Storytelling school

Stz’uminus Youth lives their storytelling dreams through Indigenous films

Isaiah Harris pictured at Thuq’mi’n (Shell Beach) in Stz’uminus’ homelands, near where he grew up. Photo by Philip McLachlan

Isaiah Harris has always been fascinated by Indigenous stories. Some are the backbone of creating communities. Others highlight the importance of landmarks and local places in nature. He dreamed of a career as a storyteller, and now he is living it.

Right now, the 20-year-old is making waves in the film industry. But he hopes to expand his storytelling through a variety of mediums: be it books, movies or video games. He is passionate about getting more people interested in Indigenous history and important historical figures. Her goal is to tell these stories responsibly and respectfully.

“To present stories that are from an Indigenous perspective, that respectfully show a bit of who we are,” he explained.

As he speaks, Isaiah sits on a large piece of driftwood and gazes out at the ocean from Thuq’mi’n (Shell Beach) – across from where he grew up in Stz’uminus First Nation . Around him, sand, pebbles, seaweed and beach glass make the ground shimmer in the afternoon sun.

Isaiah points to a spit of land protruding from the bay, where he and his siblings used to play growing up. He tells a story of his childhood when a great storm shattered the nearby wooden wharf, causing its pieces to spread throughout the bay.

With his siblings, Isaiah played games by swimming from room to room. Sometimes they swam with fishing rods and spent time trying to catch fish. Once they caught a fruit bat. The ocean was as much a part of his upbringing as the ground beneath him.

When he wasn’t playing at the beach, Isaiah recalls he was usually indoors, glued to exciting sci-fi stories or learning about historical figures and local legends. All of these things have shaped his practice as a storyteller.

Isaiah Harris stands facing the camera, facing the ocean.  Her long black hair cascades down her back, contrasting with her bright red t-shirt.
Isaiah Harris watches the ocean from Thuq’mi’n (Shell Beach) in Stz’uminus’ homeland. Photo by Philip McLachlan

As much as he loved the fantasy genre in writing and in video games, he noticed that there was no representation of coastal cultures.

Around the same time, he became involved in the Land and Language program at Ladysmith High School, which helped fuel his interest in storytelling, particularly involving important figures in Aboriginal history who have lived for the past 200 years. With the encouragement of his teachers, he began to write about them.

Isaiah Harris stands on the beach in a bright red t-shirt and black jeans, facing the ocean behind him.
Isaiah Harris photographed on Thuq’mi’n (Shell Beach), Stz’uminus’ homeland. Photo by Philip McLachlan

Over the past two years, Isaiah has brought his storytelling skills to the same circles as members of the film industry and had a role in the recently released Aboriginal-led documentary film, Tzouhalemdirected by Harold Joe and Leslie Bland of Orca Cove Media.

Isaiah became involved in the project after his high school teacher introduced him to Brian Thom, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria. When Thom was approached by Bland and Joe to be interviewed on camera for Tzouhalem, he invited Isaiah to “Victoria” to attend the interview. It was Isaiah’s first time sitting behind the scenes of a film shoot, and he ended up playing a significant role in the film, influencing the script and also helping to tell the story.

“I remember that day pretty well, because I remember being so blown away by it all,” Isaiah said.

Looking back on that day, Bland recalled how obvious Isaiah’s talent was.

“We discovered very quickly how smart and passionate he is about storytelling; tell authentic Indigenous stories based on the storytelling traditions of her community,” Bland said.

Isaiah Harris smiles and adjusts his headphones to his ears in a recording studio booth.
Isaiah Harris pictured in the recording studio, on set during the filming of Tzouhalem. Photo courtesy of Orca Cove Media

“It’s been doing really well, we’re really happy with the reaction we got from everyone,” Bland said of the documentary.

The film toured film festivals across the continent before beginning its theatrical run, which has sold out many theaters on Vancouver Island and Vancouver, according to Bland, and will soon be released nationwide. internationally on television.

During the process of making the film, Bland told Isaiah — who was attending Vancouver Film School at the time — to contact him after graduation for a possible internship opportunity.

Earlier this month, Isaiah learned that he had landed the role of assistant script supervisor in another upcoming film, Steve Joe’s Claim, again directed by Bland. This is part of a 20 week internship with the production company.

The feature heist will focus on the character of an Indigenous archaeologist who goes through a tough time and teams up with a group of rez misfits to break into a museum and retrieve sacred artifacts that rightfully belong to their people. .

“Indigenous storytelling is at the forefront of what we do in Canada, and there are certainly plenty of stories to explore and tell,” Bland said. “Stories that really haven’t… gotten the attention or exposure they deserve.”

Isaiah said he felt very responsible for telling these Indigenous stories in the right way.

“These are real people, who have been so important to our history. And they were alive not even that long ago,” Isaiah said.

“Getting all the necessary information and the only permission is going to take years. And you know, I think it should take that long because of how close the story is and how important it is.

Isaiah Harris wears a red t-shirt, with his long black hair framing his face and sticking out past his chest.  He wears goggles and stands on the beach with water behind him in the sun.
Isaiah Harris pictured at Thuq’mi’n (Shell Beach), Stz’uminus’ homeland. Photo by Philip McLachlan

Isaiah is inspired by the people around him and the work he has done so far – and said he has great hope for the future.

“I think we’re about to see this huge explosion of Indigenous storytelling through film.”