The Place Where God Was Born.

National Geographic has posted our story on the Dene First Nation people HERE.

The ancestral home of the Dene First Nation people is a landscape of unfathomable vastness. 52,000 square kilometers span this region, south of the artic circle, along the Nanuvet and Northwest Territories of Canada. The place is replete with musk ox, grizzly bear, wolves, arctic grayling, tens of thousands of caribou, and billions of biting flies. The-lew-dezeth, the wide and frigid river that flows here is for the Dene, the place where God began. Yet, for most contemporary Dene, the Thelon Game Sanctuary, as we call it, is untouchable.

Few people have ever heard of this place and even fewer have chartered plane or boat to find their way deep into the middle of the middle of somewhere. The pressures of modern life have taken the Dene further from the land, and even as the Thelon still embodies so purely the balance of fecundity and decay, it is under threat.  While this area is protected on paper, it has little management or funding, and its borders are being chipped away. Diamond, gold and uranium mining interests see ample opportunity within its untrammeled spaces.

In August of 2011, I joined 3 scientists from The Nature Conservancy, seven young Akaitcho Dene—ages 4-24—and two Dene guides for a 2-week, 200-kilometer journey on the Upper Thelon River. The Nature Conservancy wanted to support this expedition because it believes that these young leaders will speak out for protection of the Thelon. For many of them, this trip was a reprieve from a high technology, low-income world, where Caribou has been replaced by KFC.

Moving through the landscape with the young Dene, I was struck with how they thrived, even in the midst of a 3-day storm; beneath the nearly constant onslaught of mosquitos and black flies; and through a 5-mile portage, carrying 600 pounds of food. They built fires, paddled, fished, slept and ate enshrouded in bug suits. I heard no complaints for the duration of the trip, and the only tears shed came once from 4-year old Hawk, after talking to his mother on a SAT phone.

This trip was not for the faint of heart, yet I felt the heartbeat of my companions so strongly. Their spiritedness propelled us along as much as the water. Preparing artic grayling, goose and caribou was a communal effort embraced with the sort of primal respect that comes from a people who have walked the land for 30,000 years.

When we returned, our Dene companions seemed lost in the modern world of reality TV and pop culture. But, they kept moving, like the caribou.That land knows when its people are hungry. The Dene of Lutsel K’e and the Thelon share one voice. It may be, that the greatest hope for survival will come when they raise this voice from the rock and mud thick shores of The-lew-dezeth.

The Sub-Arctic Adventure Begins

I’m off for the Thelon, close the the Arctic circle with a group of indigenous children from the Dene’ tribe and will be incommunicado except for a blog we will have on The Nature Conservancy website called Cool Green Science—check it out.

Naturally, I’m very excited for this epic adventure. For three weeks, we will be on canoes and venture into unchartered territory that the tribe believes is the place where God began his work. There will likely be bears, caribou and an un-Godly amount of mosquitoes as big as helicopters but worth it for the privilege of seeing this pristine environment.

Because we have to carry everything, I’m trying to stay light but somehow, it’s never light enough. This time I’m adding the Nikkor 200-400mm for any wildlife we might run into in addition to my usual Nikon setup: the 24-70mm, 70-200mm, a couple D7000 bodies and one D3s. I know I’ll be gritting my teeth as I lug this up in high altitudes but so worth it, right?

I’m also taking the Goalzero Sherpa to power everything and already experimented with it in Africa recently. Worked like a dream and super sturdy for the kind of traveling I do. Lastly, I have a small 10 inch notebook and 2 hard drives to back everything up. Gone are the days of film but I’m embracing all the advances in technology over the past 10 years. Its nothing short of a miracle. I’ll be creating short multimedia stories and making photographs along the way.

Now, I must finish packing. Just got home 2 days ago from a remarkable trip in the Brazilian Amazon… Will blog about that when I return and post new pix from the last few months.

Bangladesh: On the Frontlines of Climate Change

I was in Bangladesh telling the story of how this country is on the frontlines of climate change. I have a feature length documentary coming out soon, but here is a short I did for Oxfam about how one village is being impacted by the changing weather and what they are doing to adapt. The full length film is showing in Portland, Maine at the Portland Film Fest, Saturday, October 4, 2012.

Right now Bangladesh is a catastrophe playing out in slow motion.  It may appear far away, but our planet’s ecosystem is an intricate web. Whether it becomes a model for the future or one of the great human tragedies of our time depends on the choices we make now.   Its destiny will be determined not necessarily by rising sea levels, but by the behavior of its citizens, neighbors and outside powers.   Bangladesh could be disastrous scene or it just might be a model of how humanity copes with extreme environmental changes.

The village of South Tetulbaria in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, relies on fishing but climate change threatens this way of life. In November 2010 Mamtaz Begum, a young widow from Barguna, stood up and demanded justice for vulnerable communities near to the Bay of Bengal at a ‘Climate Tribunal’ in the capital, Dhaka.

The climate tribunals are developing the idea that those responsible for climate change, can and should be held accountable through the law. Specifically they explore the possibilities for using national laws to hold governments and other private actors accountable for the impacts of the changing climate on vulnerable communities.

Learn more about Oxfam’s Climate Change Campaign