By: NC Raine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Eagle Feather News

Tasha Hubbard’s newest documentary, Singing Back the Buffalo, is an epic story spanning decades and borders, looking back into dark histories and forward into bright futures.

The Indigenous artist, from Peepeekisis First Nation, captured the first footage for this documentary back in 2016. But the seeds of the idea were beginning to spring long before that.

“I was adopted out, I grew up with a farm family and didn’t know my Cree family until I was 16,” said Hubbard. “I didn’t have any ways of connecting to my past. But when we would drive through the Qu’Appelle Valley, there was something there that would wake me up. I could imagine the buffalo and my ancestors.”

The deep connection she felt to the buffalo never left her.

“As I was building my film career, I would often think to myself, ‘one day I’ll be a good enough filmmaker to make the film the buffalo deserve’.” said Hubbard.

After decades of celebrated work as a documentary filmmaker she finally felt ready to tell the story of the buffalo.

Singing Back the Buffalo is a feature length documentary featuring Indigenous visionaries, scientists, and communities who are reintroducing buffalo back to the heart of the North American plains they once defined.

It will be screened at the inaugeral Ācimowin Film Festival in Saskatoon on June 8.

It most recently was part of the Hotdocs Festival in Toronto.

Hubbard said the journey in making the documentary was not short on challenges, including crossing the Canada-US border during the pandemic, shooting in extreme cold and hot weather, and capturing intimate footage of buffalo without causing them any distress or disturbance to their natural movements.

“Still, it never felt like work,” she said. “Whether out on the land or in the editing suite, everyday spent with the buffalo was a good day.”

The film was a passion project from start to finish and the end goal was to tell the buffalo’s story.

“I always wanted people watching this documentary to fall in love with the buffalo, the same way I did,” said Hubbard.

Her intense connection to the buffalo was evident to everyone involved in the film.

In fact, the documentary producers convinced Hubbard to step in front of the camera as part of the documentary and share her personal story.

She even included her eight year-old son in the documentary, because he has been around the buffalo for much of his life.

“When watching back all this beautiful footage we had of him connecting with the buffalo, we thought, ‘this is what we want for all children – to have this opportunity he’s had,” said Hubbard.

The lengthy project also helped her better understand the connection between humans and the buffalo.

“We learned from the buffalo to organize ourselves in community and how to raise our children,” said Hubbard. “It’s the children and Elders at the centre, with the women and men surrounding, caring, and looking out for each other.”

Following it’s festival run, Singing Back the Buffalo will be released in theatres in fall of 2024. Then, a shortened version of the film will be featured in an episode of The Nature of Things on CBC, before it airs in full-length on APTN.

She hopes the documentary will influence buffalo policies at the federal and provincial level and make it easier for people to continue that relationship with buffalo.

“I worry for the prairie. I know it’s under threat – it’s one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world,” said Hubbard. “It’s where our stories are, where our ceremonial sites are, where our medicines are. And the buffalo are what bring that landscape to life. I want people to be overwhelmed with how beautiful the prairie is.”

She hopes the documentary will connect with many minds over the next year and spark action.

“I’ve learned from so many people in this film to think in big ways. People who are sharing vision and are doing this work, they’re thinking far ahead,” said Hubbard. “They’re doing the work not because they’re going to see the rewards in the immediate future, but because it needs to be done.”