CBC.ca North



The Watereheart is a Dene legend. It's about a medicine man who found a giant heart beating at the bottom of Great Bear Lake. The lake is among the largest freshwater lakes in the world. After a trout steals the medicine man's hook he takes on the spirit of a loche, the largest fish of the lake, and dives deep into the lake's abyss to retrieve his hook. In his journey he finds much more. He finds a living, breathing heart, called the in the Slavey language. This medicine man finds that the fragile is what gives life to the everyday physical world of trees, fish, water and human beings. The heart was also surrounded by every species of fish found in Great Bear Lake, guardians of the powerful .

The Waterheart documentary explores the metaphors of this legend. The heart is the culture of the Sahtu Dene people. They live in Délįne, a small cluster of houses on the tip of the eastern arm of the lake. The waterheart and the culture represent everything the Sahtu Dene live for, but, the heart and the culture are weak.

The weakest link between the culture of the past and present is the essence of culture itself; language. The youth speak mostly English today and their elders only speak Slavey. The Waterheart documents the emotional journey of ten teenagers from the public school in Délįne as they grapple with the cultural gap. The students were introduced to the basic tools of radio feature making and storytelling during an intensive 10-day production workshop in April, 2008. They set out to interview the town's elders, their grandparents and great grandparents...in Slavey. These men and women recalled their working life from 1932 to 1960 at Port Radium - a uranium mine across the lake from Délįne.

As the elders shared their memories of the past, and their wisdom, the theme of the ailing waterheart surfaces. It is expressed in the documentary through the struggle of two generations to communicate with each other. The language is an essential tool to saving the culture and the heart in the deep, cold lake. It is frightening to know that this may be the beginning of the end of a pristine untouched culture, just as past mining at Port Radium has affected the pristine water of the lake. The interviews transport the teenagers back to the days of Port Radium, and in a mystical way, to the depths of the Great Bear Lake, where the , still beats like a rhythmic dene drum but is in danger of becoming silent.

CBC North teamed up with two Polar Radio producers from Denmark to train the students and make this radio feature. The community supported and encouraged the project that in it's original form is mainly told in Slavey. It is an amazing accomplishment of what two generations can come to understand by connecting the past, present and future.

As Polar Radio producer Rikke Houd explains, the Waterheart is a story about " broken trust, a language nearly lost and the possibility of a looming apocalypse. It's also a story about love, humanity, water and the endurance of life".