Paddling the Tsiigehnjiik: Q & A with Erica Thompson

The NWTRPA was thrilled to have so many join in for the Yellowknife International Film Festival. If you caught our submitted short film, Paddling the Tsiigehnjiik here is a Q&A with Erica Thompson, one of the educators who helped facilitate the transformational canoe trip down the Tsiigehnjiik/Arctic Red River.


This is a very heartwarming film, and the youth were fantastic in front of the camera. How did it feel in the moment to be filmed while on the canoe trip?

In the moment, on a trip such as this one, all parties are working pretty hard to set up, run, and breakdown camp and since these youth were experienced on these trips they took those responsibilities pretty seriously. So I think after the initial awkwardness of knowing you're being filmed wore off it was easy to forget the camera was there and focus on the tasks at hand. I think that is why the candid nature of the action shots comes through like it does. Amos also had such a gift at capturing what was happening in an authentic way.


A canoe trip of this magnitude is already quite the undertaking. Are there additional challenges to creating a film while on a canoe trip that the audience doesn’t see?

I think one of things that happens in a trip like this is that the interviews, though natural once the people are speaking, do take a little bit of supporting. These students have so much to share but sometimes the confidence to speak directly to a filmmaker is a challenge. Sometimes we worked to help students feel comfortable and to help them realize that they had so much to offer an audience about what these trips mean and why they are important. We were so lucky that they were willing to take the risk and speak their language and share their gifts with the audiences of this film.

Beyond the interview sections, maybe just getting into a working rhythm with the filmmaker can be a challenge-- but we were so lucky with Amos because he became a team member in the work of setting up and establishing camps, helping build temporary shelters, etc. I would say he probably had challenges capturing EVERYTHING because he was sometimes involved in the doing. The day we got windbound you don't see the extent of the conditions on the water. Myself and a novice paddler got a bit too far from shore as I was directing students to go to shore and answering questions. We ended up having to track across the river to a safe spot to land and get the student into the support boat. Amos, who is a strong paddler, got into the canoe with me and we paddled back to where the rest of our crew was safely on land. That part didn't make it into the film because Amos was a part of the action.

Traditional knowledge and language play a large role in the film, how have the youth brought these lessons back to their community?

This group of students are definitely land based leaders in their school and in their community. Their strong cultural foundation is shared and practiced regularly. In terms of language growth, they are also leaders for their peers. They are mentors to younger students in school and are able to greet and converse with Elders because of their passion for growing those skills. Trips such as this one help expose the students to the language and help them build confidence and capacity with traditional skills in a truly authentic setting.


In watching Paddling the Tsiigehnjiik, I feel proud of the youth and their accomplishments. From your viewpoint, how has this unique land-based learning opportunity supported youth in their well-being?

Absolutely! These young leaders are so much more connected to their cultural way of life. They have made deep relationships with their community and their Elders through these trips and they have connected with each other in positive ways to help support each other in times which require the resilience skills trips of this nature support the building of. These students know that they are capable and that knowledge helps them navigate challenging life circumstances. Also, this activity supports healthy recreation and they often participate in community paddling experiences, races, and other trips in the region. Because of these trips, students have definitely connected to their community's history of paddling in a deep way.

How can viewers of your short film help support this paddling program in your community if they wish to?

These trips are so important-- but they are also very costly. In order to travel these distances and camp along the way there is a great deal of gear needed. Also, this gear needs to be replaced and fixed frequently (year to year). The cost and access to quality gear can be challenging for a remote community like Tsiigehtchic. So viewers can definitely help in that area. Also, exposure for students to trips outside of their region is very helpful. So if viewers host trips like this one and want to partner for an exchange etc. That could be a really nice way for these students to experience life outside of their area. Even just the knowledge that this film is being shown in this venue helps these kids see that their efforts are so valuable and that they have accomplished something great!


If you were unable to participate in the YKIFF, Paddling the Tsiigehnjiik will feature in the upcoming Yellowknife screening of the Paddling Film Festival.

For donation inquiries you can contact Superintendent Devin Roberts at droberts@bdec.nt.ca