNATIVE on their website.
Davies’ film featured in this year’s imagineNATIVE festival is called The Re-Naming of the Pkols, and it focuses on the official title of the mountain popularly known as Mt. Doug.
The W̱SÁNEĆ and Lekwungen First Nation groups organized a demonstration on May 22, 2013 to reclaim the name of the mountain as Pkols in order to revitalize their culture and traditional language.
Controversy arose on the re-naming day, when around 600 people gathered in demonstration of community strength. The crowd convened as a gesture of support for the local indigenous peoples of the area, who had dug a hole in preparation for a sign. Saanich Parks had not approved the erection of a sign on the concrete slab.
Saanich Parks later informed the organizers of the group that the hole drilled in the concrete for their sign allowed water to flow into the electrical station below when it rained.
“It’s a hurtful thing actually to have that sort of an action taken against something that’s historically accurate,” says Charles Elliot, a Tsartlip master carver featured in Davies’ film. “We are trying to honour our ancestors and our own history.”
On the mountain that day, Davies became inspired by the passion and dedication of the community, and he knew that he had to use his skills as a filmmaker to educate a wider audience on the issue.
Davies says that the most difficult aspect of the filmmaking process is when he’s writing the narrative, so he prefers to have his subjects tell the story themselves.
“I like to go wide [with the film] and then pick out those moments, and piece those together, of their voices, rather than it being my voice.”
Although Davies has ancestry with the Snuneymuxw First Nations in Nanaimo, he values the connections he makes with all Coast Salish communities on Vancouver Island and their histories.
“For me to be able to work with them and help share their story is a way for me to connect to my ancestors,” said Davies, “It’s the first time that they’ve written their own history since the colonization, so to have their kids at that event, to see their leaders stepping up, and supported by the greater community, is the most powerful message there is.”