Tribal Journey

Building story through cultural re-inventions

Nespelem Canoe Family paddles north to Kettle Falls 2016

Nespelem Canoe Family paddles north to Kettle Falls 2016

The summer of 2016, a month before I left for Standing Rock, we paddled 80 miles up the Columbia River in Washington State in several dug-out cedar canoes. I could get into a deeper backstory about how this came about, but this isn’t a book.(yet)

I had lived on the water my whole life, both rivers and the nearby ocean on the Pacific Northwest coast. But I had rarely seen the water from any other perspective besides the shoreline. It seems odd now, in reflection of my life, that I was so inexperienced nautically. In fact, my tribe manages hundreds of miles of the Columbia River. My childhood home was literally one mile from the boat launch that could have provided me with endless hours of experience, IF I had been interested. It’s a funny thing about being “interested,” it tends to happen when your ready and not a moment before.

We paddled with several other local tribes, and their canoes to the Kettle Falls, where our people had gathered to fish salmon from rocky cliffs for thousands of years. The Grand Coulee Dam, built in the 40’s had flooded the river and destroyed the fishing grounds for good. The paddle was a ceremonial hat-tip to the spirit of our traditional ways, where we could honor the salmon and the long journey they would travel up the river to spawn. Salmon need to lay their eggs, and reproduce their young in fresh water before returning to the ocean.
I’m not sure if I had a true concept of what we were doing out there, but I learned quickly that I loved the water and was moved by the camaraderie of the journey. Sleeping in tents on remote beaches, with campfire soup and a warm sleeping bag really touched my Indian soul through it’s calm simplicity. I begin to feel renewed.

The journey had its complications though. Besides the fact that many of us were green-horn paddlers, there was the continuous issue of supplies, safety, access to communication beyond our cellphones, and various logistical issues that made the paddle nefarious. I begin to realize that, in order to do these kinds of events, we would need to build a support team to facilitate these arduous paddles in remote country.

Our skipper and river guide PT, convinced me that we should develop a training program that we could use to recruit a support team that could help along these paddles. We had a plan to build larger beginner canoes, shuttle fresh water for the camps, and train a team of medics to oversee the common shortfalls that these journeys on traditional waterways can bring. Our fear also stemmed from the temperature of the water, and how quickly a paddler could develop hypothermia if they fell into the river. The temperatures are icy the closer you get to the mountain run-offs that supply the river with it’s current.

We designed a great plan, slated a launch date for 2017, and then dropped the ball shortly after. Standing Rock happened, and what was only supposed to be a week or two of my time became six months and beyond. The cultural significance, and the time I spend on the ground filming are forever invaluable. I regret nothing about my time spend in the biggest Indian uprising since the Battle of Little Big Horn.

From both the paddle, and Standing Rock occupation, I begin to think more and more about the value of “cultural re-invention.” It’s so vital for us to continue building new opportunities for our traditional ways to grow into contemporary ways. Being able to share space, design solutions to lost knowledge, and record the historical knowledge of our Indian people is unprecedented.

We are now in a position to preserve our culture in ways that are only beginning to be understood. So why is this story in the Laughing Jackalope Films blog?!


The canoe saved my life, Standing Rock opened my eyes to what we could invent and inspire if we stood strong together, and my camera and drone have allowed me to grow as an artist beyond measure. The synergy, and interconnection of these elements flow like water, air, and fire.

We now have an opportunity to move one step closer to reigniting our Indigenous ways in an increasingly hostile world, where earth values are put behind the ravenous need for fossil fuel consumption. There needs to be balance, so that we can return the land towards a healing journey, too.

This spring will find Skipper PT and I back in the canoe shed, restoring some old Voyager canoes and preparing our proposals to raise some funding to build our support team for the upcoming Paddle season. I know that there are doors yet to be opened, and new stories to tell as we turn our hammers and cameras towards the water again.

Part of the beauty of my life as a filmmaker is the ability to create work that brings me back to my sources, back to the people, and working in restorative ways that can benefit us all.

I can’t speak for my co-founder, Alex Goetz, but it doesn’t take much to see from his own inspiring work that he loves the wild earth as much as any Indian. He and his other partner Justin Grubbs do Running Wild Media and are equally committed to environmental initiatives.

Laughing Jackalope Films stands in solidarity with earth-based values, Indigenous people, and clients that understand we aren’t here to just do business, but to create change at the highest levels.

We are here to love, live, and inspire people to enjoy all that we have been given here on this planet. From the moon and back, there are no other places we would rather be making films, commercials, or simply telling stories on social media. There are no color lines that separate us from the universal playground we all share.


So contact us, if you have a project, or need a visual story. I’m sure we will connect with it, because ultimately, we are all Globally Indigenous.

Ben-Alex Dupris
co-founder- Laughing Jackalope Films