Indigenous directors Asia Youngman and Trevor Mack spent eight days traveling with the Xeni Gwet'in during their annual youth wagon ride through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in British Columbia filming a short documentary 'In the Valley of Wild Horses.'

Video by Michael Ruffolo with Emilee Gilpin

The documentary, supported by the TELUS Original initiative, follows members of the Tsilhqot'in community on a journey intended to reconnect the youth back to their land, stories and traditions.

The Xeni Gwet'in community is one of six Tsilhqot'in communities located in the northern interior of British Columbia. The Tsilhqot'in Nation, a Nation remembered well for a historic court decision, when their Aboriginal title was recognized for the first time by the Supreme Court of Canada have often been refered to as "Indigenous cowboys" or "snowy mountain cowboys."

Both Mack and Youngman have worked on other award-winning films dedicated to creating space for Indigenous peoples in the media. In 2013, Mack's second short film Clouds of Autumn received the 'Best Canadian Short Drama' award at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival and 'Best Cinematography' at the 2016 Air Canada enRoute Film Festival. Last year, Youngman's short documentary Lelum was awarded 'Best Documentary Short' at the 2017 imagineNATIVE Film Festival in Toronto.

When Mack and Youngman first met and discussed doing a project together, Mack offered the idea of joining his Tsilhqot'in people in the Xeni Gwet'in's annual wagon trip. Mack had been in touch with the chief of the community, chief Jimmy Lulua, who had said the community had been interested in documenting the journey since it first started ten years ago.

The experience was especially moving for Mack, who's Tsilhqot'in, spent the first informative years of his life in his home community and has been trying to connect his film work with his cultural learning ever since. Both Mack and Youngman are committed to representing Indigenous peoples from their own voices and perspectives.

On the eight-day wagon trip, Mack and Youngman were welcomed into the hospitality of the Xeni Gwet'in community. When Mack's sleeping bag got drenched in the rain, Chief Lulua offered him his horse's blanket. Youngman said, as a "city girl" she was moved by the warmth of the community, who made space for her and Mack to follow along, conduct interviews and bear witness to the cultural work fundamental to the wagon trip.

About 30 community members traveled from Williams Lake to Vancouver for the premiere of 'In the Valley of Wild Horses.' National Observer reporters Emilee Gilpin and Michael Ruffolo spoke with Mack, Youngman, Chief Lulua, his daughter Kaitlyn and wife June, and some of the youth who attended this year's wagon trip. Here's what they had to say.

Showings of 'In the Valley of Wild Horses' sold out. At the premiere, on Oct. 1, Chief Lulua and a small army of youth joined directors Mack and Youngman to answer questions about their experience. A Tsilhqot'in elder was handed the mic to lead a prayer. The Cineplex theatre filled with the quiet power of her song and prayer, mixed with breathtaking aerial views of their territory.

Thanks to the passion of directors like Mack and Youngman, Indigenous representation grows in Canada.

Keep reading

Thank you Ms. Gilpin and National Observer. It is so rewarding to begin to learn about the cultures of the Indigenous People who have lived on the land and waters for over 15,000 years. To do it through film captures the beauty and reality of the land they lived in harmony with.