Christopher Herodier is a busy man. When I first met the young filmmaker at the Commercial Centre in his home town of Chisasibi, he quickly shook my hand and said, “Do you mind if we walk while we talk?” I accompanied him to the Band Council office, to the bank and finally to his home. Once inside, he poured two hot cups of tea and excused himself as he reached for the ringing phone. “That should be the James Bay Cree Communications Society calling. They want to interview me about this year’s caravan.”

“This year’s caravan,” the second annual one and the product of this hectic schedule, is a canoe trip from Chisasibi to Great Whale organized by Christopher as a symbol of support to the people of Great Whale in their struggle to save the Great Whale River from hydroelectric development. “I want to show the people of Great Whale that we care and that we support them in their struggle because we know what [a dam] can do,” explained the 32-year-old after his 10-minute telephone interview.

Christopher and his cousin, Ernie Herodier, also of Chisasibi, filmed last year’s caravan of eight canoes and 40 people. A video, Let’s go back to our Land, was released in March 1994. This was

Christopher’s debut film and he plans to make a second one of this year’s voyage. Let’s go back to our Land documents the four-day canoe trip and the traditional gathering in Great Whale that followed.

But the video speaks of more than the caravan. With its beautiful scenes of the James and Hudson bays and candid footage of people fishing and preparing hides, the video celebrates the traditional Cree way of life. “There’s a lot of stories out there that say we don’t use the land any more, that we stay home, watch television and drink beer,” Christopher explained sitting cross-legged on his couch. “Sure we do that but we still go out there hunting and fishing. We still depend on the land. I wanted to show that from a Cree perspective.”

The caravan is also a way to unite the community, if only fora few days. “I want to get the community of Chisasibi working together again because we’re divided. I want people to come together to start helping each other and knowing each other, like we did in Fort George.”

It was in the community of Fort George that Christopher Herodier was born on December 1, 1961, the third of Elizabeth and Roderick’s seven children. Christopher was raised by two great aunts, Edith and Alice Louttit until he was 11, when he returned to live with his parents just a few houses away. “I remember visiting my parents when I was young, but I always thought my aunts were my real parents,” he recalled.

At 15, Christopher like many James Bay youth, was sent to high school in Hull, Quebec. He remembered being “a fairly good student,” though his reason for wanting to succeed was an unusual one. “I wanted to get out of high school and go on and do something else, so I figured the easiest way to get out of there was to graduate,” he recalled with a smile. Despite this incentive, Christopher returned to Chisasibi empty-handed after two years. “I was missing one credit,” he said with a smirk. “I failed French oral.”

His years in Hull set the stage for an erratic and inglorious scholastic career. In 1978, he enrolled at Northern College in Timmins, Ontario but soon transferred to the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Saskatoon, where he studied for two and a half years. “I really don’t know what I wanted to do in life so I was having fun exploring. I was starting to question who I was.” It was in Saskatchewan that he first came to appreciate his heritage. “When I came home for Christmas I used to go see my grandfather and drill him with questions. Before college I didn’t really care. When I went out West, I realized it was a gift to be Cree.”

Christopher mentioned his now-deceased grandfather, Ernest Herodier, often, remarking on the many lessons the trapper shared with his grandson. “It’s odd, you know. Some of the things I do today, I think, ‘I already knew this and I realized it’s something my grandfather taught me.'”

By the winter of 1982, Christopher had dropped out of college to start working at CBFG Chisasibi Community Radio, his first introduction to the world of media. Over the next nine years, Christopher developed a love-hate relationship with the station, working as an announcer until he was asked to resign (“I was late for my shows”) and then returning as program manager in 1987. It was at CBFG that his interest in film was ignited. “They had a camera at the station. I used to play around with it all the time. So much so,” he explained laughing, “that they wouldn’t let me use it any more.”

It was also while working at CBFG that he met Sarah Mark-Stewart of Eastmain, who is now his wife and the mother of their three children, Christopher Jr., 9, Dale, 8, and Timmy, 7. Sarah teaches Grade 1 Cree at the James Bay Eeyou School in Chisasibi and takes time off work to be part of the caravans.

In 1984, a year after their marriage, Christopher and Sarah, who was pregnant with their first child, packed their bags for Montreal. With his interest in media sparked from working in radio, Christopher had enrolled in communications studies at Concordia University. It was his last stint as a student and the two years in Montreal were not happy ones. “I shouldn’t have gone. I screwed up because I was really heavy into drinking,” he explained unabashedly. He has since given up alcohol completely because of the pain it caused him and his family.

He also remembered how alienating it was being far from home. “I was lost. I didn’t have anywhere to go.” Sarah nodded in agreement as she poured two new cups of tea. “I was far from my people and from the land.” By spring 1986, Christopher Jr. was almost hit by a car on a busy Montreal street. “That woke me up. I thought we have to get out of here. So Sarah called up her mom and said, ‘Can we come live with you?’ Her mom said, ‘Yes, please come home!'”

Home has been Chisasibi ever since and both Sarah and Christopher want it to remain that way. Christopher often leaves the area to work—he is about to begin his second contract with CBC-Montreal as a writer/broadcaster for Mamoweedon Television, but the family remains behind.

Chisasibi is the perfect base to realize the myriad of story ideas that Christopher has stored in his imagination. His dreams for the future include a film about a Cree trapper and one featuring the Elders of various Cree communities. “I want to show the Cree people as people,” he said. The thread linking his diverse ideas is that film can be a healing agent. “I know that the Cree people are lost and they need something to bring them back on track. We’re being bombarded by outside influences and we need something to fight back with.” And at the centre of this fight is the land, the land captured so beautifully in Let’s go back to our Land. “For us to survive, we need to know who we are. Without the land, we don’t have an identity.”

All of these future plans were on hold as Christopher prepared for the upcoming Chisasibi Eeyou Caravan, which left on July 30. “So far we have eight confirmed canoes. One canoe doesn’t have a motor and a whole bunch of people want to come but don’t have a canoe. That shouldn’t be a problem,” he assured me. He remembered preparing for last year’s trip and the difficulties, financial and otherwise, he encountered. “I got knocked down a few times but I had to get up again. This year, we already have 22 sponsors,” he added proudly.

And after this year, will the caravan become a yearly event? “I want to keep the caravan going as a cultural organization,” he explained. “But next year I want someone else to organize it. It’s a lot of work and I want to give someone else the chance. We’ve just planted the seed.” While that plant grows, Christopher said he continues to work “day-by-day.” Despite his boundless energy, he emphasized that he has not charted out his future. “I’m not aiming for the stars. When I get carried away, I slow myself down and think, there’s still so much to learn.”