CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 13 . . . . March 1, 2002
salmon battle up the Fraser River in a dramatic "red run"
to reach their spawning grounds. The aboriginal river people wait for
them with dip and gill net, standing in spots inherited for generations.
This video, directed by a member of the Lower Nicola Band, captures
the culture which surrounds salmon fishing by interviewing the woman
chief and two men with their young sons as they fish the river.
The modern reality is presented by contrasting the fishers poised close to the swirling waters with simple nets and the intrusion of the mainstream culture through trains, boats, and helicopters. The fishers cross the river on train bridges, sometimes running to beat the trains. When they reach their traditional fishing spots, the fishers concentrate on the river while the Department of Fisheries monitors their activities with boats and helicopters. There is danger from nature, as dip netting especially requires close proximity to the water on slippery rocks (the woman tells the story of losing her brother), and danger from the machines (the film shows a startled fisher, for example, responding to the loud speaker hail from a passing government boat). Overall, the distant and continuing culture of the river people is told by the fishers in stories about fathers and grandparents. On the river, children learn by watching and not by asking questions: fishers who don't use safety lines can be dragged under by the weight of salmon in their nets; offerings are made to ancestors; and fishing can continue by night when small fires mark the presence of other fishers along the river.
There is a brief interlude, presented in black and white, of the more recent historic crisis on the Fraser when the salmon were blocked from moving upstream. Construction work at Hell's Gate caused a slide. The salmon backed up for miles downstream. The river people tried to save the salmon by carrying them one by one around the slide. After two days, when it became apparent that they were not making any discernible difference, they built a wooden chute around the slide. Despite the fact that the salmon poured through the narrow bypass and were able to continue upstream, the majority of the run perished.
Although Red Run has a worthwhile topic, it will lack sufficient interest for many viewers. Most of the film is paced very slowly, perhaps in keeping with a traditional way of life, but it lacks production values featured in many modern documentaries. The Hell's Gate story is the most dramatic section, featuring contrasts of more abstract shots and fast cutting, but it is very brief.
In conclusion, Red Run is a valuable resource for viewers who have access to other materials on fishing, native rights, management of natural resources but need to broaden their perspective. For Canadians familiar with the many controversies surrounding the preservation of fish stocks on the west and east coasts (especially the much maligned use of gill nets on the rivers), Red Run will provide a valuable contribution to their knowledge by adding the voices of aboriginal people who fish as a way of life.
Recommended with reservations.
Deborah L. Begoray is an associate professor of language arts in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. She is currently researching the development of multiple literacies through varying sign systems.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.