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Our complex and beautiful country

Don’t watch Koneline to simply pass the time one summer’s evening when you tire of CBC coverage of Canada’s 150th. Nor should you watch it to find easy answers to complicated questions of creation care, stewardship, and justice. There simply are none.

Our complex and beautiful country

If you are anything like me, your list of books to read and films to see is ever growing. It’s something of a mixed blessing that this list tends to grow even longer in the summer.  While there is no shortage of engaging material out there, there are so many books and films I will probably never actually get around to enjoying! It seems every time I strike one title off my list, at least two more are added. Regrettably, there seems to be no easy answer to this dilemma!

As I reflect on this, I am aware that it has been a long time since there were, indeed, any easy answers in life. Long gone are the childhood days when life’s choices were simpleand seemingly straightforward.  The complex reality of life ran through my mind as I watched an engaging film recently that I would very much like to recommend to you, even if that adds yet another title to your own never-ending lists! (So, in the spirit of Canada’s 150th celebrations, let me also apologize in advance for doing so!) You may be forgiven as well for not having heard of this film, given that it is neither a Hollywood blockbuster nor a Hollywood flop.

The film I highly recommend is Koneline: Our Land Beautiful, a visually stunning and powerful documentary set in a remote corner of northwestern B.C.  Koneline is visually stunning for all the obvious reasons: panoramic landscapes, mountain ranges, glaciers, alpine meadows and so much more. But it’s visually stunning in surprising ways as well: who would think that slow-motion footage of the world’s largest helicopter moving a MASSIVE transmission tower into place could also be portrayed as an object of creational beauty?  For these reasons alone, Koneline is well worth one of your summer evenings, and I am confident that you will not be disappointed.  

However, the real allure of Koneline lies in the story it tells and its unique storytelling manner. One comes to expect narrative arc in a documentary – an omniscient voice of authority that introduces and perhaps even critiques the very perspectives it brings to the audience. Perhaps, if I am honest, I actually want a Voice of Authority to tell me how to think about  complicated issues such as resource extraction. However, this voice is intentionally missing from Koneline, for reasons that I can only guess at, since I did not allow myself the opportunity to consult online sources prior to writing this current piece.  Rather, the only voices you will hear in this film are those of the very people being filmed – from Tahltan elders fearful of losing even more control of their land and culture, to mining company owners and everyone in between, including young Tahltan employees of the same mine who are happy just to put food on the table for their children. In this way, Koneline echoes what we already know to be true: life is complicated, and there are rarely straightforward answers to complex issues.

Muddy waters
In telling many single stories through the very voices of the individuals most affected by giant industrial resource extraction projects (in this case, the Red Chris Mine owned by Imperial Metals), director Nettie Wild refuses to allow her subjects to fit into neat, tidy categories of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ There is no David & Goliath paradigm here, as demonstrated by the painful in-fighting among the Tahltan, the love of God’s creation confessed by a mine worker and a snow cat operator, and the striking contrast between two separate pairs of hunters – one foul-mouthed and clearly unethical, the other philosophical and contemplative. Even the apparently clean waters of how we categorize people become muddied as we watch Koneline.  What does becomes apparent very quickly as we are introduced to the wide range of characters living and working in this region is that they may have very different visions for how to use the land, but they all clearly love it.

Don’t watch Koneline to simply pass the time one summer’s evening when you tire of CBC coverage of Canada’s 150th. Nor should you watch it to find easy answers to complicated questions of creation care, stewardship, and justice.  There simply are none. At least not in this corner of the world, where uncertainty remains about who owns the land, who should have access to it, and how to provide jobs where there are none. Do watch the film, however, if you are willing to question your assumptions about who or what defines progress, to see glimpses of a way of life that is largely gone from the rest of the continent, to be reminded of the painful legacy of Canada’s 150 years of colonialism on a small group of indigenous hunter-gatherers, and simply to be visually reminded of the incredible beauty of the created order, no matter how much it is presently groaning under the weight and curse of sin.  In that manner, Koneline ultimately reminds Christ’s followers of something very clear: we are called to be care-takers and stewards who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, and that there is indeed a Voice who has promised to one day liberate his very creation from its present bondage to decay. As we celebrate with Canada its 150th birthday this year, may we also have the courage to point to the One who created this land beautiful, known as Koneline by its first inhabitants.  

About the Author
Our complex and beautiful country

Jonathan Boone

Jonathan Boone lives in Smithers, B.C., and teaches high school at Bulkley Valley Christian School.

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