• Clockwise from left: Kyle Enzoe, Sam Deranger, Valadee Lockhart and leader Terri Enzoe are part of Ni Hat’Ni Dene Rangers, an Indigenous Guardians program in Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories. As part of the conservation program, the youth learn traditional Dene ways and monitor the health of the lake and its wildlife. (Photo: Pat Kane/Can Geo)

The Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI) and the Royal Canadian Geographical  Society (RCGS) have formed a ground-breaking partnership to produce a documentary series about Indigenous Guardians caring for lands and waters across the country.  

This collaboration grows out of shared values and concerns. In the age of climate change and biodiversity loss, both ILI and RCGS want to highlight Indigenous leadership in sustaining animals and plants, clean air and water, and healthy people and communities. 

ILI and RCGS are committed to producing the project in a way that embodies responsibility and reciprocity. Not only will they implement best practices in Indigenous filmmaking protocols, but they will also trail-blaze new ways of working across institutions and new kinds of collaborations with Indigenous Nations involved in the production.  

“We are excited about this unique partnership,” says Valérie Courtois, director of ILI. “We can draw on each other’s strengths to shine a spotlight on the great work of Guardians. And we will do it in a good way: The project will be led by Indigenous creatives and centre Indigenous people telling our own stories. It will engage people of all backgrounds with its focus on Guardians’ expertise, resilience, humour, and love of the land.” 

The project is currently in pre-development with Canadian Geographic Films and will begin soliciting broadcast and streaming licenses this winter. “Guardians carry on what Indigenous Peoples have always done: protect the earth for the next seven generations,” says Chief Perry Bellegarde, Honorary President of the RCGS. “This creative partnership between the Indigenous Leadership Initiative and the RCGS will shine a light on how the work of Guardians sustains the planet and all of our relations — human and beyond.” 

The series will include seven 60-minute documentaries, as well as a feature-length film developed for international audiences. Charlene Bearhead, director of reconciliation for the RCGS, echoes Chief Bellegarde’s enthusiasm. “Guardians are the climate and environmental heroes of today, who carry the practices, science and knowledge of their ancestors to combat the dire challenges the planet is now facing,” she says. “The stories of the incredible work of Guardians are needed now more than ever. All Canadians, and indeed all global citizens, need the experiences, wisdom and hope that Guardians bring. This Indigenous-led partnership is the key to that hope.” 

Adds Dahti Tsetso, deputy director of ILI: “Elders tell us that if we take care of the land, the land takes care of us. Guardians help honour this responsibility,  and it’s great to know more people will see them in action — and through an Indigenous lens.”

Dene filmmaker Amos Scott is working with the ILI and RCGS teams to help develop the series with Indigenous onscreen protocols as its foundation. He will lead a team of Indigenous directors and creatives who will drive the production of the series.

Related: Thaidene Nëné: Land of the ancestors