Guardians of Eternity Synopsis
Giant Mine, located near Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, is still an unhealed, open wound for Mary Rose Sundberg, a grandmother from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. On behalf of her grandchildren and her people, she is anxiously following the remediation of the 237,000 tons of arsenic buried underground, enough arsenic to kill the world a few times over if it gets in contact with water.
The mine happens to be located under the source of water for Yellowknife, Great Slave Lake, which eventually makes its way to the Arctic Ocean. The permafrost is melting underground, water is infiltrating the tunnels, and we will need to pump that water to the surface forever. Mary Rose is worried.
How do we communicate the toxicity lying under Giant Mine to future generations, those who will follow us in 100 years, 1,000 years, or 100,000 years? We must warn them of the danger lurking down under, the monster under Giant Mine. Her people have communicated their knowledge since time immemorial through legends and stories.
Must they now create a modern legend about this man-made toxic waste? Mary Rose pleads for future generations, the guardians of eternity.
About the Filmmaker
France Benoit is a policy advisor turned filmmaker who decided to become a vegetable farmer in Yellowknife. After a feature documentary, she switched to short films and recently completed her first short fiction. She has lived in Yellowknife for 26 years. She has been directing films for more than a decade.
Her film, Un pied dans la main/Hand to Toe, was selected for Hot Docs in 2011, the first filmmaker from the Northwest Territories to be selected. In 2008, with Les Productions Rivard of Winnipeg, Radio-Canada, and RDI, France wrote and directed One River, Two Shores, reflections on the Mackenzie Gas Project. The documentary discusses the environmental, spiritual and socio-economic consequences of the proposed natural gas pipeline which would largely follow the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories.
The film was selected to the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois in Montréal in 2009. Also in 2009, for the TVA show Viens voir ici, France completed a 30-minute episode on local food production in Yellowknife. France continues to live self-sufficiently in the boreal forest outside of Yellowknife, pumping her water from the lake, heating her home from wood, and drawing her energy from the sun.
More from the Filmmaker
Guardians of Eternity is a full-length documentary film about the toxic legacy of the Giant Mine in Yellowknives, Northwest Territories. The Giant Mine was part of the founding infrastructure of the city of Yellowknife and can still be seen on the outskirts of town. It is located near the Yellowknives Dene First Nation communities of N’Dilo and Dettah and was built in 1949 without consent on Dene hunting and harvesting grounds. For a number of years highly toxic arsenic trioxide, a byproduct of the roasting process used to separate gold from the ore, spread widely from the roaster contaminating the land around the mine.
Today, the majority of the arsenic, some 237,000 tones, is buried underground in frozen chambers. The Canadian and NWT governments are working to remediate the site and the current plan includes keeping the contaminants frozen, perhaps into eternity. The recently passed environmental assessment includes a number of measure, including an independent oversight body and a perpetual care plan, and includes the requirement that research into a more permanent solution be conducted and that the project be reviewed every 100 years. This is one of Canada’s most contaminated sites and understandable there is much public awareness and concern.
Guardians of Eternity introduces the people who are most affected by this legacy of a gold rush and looks at the challenge of communicating the danger to future generations posed by the existence of a substance that will remain highly toxic forever. Mary-Rose Sundberg is the great-granddaughter of Chief Jean Baptise Madzii Drygeese, Chief Drygeese, who signed the treaty of 1921 (Treaty 8). Her parents worked at Giant Mine. She has dedicated her life to the transmission of her language and traditions to other generations. Mary-Rose is the director of the Goyatiko Language Society in Dettah. A translator and community leader, Mary-Rose teaches language and history. The film is available in French and Spanish versions.