Rounding the razor’s edge


— Rhonda Lee McIsaac

During a long distance telephone conversation Dene activist lawyer Caleb Behn offered insight into how he copes with the stress related to his life and work schedule, which sees him on the road three weeks of every month. Behn is subject of the award winning feature film Fractured Land.

When asked how he manages his schedule, juggling his film schedule and work in his traditional territory, he simply goes home he said. But, going home is not without its pitfalls when you live within the boundaries of an LNG exploration area in north eastern British Columbia.

“I go home to be with my grandma, [but] home is being destroyed. My family is being torn apart,” he says.

He sees the reality of the damage that resource extraction takes, not only on the landscape, but the people and their relationships as well.

“It’s bad all over. Colonialism. Genocide. I thought I had it all together. The support of my family.  My people … No.” he laments. “I dance on the razor’s edge. I’ve been humbled in a hard way. Instead of a willow stick, it’s a 2×4. I am beginning to appreciate the consequences of pain.”

The pain he feels is a lifelong burden that has worn away his 34-year-old façade and his patience with the resource extraction industry.

“I have not cried since I was 17 years old, since my grandpa died. I take it as evidence that I need to heal,” he said with a keen emotional awareness. “This film and this life [I am leading] has forever humbled me. I’m grateful for that.”

Behn is also grateful to his community and the need to give back is important, but at times also difficult. At home he encountered a lot of lateral violence; but to not return to the work of protecting the land was never an option.

“I came back home with my education,” the emotion in his voice is deep and strong. “I refused the city life. I refused the corporate job. I refused the money. I came straight home.”

Behn is currently in Haida Gwaii and visited with the SHIP elders, and was in Masset to speak to the Hereditary Chiefs Council, and will be at the presentations of the film Fractured Lands in HlGaagilda Skidegate on Thursday night at the Haida Heritage Centre and at Tluu Xaadaa Naay Longhouse in Gaaw Old Massett on Friday night.

Fractured Land carries a lot of emotional weight which is attached firmly to Behn’s concern for the future of his family, his community and his territory. He says his story is not that special and that there are many people doing what he does. “I just happen to be the subject [of this film]. There will be commonalities with others. We’re being reminded of our commonalities.”

Globe and Mail film critic Marsha Ledman calls Fractured Land a “skillful study in landscape as well as character”.


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