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DOXA Festival 2024: Tea Creek director Ryan Dickie conveys urgency of Indigenous food sovereignty

Tea Creek
Tea Creek owner Jacob Beaton has earned widespread respect for promoting Indigenous agriculture.

Last summer, Indigenous filmmaker and photographer Ryan Dickie had a firsthand glimpse into a monumental challenge to food security in northern British Columbia.

Dickie, a Fort Nelson resident of Dene descent, was creating a film about an Indigenous-owned agricultural-training centre called Tea Creek. It’s in northwestern B.C., about 1,100 kilometres from Dickie’s home.

“I remember the 16-hour drive from Fort Nelson to Kitwanga,” Dickie tells Pancouver over Zoom. “There were fires all over and highway closures. So, the realities of challenges with our food network in the north were ever present the whole time we were filming.”

Dickie is the director of Tea Creek, which is being screened at this year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver. The film tells the story of Jacob Beaton, a mixed-race member of the Tsimshian Nation who was raised in Burnaby. Beaton’s family farm in Kitwanga is a land-based educational facility for aspiring Indigenous food producers.

Once Dickie began researching the film, he realized that Beaton has a unique vision for the future. The Tea Creek owner advocates creating a thriving Indigenous farming sector in Canada. Moreover, Beaton points out that this existed prior to European colonization.

However, the Tea Creek film shows how this history has been concealed through an over-emphasis on Indigenous people being “hunter-gatherers”, which advances a colonial narrative.

“He’s a great communicator, a natural-born leader, and a natural teacher,” Dickie says. “His father was actually a teacher.”

While filming Tea Creek, Dickie sometimes envisioned Beaton in a large academic setting, sharing his vast knowledge with hordes of students.

“Jacob and his wife, Jessica, and their children are just remarkable human beings,” the director adds. “I feel really grateful to be able to share their story.”

Tea Creek
Justice Moore is one of the Indigenous farmers featured in Tea Creek.

Tea Creek turns young man’s life around

Another key character in the film is Justice Moore, who was accepted as one of Tea Creek’s youngest new Indigenous farmers.

“Before I got here, I was really in a dark place,” Moore says at the outset of the film. “I was getting to the point of, just, no return. That’s the only way I can put it. I wouldn’t be here if Tea Creek weren’t here. That’s a fact.”

Dickie describes Moore as an “amazing person” because of how he’s turned his life around.

“I was able to look at Justice and think of so many different people in my own community,” Dickie notes. “He’s really relatable in that sense for that generation.”

Furthermore, the filmmaker points out that Moore has lived experience as an Indigenous person in the north.

“What comes with that is a lot of generational trauma,” Dickie says. “What really inspired me about his story is his hunger and thirst to find opportunity—and grasp that opportunity—and make the most of it to create change in his own life.”

As a result, Dickie predicts that Moore will likely become a role model within his own community.

“One of the most important things, I feel, is for our communities to have people to look up to—who are doing good work and life a live of purpose,” Dickie emphasizes. “That all comes shining through Justice throughout the film.”

Dickie himself has found his purpose in sharing stories and images of Indigenous people’s connection to the land. He’s done this through work for a wide range of media outlets, including CBC, CNN, APTN, Canadian Geographic, and the Narwhal.

Ryan Dickie Tea Creek
Ryan Dickie went out of his way to showcase the land in Tea Creek.

Dickie’s hobby led to work opportunities

His interest in this work was inspired by his father, who spent a great deal of time taking photographs.

“I can always remember flipping through his photo albums, just blown away by some of the things he was taking photos of—animals, sunsets, and the landscape,” Dickie says. “So, I grew up naturally curious about photography.”

His passion started out as a hobby. Later, it morphed into work opportunities in the tourism marketing sector many years ago. However, it wasn’t until about 2018 that he really started diving into filmmaking and telling stories.

“I can remember a moment,” Dickie relates. “I was filming an interview with an elder from Doig River First Nation. He kind of pointed at the camera and said, ‘In the future, we’re going to need more people like you. Because [with] the new generation, this is how they learn. They learn through things like YouTube and video. And if that’s a way to get some of this history—some of this knowledge—transferred, then embrace it.!’ ”

Since that point, Dickie says that he has dived head first into learning about film, structure, and story. It’s reached the point where he’s now doing bigger projects.

“There are lots of opportunities for Indigenous creators now,” he states. “People are genuinely curious about our story and our history.”

His opportunity to direct Tea Creek came through the producer and cinematographer, Ben Cox, who’s based in Vancouver. Cox’s team was looking for an Indigenous director to make a documentary combining three separate stories focusing on Indigenous food sovereignty.

However, when they visited Tea Creek in traditional Gitxsan territory, they realized that it justified its own full-length documentary.

Donnie Creek wildfire
The out-of-control Donnie Creek wildfire in northeastern B.C. Photo by B.C. Wildfire Service.

Overlapping crises hit the province

Tea Creek couldn’t be more timely.

“I grew up in the north,” Dickie emphasizes. “Food insecurity is a really, really pressing issue for a lot of our communities, especially Indigenous communities, with our traditional food networks being affected by things like climate change and industrial development.”

Last year’s wildfire season drove that point home. The mammoth Donnie Creek wildfire, which wasn’t far from Dickie’s home in Fort Nelson, was the largest in B.C. history at nearly 600,000 hectares. This year, northeastern B.C. has been hit by an extreme drought.

According to the director, these developments make it even more imperative to highlight what’s taking place at Tea Creek. Dickie included several images taken by drones in the final cut. Through this approach, he aimed to reinforce that the film is about Indigenous people’s connection to the land,

“I really felt that there was a sense of urgency around this story—and getting it out there,” Dickie continues. “What they are doing at Tea Creek is definitely one of the most effective solutions that I’ve seen to solving some of these issues that we face.”

The DOXA Documentary Film Festival runs from May 2 to 12. It will present Tea Creek at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday (May 4) at the VIFF Centre. The festival will offer a second screening next Thursday (May 9) at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema in the SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. For more information and tickets, visit the DOXA website.

Admission to DOXA screenings and events is free for all self-identifying Indigenous peoples. Book complimentary tickets at boxoffice@doxafestival.ca, or by inquiring with box office staff at festival venues during opening hours. Follow Pancouver on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.