Tracey Kim Bonneau got some very good news this week.
Wednesday, the Okanagan artist, filmmaker and documentarian got word that one of her most ambitious projects, a documentary travel food series, had been approved for production by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
“There were only three shows accepted for the 2013 season and Wild Food was accepted. I officially have a television series,” said Bonneau, who was also recently recognized for her ongoing work in the Media Arts Award at the Okanagan Arts Awards.
Wild Food is a major milestone for Bonneau on a journey that stretches all the way back to her youth, when she saw a First Nations journalist on the CBC. Bonneau knew immediately what she wanted to do.
“So I pursued a career from a very young age. But I’ve always been a storyteller,” she said.
But Wild Food is more than an expression of Bonneau’s story telling. It weaves together threads about growing up Okanagan, family, community, culture and health.
“I grew up in a storytelling environment. I grew up with laughter and lots of people eating. For us a meal would be two hours, because it was about the laughter and the visiting,” she said. “The meal was about the passing on of hunting stories and berry picking stories. Naturally, I segued into a storytelling career.”
Later, when she was older and came down to the reserve, Bonneau saw a different side of native life, with alcoholism, drugs and aftereffects of the residential schools and years of suppression of their culture.
“That’s the type of work I have done in my career to create a greater understanding of who we are as indigenous people from a different perspective; saying ‘we’re talented, we’re creative,’” she said. “The other part is breaking down the stereotype. What images do you see of yourselves doing great things? That’s why I got into television.”
Wild Food weaves together all those threads of Bonneau’s life. And it all came together when Bonneau’s doctor told her she was pre-diabetic. The doctor told her that if she didn’t take care, she would develop diabetes.
“What I found in my research is that diabetes is killing First Nation People faster than alcoholism,” said Bonneau. “For me, I have always produced stories to make things better. I am not an idealist, I am a realist. If we can get the facts out there in a sensitive, moving way, it might change someone’s thinking.
“I had realized for myself that I wanted to tell a story that was fun, engaging and humorous. When I thought about a diabetes program, I thought, why don’t I do a food show,” said Bonneau, who describes herself as a foodie, who has enjoyed cooking since she was 10 years old.
But Bonneau didn’t want to do a show just about food and diabetes. She wanted to be able to show off the Okanagan, and she wanted to talk about Okanagan culture.
“I want to inform people about the four food chiefs. Our ancient laws go back to the four food chiefs; Okanagan people are actually governed by food,” she said. Bonneau’s short demo reel shows her on an outing with native actor Nathaniel Arcand, first trying to catch a fish with a traditional gaffe and then grilling salmon on a plank on a barbecue in the woods.
“I was working long hours, eating fast food, getting overweight and showing signs of pre diabetes. I was becoming depressed and I felt terrible. I wanted to do something about it. I want to understand what those four food chiefs are about,” Bonneau said in her voice-over.
Each episode, Bonneau invites a different native actor as a guest. They will set out to gather and prepare traditional food, whether that be salmon, moose, root plants.
“We try and do it on our own and we find out that we don’t know that much; breaking down the stereotype because you are native, you automatically know all the ways of hunting and fishing,” she said. “I am softly going to introduce in there that residential schools took this away from us, but it is not going to be beat over the head.”
Bonneau and her guest will seek out an elder to find out the proper method.
“It is going to be a gentle elder that says, okay we’re glad that you guys tried, but here’s the real way to do it,” she said. “We’re thinking we’re going to get a stoic elder, and of course we do have some really funny elders that we’re going to be working with.”
That, she said, will show that these are very real people that are preserving their traditions, not the Hollywood image of a native elder.
Bonneau is planning on a $1.8 million budget for Wild Food, and expects to begin filming in June 2013, with herself as director and Hugh McClelland, in Of The Land Productions, as producer. Fellow Okanagan Arts Awards recipient Jiri Bakala will be director of photography.