By Lynette George
In 2020, wrought with worry surrounding job insecurity brought on by the pandemic, filmmaker Jael Joseph decided to pursue a master’s degree in media production at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). Just three years later, her graduate school research project would lead to her documentary debuting at this year’s Caribbean Tales International Film Festival in Toronto.
The documentary, Territory, follows three main characters who are Indigenous residents of the Kalinago Territory in Dominica. Throughout the film, they narrate their experiences living in a community severely impacted by colonial powers and modern capitalism.
According to the book, The Torrid Zone: Caribbean Colonization and Cultural Interaction in the Long Seventeenth Century, the Kalinago Peoples were spread across the Lesser Antilles for millennia prior to European colonization. Today, as per a profile on Dominica published on ReliefWeb, only about 3000 Kalinago Peoples remain today, existing primarily on the island nation. Highlighting the socio-political and economic struggles faced by them, Joseph’s documentary showcases the connection between Indigenous language and land.
“My documentary is a piece of advocacy work that I did for my masters project,” said the Dominican-born entrepreneur, producer and director, in a Zoom interview. “I enjoy writing and telling stories that can inspire, stories that can empower and also stories where there is a call to action.”
Understanding that misrepresentation stemmed from colonial indoctrination, Joseph said she took it upon herself to dig deeper into their history and culture for her graduating research paper titled, “Territory: Commonalities Between the Reclamation of the Kalinago Language and Connection to Land.” When it came to making an accompanying creative project for her degree, Joseph decided to pave a new path and provide the Kalinago Peoples with a platform to tell their own stories.
“Their stories have been told so incorrectly so many times by so many people,” said Joseph. “So I wanted this to be their story, their authentic story from their mouth, which is why in the film, I did not narrate.”
Being of Kalinago ancestry herself, the multi-hyphenate had always been curious about the prejudice surrounding the Indigenous group. “There are a lot of stereotypes that have been put out there that are not exact…because we know how colonization works. It kind of puts out wrong messaging, so that [colonizers] can make themselves look better,” said Joseph.
Joseph’s popularity in Dominica as a media entrepreneur did remove the hurdle of distrust and apprehension from the community, she said. However, making a documentary during the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be, as she described it, “a gift and a curse.” While finding sources and conducting initial interviews online allowed for quick access, Joseph only had 10 days to film on the ground and about five days to edit.
“There was a lot of protocol that had to be taken into consideration so that we’re not giving each other COVID-19,” said Joseph. “It was just a really strenuous process.”
Along with her team consisting of Nadja O. Thomas, Norris Francois Jr. and Sheldon Casimir, Joseph also had to work through some of the barriers that the Kalinago Peoples face on a daily basis. Having no access to a stable internet connection or drinking water for days at a time left her worried, she said.
“[The issues] weren’t from the community but it was the stuff that was imposed on them [that created setbacks].”
For years, the lasting impact of colonial abuse towards the Kalinago people has been felt. According to the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network, Hurricane Maria caused devastating natural calamities that destroyed the Kalinago villages in 2017. Homes were crushed, internet systems were ruined and goals of energy self-sufficiency were pushed to the side. The government’s prioritization of ecotourism over their Indigenous community also played an increased role in these barriers.
Now, for Joseph, Territory carries one simple message for viewers: “We could do better.” Joseph said she believes strongly that people should stand by their Indigenous communities and advocate for them.
“For a long time there’s been a gaze on this community and they’re exoticized,” she said. “I want us to take our eyes away from that and focus on the issues and how we can help.”