A documentary that is designed to record and preserve the historical knowledge and cultural teachings of a hereditary chief of the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) is expected to have its film debut in Creston later in December.
“Voices of the Ancestors – Teachings of the Flat-bow Kutenai” will document the knowledge of cultural carrier Robert Louie Sr., a 70-year-old LKB Elder who was raised and has lived his life in accordance with the traditional teachings, wisdom and beliefs of the Flat-bow Kutenai.
“It’s vital. Without this documentary — the hard cold fact is when Robert is gone, this knowledge is gone,” said Sharon Svanda, the Creston Valley Arts Council’s (CVAC) liaison for the project. “Even some of the other Elders that live on the reserve, they didn’t have the upbringing that Robert had. They didn’t get the hereditary stories taught to them the way he did.”
According to Svanda, Louie was raised by his grandmother, a matriarch who would constantly fill his mind with historical stories and teachings of the Flat-bow Kutenai.
“They were never written down. This is the first time this history will be written down before it’s lost,” said Svanda.
The documentary — which is a collaborative effort between the CVAC, the Legends Logos-Yaqan Nukiy Heritage Centre and Westword Communications — will also preserve the Flat-bow Kutenai heritage.
“Robert is part of one of the last generations that can speak (Flat-bow Ktunaxa) fluently,” said Svanda. “They had three methods of communication. Their first and foremost was sign language. Then bird-calling and eye-contact, and then the spoken word.”
Robert’s wife Denise, who has co-owned the Legends Logos-Yaqan Nukiy Heritage Centre alongside her husband since 2004, said that the film will revolve around the historical and cultural creation of areas of the Ktunaxa territory, with special emphasis on the mystique and lore of the Kootenay Lake.
“[The film] explains their legends and how they are reflected in the topography of the land. Robert’s commentary includes his remembrances of travelling the waterways of the Kootenay region in a canoe with his grandmother,” said Denise. “He draws attention to the many pictographs along the rock faces of the Kootenay Lake that are too quickly becoming faded and eroded.”
Legends Logos-Yaqan Nukiy Heritage Centre has been regularly chartering cultural boat tours with Blacktail Ridge out on Kootenay Lake for three years now, with Robert leading the storytelling and explaining the cultural significance of specific sites during the guides.
Denise said that she hopes the documentary will help to create more awareness in Creston about the tours and these Indigenous teachings, and to also help train LKB youth about the legends on the lake.
“People go out and they never see the lake the same again. There’s all kinds of hieroglyphics, pictographs, everything on this lake,” said Svanda.
Filming began in June, and around eight hours of footage has been filmed on the lake. The documentary is being brought to life by local filmmakers Mark Wolfe and Perry Ditzler, with drone footage courtesy of Marty Agabob.
Robert is currently recording commentary for the film, and his son Rob Jr. will also lend his vocal renditions of traditional songs to the film’s score.
An interpretational art exhibit will also accompany the film during its debut, which will be created by six local artists from various disciplines who had a chance to experience the cultural tour on Kootenay Lake.
The film will also be available on DVD, where copies will be available at the library and local schools for training and educational purposes, according to Svanda.
“Robert is going to do oration tours where he talks about the culture and shows the film, and tries to involve the youth that don’t live on the reserve and don’t have access to the Elders,” she said.
She added that she hopes that the documentary will bridge the gap between the LKB and the Creston community.
“There is still a real divide…Robert wants to jump that divide,” she said.”This is his life. This is what he wants to leave behind.”
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