In the unprecedented collapse of the once massive George River Caribou Herd – and a subsequent total hunting ban – Inuit in Labrador, Canada, were abruptly confronted with a new reality: life without a fundamental source of food, culture, and wellbeing. HERD tells the story of the social, emotional, and cultural disruptions from cascading ecological change through the voices and lived experiences of people deeply connected to the caribou. The film, which was developed over four years of intimate collaboration between the filmmaker and communities, cinematically explores an array of lived experiences, from youth to Elders, hunters to cooks, to ensure the stories of those living on the frontlines of this ecological crisis are HERD. It is a portrait of the deep interconnections that exist between humans and non-humans, a glimpse of heartbreaking loss and pain felt by entire communities, and an unforgettable and lasting testament of cultural endurance, hope, and resilience in the context of ecological uncertainty.
HERD is a story of people and caribou, as experienced by Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions of Labrador who have been living with caribou declines and a total hunting ban since 2013.
In January, 2013, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a 5-year hunting ban on the George River Caribou Herd, a decision made in the wake of rapid declines of the herd’s population. By 2022, with the ban still in place, the continued lack of access to caribou has manifested in cultural, emotional, and physical disruptions for Inuit communities who, for millennia, have had caribou embedded in their way of life. Through the voices of more than 50 Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions of Labrador, Canada, and their shared link with caribou, HERD illustrates these complex tensions, interplays, and celebrations that exist at the nexus of humans and animals, and illustrates the cascading social, emotional, and cultural disruptions that come from ecological change.
Caribou was once embedded into the daily lives of many, nourishing collective experiences, cultural resiliency, and deep understandings of place and past. “We celebrated it. We shared it. It was a part of who we were” described long time caribou hunter Derrick Pottle. But now, with caribou on the precipice of extirpation, this historic connection is being unraveled. Putting food on the table has become more challenging and more costly. Stories of the past take the place of experiences in the present. Personal and collective identities have been put into question. Intense emotions of excitement and happiness now substituted for fear and grief. As Dennis Burden shared, “you can never replace the caribou”.
The film, which was developed over four years of intimate collaboration between filmmakers and communities, is a portrait of the deep interconnections that exist between Inuit and caribou, a glimpse of heartbreaking loss felt by entire communities, and an unforgettable testament of cultural endurance and resilience in the context of ecological uncertainty.
Led by Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions of Labrador, HERD documents, preserves, and shares Inuit knowledge and experiences with caribou, all through the co-creation of community-based documentary film. Between 2016-2022, we talked with, filmed, and photographed over 80 Inuit from across 12 distinct communities in Labrador; we documented caribou and landscapes from various parts of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut; and we collected archival multimedia from decades in the past. As a result, we gathered over 100 hours of footage, thousands of photographs, and countless memories from knowledge holders who were involved in this work. More information, photos, and writings can be found at: www.inuitvoicesherd.com
David Borish is a social and health researcher and visual artist pushing the boundaries of using audio-visual methodologies to explore and understand relationships between humans and the environment. His work sits at the interface of documentary film, public health, cultural and social wellbeing, wildlife conservation, and audio-visual research methods. To create this film together, Borish worked in alongside a Caribou Project Steering Committee with experts and leaders from different sectors, disciplines, and knowledge systems, as well as over 80 Inuit from the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions. Previously, he has worked in partnership with Indigenous Peoples in Peru, Uganda, Malaysia, Nepal, and elsewhere to co-create visual stories relating to environmental and social issues. Through film, photography, articles, and creative audio-visual and qualitative strategies, his work is centered around producing both research and storytelling outputs that can be used to inform multiple and diverse audiences within and outside of academia.
Collectively Creating the Film
At it’s core, HERD is about collaboration and partnership, bringing a diversity of life experiences and backgrounds together to share the story of Inuit and caribou in Labrador. Both Inuit and non-Inuit came together from different regions, disciplines, professions, and knowledge systems, with the intention of creating this film through a reciprocal and collective process that would resonate with Inuit experiences. A Caribou Project Steering Committee was formed with members from communities, the Nunatsiavut Government, NunuatuKavut Community Council, the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board, and multiple academic institutions. It was our collective vision to support Inuit storytelling values and traditions, and consistently engage Inuit knowledge holders in the making of the film. Community members supported in filming caribou, people, their communities and lands. We were able to hear from and involve over 80 Inuit from across Labrador through community knowledge-sharing events, summary videos, personalized links with draft versions of the film, and casual phone calls, texts, and Facebook messaging. Their voices, wisdom, and feedback strengthened the film in fundamental ways, ensuring the deep connections between Inuit and caribou were accurately portrayed. We believe this collective filmmaking process is a core part of reconciliation, of supporting Inuit self-representation, and celebrating Inuit self-determination and control over their knowledge, wildlife, and stories.
Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut are two distinct Inuit regions in Labrador, Canada. Inuit in these regions have shared a deep and enduring relationship with the land, ice, and animals for generations, including multiple caribou herds such as the George River Herd, Mealy Mountain Herd, and Torngat Mountain Herd. To co-create this documentary film, over 80 Inuit knowledge holders from 12 communities were involved: Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik, and Rigolet from the Nunatsiavut region, Cartwright, Black Tickle, Charlottetown, Port Hope Simpson, St. Lewis from the NunatuKavut region, and North West River and Happy Valley-Goose Bay from the Upper Lake Melville region.
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Behind-the-Scenes of HERD
Quotes from the film
"Caribou was the reason, and everything else happened after"
- Joey Angnatok, Nain, Nunatsiavut
“It’s not just food and it’s not just fur for clothing and all of that, but it’s just a sense of home”
- Ocean Lane, Makkovik, Nunatsiavut
“Well, it's not only about being able to eat the caribou. It's being able to go out on the land and harvest with your father, or your grandfather... our culture, is what it is, right? I mean that's our makeup"
- Jim Shouse, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NunatuKavut
“The loss of a food, a cultural food, is just as high of an importance as language, as craft, and art, and all the rest of it”
- Judy Voisey, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Nunatsiavut
“Certainly impacted me emotionally. It just tears me down to think that we don't even know how long we're gonna have to wait to get to harvest another caribou”
- Woodrow Lethbridge, Cartwright, NunatuKavut
"You can never replace the caribou"
- Dennis Burden, Port Hope Simpson, NunatuKavut
Sherilee L. Harper
CONCEPTUALIZED & LED BY
The Nunatsiavut Government
The NunatuKavut Community Council
The Torngat Secretariat
WITH SUPPORT FROM
William 'Bert' Allen
Jennifer Jacque Poole
Anthony 'Tony' Andersen