One of the first things that strikes you about Smoke From His Fire is the scenic natural setting of the northwest coast that tells of the connection to supernatural forces, of a people's sensitivity and the fortitude of Clan Chief Adam Dick and his people: the Kwaxkwaka'wakw.
"It's a story of survival; it's a story of how people dealt with the coming destruction of their culture, and every culture had their own method of trying to preserve what was under siege," said Kim Reclama-Clutesi, co-producer, co-director and writer of Smoke From His Fire.
The Kwaxkwaka'wakw people received a message to prepare for that destruction when Adam Dick's mother had a prophetic dream about her son before he was born. This is where the film starts and takes us on a captivating journey into a world of culture, ritual and ethnic cleansing.
Reclama-Clutesi makes it very clear that it isn't her who is giving this information. She is only told about the dream and retelling it through the film about how serious the dream was taken. Dick, who is known as Kwaxsistalla, was born in 1929, at the height of the government's horrendous and lawful measures to assimilate Aboriginal people into a way of life completely foreign to their own.
Dick did not have a normal upbringing and was heavily protected as a young person. He was not allowed to have immunizations and was hidden from the police who came to take his peers to residential school.
His training to be a Clan Chief started with an initiation into the Psa'sa, which lead him to hold several potlatch seats and knowledge of a complete seasonal round of food gathering practices of his people. The Psa'sa was an investment system for the Kwaxkwaka'wakw person that is now known as the Potlatch system.
The anti-potlatch laws came into effect in the late 1800's and there had been a devastating loss of Native people on the west coast of British Columbia. This all coincided with the institution of residential schools, and laws instituted and carried out against the Kwaxkwaka'wakw people for practicing their own cultural laws and dances. The people resisted the only way they knew how and that was through the precise training that Kwaxsistalla was given from birth. Today, there are only a handful of people with the knowledge of cultural laws, protocols and history, said Recalma-Clutesi.
"So much had been taken away that Aboriginal people went into a recovery mode," she said.
That is what she found remarkable and why she wanted to tell this story because the people fought back, she said. So much of their world had been devastated so rapidly there were few opportunities to fight back in an appropriate manner. It was against the law until 1951 to practice the cultural ceremonies central to their existence.
"It always worried me that our own people were turning towards each other to blame for what happened. Our languages were decimated by the residential school, but Adam said you can't blame the people," said Recalma-Clutesi.
Recalma-Clutesi is Kwaxsitalla's traditional wife in the ways of their culture. Mid-way through the interview, she asks for a moment while she takes time to give Kwaxsitalla his insulin shot. At 79, he is dealing with diabetes and heart disease, and Recalma-Clutesi knows it's a race now against time. She believes it is so important to document the vast amount of knowledge he carries for future generations. Smoke From His Fire aired on APTN Feb.20. The film received a nomination from the American Indian Film Festival, held in San Francisco last year. Recalma-Clutesi is currently working out a DVD distribution agreement.