Screen capture from the film The N’ziibiimnaan – Our River

By Rick Garrick

BIIGTIGONG NISHNAABEG—The N’ziibiimnaan – Our River film featuring a 10-day canoe trip on the Pic River by Biigtigong Nishnaabeg Chief Duncan Michano and five other canoeists was recently released on Youtube.

“(The filmmaker Andrew Wong) just videoed things as they were unfolding,” Michano says. “He didn’t try to get us to pose. He just did it naturally, so none of that footage is posed.”

Michano led the canoe trip down the 212-kilometre Pic River (Biigtig Siibii) from Long Lake, which Long Lake #58 is located on, to Biigtigong Nishnaabeg from July 27-August 5, 2016.

Wong’s film is available online.

“Our people had a whole network of canoe routes throughout this entire country, and they’re all grown in now,” Michano says. “That route from Long Lake to Pic River, from Pic River to Long Lake, was our means of contact with the people in Long Lake. That’s why we’re related so closely. I still have cousins up there.”

Wong says he learned about the canoe trip after meeting Michano through his work with the Marathon Economic Development Corporation. The film was his directorial debut.

“I think it is really important to document these kinds of trips,” Wong says. “We wanted to make sure we shared that with the community, first and foremost, and to the broader general public to increase the understanding of Anishinabek history and the truth that exists on Turtle Island.”

Wong says the canoe trip was “incredible,” noting that the canoeists completed 13 portages and paddled about 212 kilometres.

“It was so beautiful being on that river every single day,” Wong says. “I learned a lot along the way, on the river, and while camping with Chief Duncan. He looked out for all of us.”

Wong says a group of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg community members joined the six canoeists at Manitou Falls to complete the trip down the river.

“It was definitely a formative experience to work on this particular film,” Wong says. “To be so deep in the bush filming, that was a new experience because I haven’t had that level of intensity. Most of us carried two packs on the portages, but I carried an additional third pack, so that required me on every single portage to do an extra trip to carry my gear.”

Wong brought a drone along with him on the trip to shoot footage from the air.

“It was definitely an interesting experience to fly the drone in some of the environments that we were in,” Wong says. “The opening shot where we’re flying over the mouth of the Pic River, that’s us flying the drone to get that shot. We also flew the drone over some of the waterfalls.”

Wong adds that Michano did the entire narration for the film.

“He guided me to make sure everything was appropriately conveyed that best represents their community,” Wong says. “I also worked very closely with our editor, Alex Willms, an editor in Toronto.”

Michano says the community welcomed the canoeists with a feast when they arrived at the mouth of the Pic River.

“We were a day early, so we caught them by surprise,” Michano says. “But once we got within cellphone range coming down the river, we called them up and within a couple of hours they had everybody out on the bridge and everybody out at the mouth of the Pic.”

Wong previously did photography work for National Geographic and some Canadian magazines.