By thelaegotist / /
“Writing on Stone” is a revealing portrait of Treffrey Deerfoot, a venerated elder from the Siksika Nation in Alberta, Canada. The Siksika Nation is a First Nation in the northernmost region of the Niitsítapi (Original People) that speak dialects of Blackfoot.
Deerfoot is a passionate leader who brings ceremonial dance, sacred singing and ancient storytelling to his tribe in an effort to keep old traditions alive:
At a very young age, Deerfoot felt a calling to bring the old, historic rituals of his once proud nation back to his tribe, recalling how the Siksika Indians were almost wiped out by diseases brought by explorers traveling to their land at the turn of the 20th century; almost 85,000 of them perished when smallpox was contracted from tainted clothing and food. Today the population of the Siksika Nation stands at around 6,000 people.
Deerfoot spent many years steeping himself in ancient rituals before eventually becoming tribal elder, connecting the past to the future by awakening the spirit of his ancestors through stories, song and dance. He feels this is of paramount importance to younger tribe members, all of whom struggle to find their identity in a world where they are marginalized at best.
Thonson recalls his first meeting with Deerfoot while shooting campaign work for Travel Alberta, an experience that led to the making of the film.
“Deerfoot gathered tribes together to perform ceremonial dances for the campaign,” Thonson explains. “He turned out to be an interesting character steeped in First Nation history with beautiful cadence of speech. I felt right then that a documentary on his tribe would be very compelling material.”
Thonson shot “Writing on Stone” over three days, interviewing Deerfoot before shooting footage of the elder and his tribe dancing together as huge storm cloud gathered above, fierce weather sweeping in toward Thonson as he photographed the event.
“Filming that family buffalo dance was a very intense experience,” Thonson reveals, the bad weather turning away from his crew at the very last minute. “You could feel the pure aggression in their dance as those heavy clouds formed, plus we were shooting on sacred ground where the last recorded Blackfoot dance took place.”
Looking back, Thonson is still affected by the whole experience. “All these amazing stories,” he recalls. “I sensed there were demons in Deerfoot’s past, and that his way of cleaning up was to become a mentor to the young. He wants to give them a true sense of worth by steeping them in old traditions, and be there as a positive force for good.”
“It was an honor to shoot on sacred First Nation ground,” wraps Thonson on the experience. “I’ve always been fascinated with their culture since I was a kid, and meeting Deerfoot was an incredible, and unforgettable experience. He will always be a hero of mine.”
“Writing on Stone” has also been chosen as an Official Selection for the 15th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival taking place January 12-16th, 2017 in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California.
“WRITING ON STONE”
Director / Cinematographer: Sean Thonson
Producer: Rita LeRoux
Executive Producer: Charles Salice
Executive Producer: Tim Case
Co-Producer: Sharron Toews
Camera Operator: Steve Green
Editor: Daniel Luna