British Columbia

Wild horses and Indigenous cowboys of Tsilhqot'in focus of new documentary series

"The Wild Ones" tells the story of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation members who manage the wild horses of Nemaiah Valley in B.C.'s Cariboo region.

Series highlights Xeni Gwet'in efforts to protect wild horse population

The documentary series, The Wild Ones, follows the team of Xeni Gwet'in and non-Indigenous cowboys who manage the wild horse population in the Cariboo's remote Nemaiah Valley. (History Television)

They've coexisted far from the public eye for generations in a remote area of British Columbia's Cariboo region.

Now, a 10-part documentary series released this month on History Canada brings the relationship between the wild horses of the Nemaiah Valley and their Indigenous protectors to a mass audience. 

"The Wild Ones" tells the story of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation members who manage the wild horse population along with non-Indigenous ranchers.

Series producer Barry Davis said he first heard about the wild horses of the Nemaiah Valley from a producer friend who kept hearing tales of the wild Qayus horses around the campfire while working on another series in B.C.

"For me, I'm an eastern Canadian, so this was all new to me," Davis told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

Davis learned the Xeni Gwet'in title to the 1,800 square kilometre Tsilhqot'in traditional territory was recognized in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, "and that these wild horses were theirs to manage and they'd done it for hundreds of years."

Members of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation cowboys in the Nemaiah Valley at sunset. (History Canada)

It took two more years after his first visit to the Nemaiah Valley in 2017 to secure funding and begin filming the series. 

The documentarians did not have carte blanche in the filming, though. They agreed to follow the Xeni Gwet'in filming protocol, which included a consultant to ensure accurate representation of their stories. The protocol also concerned safety on the set for both horses and film crew. 

Earliest memories were on horseback

Davis found it striking that Howard Lulua, one of the Xeni Gwet'in cowboys who is profiled in the series, described how his very first memories were on horseback.

"This is just something that they grew up doing there," Davis said. "If they needed a horse, which they would, you know, roads didn't go in there until the 1970s, they had to go get a wild horse and train it and then ride it."

"And then when you decided that you were taking a horse from the wild, that's a 30-year commitment that you're making to that animal to look after it and to care for it."

The series was shot in part with cameras on riders which captures plenty of excitement and "adrenaline action" as the team chases the Qayus , Davis said. 

But on a deeper level, he said, "you can kind of, sort of, look into a window of the world, that for me, 14 months ago, I didn't even know existed."

"You can take some pride in guys who decide that it's part of the culture and it's what they grew up doing, but they know that they can make a difference and they want this herd and these animals to survive," he said. 

To hear the complete interview with Barry Davis on Daybreak North, tap the audio link below. 

With files from Daybreak North


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?