After feeling the stress of finding work, homeschooling three kids, and staying home through the pandemic, Dene artist and actress Melaw Nakehk’o said “this is too much,” and, with her family, “just threw everything in (her) truck and went to Dehcho.”
The experience of life on the land with her kids and parents for the season’s turn is documented in her film K’i Tah Amongst the Birch. In her first filming and directing experience, Nakehk’o highlights the power of slowing down, hitting reset, and connecting.
In such an uncertain time, when communities are devastated by the pandemic, Nakehk’o says she feels lucky for the pristine Northern landscape. She says she’s grateful for the time with her family and that it’s important for her kids to know what they’re capable of and that they are able to be on the land for long periods of time.
“There were some really beautiful moments that we had as a family. We’re definitely going to have a lot of memories from that time,” she said.
Among them, Nakehk’o was impressed by the work that her sons put into hauling wood, using the chainsaw, and her two older boys scraping an entire moose hide on their own.
“I was really proud of them for doing that. That’s a big job,” she says.
The film is part of a series from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) called The Curve. The idea is that filmmakers from around the country showcase different perspectives on the Covid experience.
K’i Tah Amongst the Birch was one of three short motion pictures released to kick off the series. The Curve’s 30 films will continue to roll out into the winter.
Nakehk’o’s documentary wasn’t planned. It came about from NFB producer Coty Savard seeing Nakehk’o’s social media posts about her time in Dehcho with her family and asking her if she would participate in the project.
“With all of the constant news that we were getting all the time, and this barrage of really scary stuff, there was Melaw’s social media stories, and these little clips of her land camp and it was just like such a breath of fresh air,” Savard says.
Savard sees The Curve as a kind of time capsule of the Covid era.
“We’re all going through all of these brand new experiences, and we’re feeling all of these new things, and something that can kind of showcase that, I think, is really important,” she says. “I think that’s what a lot of these films do, they are kind of just helping us through these really complex new experiences and emotions – and that’s what art is.”
Nakehk’o is known to many for her role as a kidnapped Arikara woman in 2015 film The Revenant. She is also one of 10 founding members of Dene Nahjo collective, where she runs hide tanning camps and initiatives through the schools and other community partners.
In the fall, the Asinabka Film and Media Arts Festival in Ottawa will be releasing a documentary following her story, along with two others, as a hide tanner and their journeys to reclaiming the knowledge.
On NFB’s The Curve initiative, Nakehk’o says that it’s “beautiful” to continue to see different perspectives of what people are doing as the world continues to cope with a global pandemic.