Documenting Indigenous history brings ‘humility’ to filmmaker

Documentary film/interactive talk highlights relationship between Blackfoot elder, Chinese newcomer

Central Albertans are invited to meet a Blackfoot elder and a filmmaker who is learning his way through life.

The talk, which will be held on Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lacombe Memorial Centre, will begin with the screening of documentary filmmaker Chris Hsiung’s Elder in the Making, which is a story about a Blackfoot aboriginal and a Chinese newcomer (Hsiung) sharing a road trip across the Treaty 7 lands of southern Alberta.

The screening, which is part of Burman University’s Herr Lecture Series, will be followed by an interactive discussion between Hsiung and Duane Mistaken Chief, who is a Blackfoot elder.

Hsiung said the idea for the film came from a yearning to understand more about the history of the Prairies, after spending much of his adolescence growing up in Calgary after his parents emigrated from Taiwan and Indonesia.

“I hit a point where I realized I didn’t understand much about southern Alberta. One of the things that kept coming up was the idea that we are on Treaty 7 territory, and I didn’t grow up learning all that much about our First Nations neighbours,” Hsiung said.

Hsiung was taking documentary filmmaking at the time and decided to research how he could learn more about Indigenous culture. That journey led him to a theatrical group working on a story about Treaty 7.

That is where he met Cowboy Smithx, a member of the Blackfoot nation. The two of them embarked on a journey across Treaty 7, which makes up the story of Elder in the Making.

“It is a wide-sweeping history of what was here before, and also my own personal learning journey as I developed a better understanding of Treaty 7,” Hsiung said.

Hsiung soon discovered a rich history he was unaware of, and said it was a moment of humility for him, after previously seeing much of Alberta from an urban, modern perspective.

“Culturally, there were people here who really understood and lived on this land,” he said. “They understood the ebbs and flow of that land and how to survive on it, which is no small feat.

“The ecology was also entirely different. The recent presence of mostly domesticated cattle is not at all what it was like before.”

Hsiung said it was important for him to realize that First Nations people were the ones who taught European settlers how to survive in North America.

“There was a level of humility. It isn’t just the recent development that is the complete story. There is much more,” he said.

Hsiung was hoping Smithx would be able to join the discussion following the screening of the film, but said Mistaken Chief is an excellent resource for understanding Blackfoot culture.

“A lot of traditional knowledge is being lost and there is not many people who know it. This is an opportunity to learn about the Blackfoot language, for example, which is very descriptive, and it has elements in it that connect you to the territory. It is a privilege to have access to that,” he said.

Hsiung said his connection is much stronger to Alberta since he developed the film five years ago.

“I always felt like Alberta was presented as a new frontier where everything was new since 1905,” he said. “Doing this documentary has completely changed how I see myself in the story of Alberta.

The event is free, but Burman University encourages people to register at

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