Lighting the 8th Fire

A First Nations prophecy says North Americans are at a crossroads and it's time for "the light-skinned race" to choose between two paths. If they stay separate from First Nations people, says the Anishinaabe prophecy, they will suffer and die as the Earth is destroyed.

A First Nations prophecy says North Americans are at a crossroads and it’s time for “the light-skinned race” to choose between two paths.

If they stay separate from First Nations people, says the Anishinaabe prophecy, they will suffer and die as the Earth is destroyed.

If they embrace First Nation people, the combined respect, wisdom and spirituality will help them avoid environmental and social catastrophe.

This second option is called the “eighth fire.”

That’s also the name of a CBC documentary series that’s taking a new approach to covering contemporary issues.

Producers Kelly Crichton, who has been a journalist for 40 years, and Connie Walker, who has spent 11 years at CBC, are just two of the producers who put the four-hour series together.

They said it has been the most difficult and challenging project of their careers.

Work began on the series more than a year ago, they said.

“The issues that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was bringing forward certainly made it very obvious that there was a need to look at the relationship (between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people),” said Crichton, senior producer of the joint project between CBC and Radio-Canada.

“The corporation took it on as a project to fund and so it began. And I’m very proud of them for doing that at a time when there are huge budget cuts and a lot of difficulties, but they saw this as a very important and necessary project to do.”

However, getting 8th Fire going wasn’t just a matter of funding.

There was a lot of “head pounding and soul searching” on just how to approach the issue, said Crichton. The team that eventually put it all together was a mix of aboriginal and non-aboriginal producers, she said. Consultants and aboriginal-consciousness workers were brought in to help advise how the project should look.

“And you realize, when you do something like this, you are, yourself, a part of the story,” said Crichton. “No one can escape that. As a white-settler-Canadian, I am part of the colonization process and our aboriginal staff are also part of the people who were colonized. We all have a vested interest in this story.

“And we also knew, at the time when we began this that Canadians, as a whole, were kind of in denial of what the relationship was all about. Really it would be a tough sell to an audience to get them to watch these kinds of programs – a non-aboriginal audience. We had to think of a way to do this so we could bring them into the tent.”

They soon began to realize how much of their own history they didn’t know, said Crichton.

“It was quite humbling for most of us,” she said.

But before the first episode had even finished airing on national television earlier this month, it became obvious their time had been well spent.

Walker, who was tweeting live during the first episode, along with host Wab Kinew, became overwhelmed with the reception.

“I just couldn’t get over the reaction from people on Twitter and on Facebook and people sending me Facebook messages and text messages,” said Walker, a Cree from Saskatchewan. “Everyone just had this overwhelming sense of pride in finally seeing themselves, or people like themselves, reflected on prime-time television.

“There was a point in the first episode where they’re speaking with a couple of elders and I just felt like I was getting choked up just hearing their accents, hearing people who sound like my grandparents, on prime-time television.”

The second and third episodes brought more of the same response.

“As a First Nations journalist, obviously First Nations’ issues are something that I’ve always been passionate about and I’ve always tried to bring those stories to a more mainstream audience,” said Walker.

“But I think 8th Fire is confirmation that there is an appetite for these stories and there’s a need to tell these stories and people want to hear more about aboriginal people and more about our relationship and how to move forward.”

The strongest support for the series has come from aboriginal communities, including Walker’s home reservation Okanese, east of Regina.

Walker knows first hand that impacts from a series like this can have a bigger effect where aboriginal populations are larger and more identifiable.

“There’s more at stake,” she said, noting that in downtown Toronto she is usually mistaken for a Filipina or an Italian person.

But the most validating aspect of Walker’s work on this series came when they started doing the research and interviews for the second episode.

“This First Nation in B.C., they’ve been working on the relationship with their non-native neighbours and they’re having joint town council and chief and council meetings now bi-monthly,” she said.

“We are on the right track. This is what we should be talking about and now that the series has aired, it’s all out there. It shows how incredibly relevant and timely this discussion is.”

When asked why Yukon First Nations weren’t featured in any of the stories, neither Walker nor Crichton could provide a good reason.

Walker said four hours isn’t much time when there are so many stories to tell.

Also the show focused more on urban aboriginal people, Crichton said. More than half of the aboriginal population now lives in major city centres.

But there is a hope that this conversation, and maybe even this series, will continue on, said Walker.

“It’s unavoidable,” she said. “It’s a conversation that needs to be continued. It’s one that people are having and because it’s relevant – and people are realizing that it’s relevant – not just to aboriginal Canadians, but to all Canadians, it’s one that we’re going to continue to hear about.

“Ours is a voice that we’re going to be continuing to hear from in the months and years to come.”

The fourth and final episode of 8th Fire airs Feb. 2.

The series’ website has past episodes as well as interviews, interactive polls and 19 aboriginal-made films from all across Canada.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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