The Free Collective

Aurora Borealis, North West Territories. EIRC BECKSTEAD PHOTOS
Aurora Borealis, North West Territories. EIRC BECKSTEAD PHOTOS

Featured artists in the Summer 2015 issue of Mountain Life’s Coast Mountain mag, The Free Collective was conceived as a sort of “Art Label” to promote and curate an assortment of individual artists and their work similar to the way a record label does with musicians. “The Free Collective is about bringing people together,” says Whistler’s Eric Beckstead. “Many people these days feel powerless, we see large problems but no obvious solutions. What the Collective does is bring together influential artists and free thinkers with a common goal of creating positive change.”

Speaking a Lost Language, is an 18-minute short film/video magazine chronicling a journey Beckstead and friend Alex Bergeron made into the North West Territories to meet a tribe of Dene First Nations.

“We thought it would be sweet to do a film on the first culture of North America,” Eric explains. “Our goal was to try and find the roots of a society that was still operating on those old beliefs and value systems. We drove 14 hours from Yellowknife to the literal end of the road, the concrete turns to grass and swamp. That ‘start at the end’ idea was really appealing.”

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Northern Tipi.

Mountain Life: This was the first big Free Collective project. How did it all come together?

Eric Beckstead: We decided to go explore this culture, made some contacts and flew out to the North West Territories. My car blew up so we had to get our hands on a truck up there and drive out to the Hand Games, traditional games of skill that have been played for thousands of years by Northern communties. The games would bring together the nomadic tribes into one spot so they are a symbol of community. The First Nations would have weddings, birthings, and ceremonies at the games. It was a chance to come together and celebrate and share ideas.

So we went to this community, Wrigley, a 14-hour drive from Yellowknife. It was literally the end of the road— the concrete ends and it turns into grass, dirt and swamp. For our first project that “start at the end” idea appealed to us.

ML: How did it go when you arrived? Deep in NWT in a Dene First Nations community. You guys must have stood out a bit?

Eric: We were the only “white” people there. We rolled in with our truck and cameras and were definitely out of place, kind of that walk-in-the-bar-and-the-record-stops feel. But everyone was open to us. Once they learned what we were doing and started talking to us they were super friendly.

With the history of Canada’s residential schools it makes sense the First Nations are a bit wary of strangers. An entire generation is still suffering from the pain of having their language and culture literally beaten out of them. And the next generation too, the youth are suffering because their parents are suffering.

ML: That’s in the news a lot these days as the country attempts some kind of reconciliation.

Eric: We talked to Chief Tim Lenny and he said after the residential school it took him 20 years to find himself again and come to terms with the trauma that happened there. The generation before that was forced into reserves, the one before that was basically exterminated. We talked to an elder woman how was 91 years old and was having trouble communicating with her own daughter because at 9 years of age the girl was taken and had the Dene language literally beaten out of her.

LEFT: Anna Langstrand, quiet paddle. RIGHT: Dene elder in Wrigley, NWT.
LEFT: Anna Langstrand, quiet paddle. RIGHT: Dene elder in Wrigley, NWT.

ML: And then you come home with all this footage and these stories to go into the film. What was the next step?

Eric: After living with the Dene for a period and seeing how affected people are, across entire generations, we decided to take what we’d learned, share it, and ultimately find a way to give back. I edited together a trailer, built the website, and put the movie together with a support from [Free Collective members] Anna, Will and Nicole. The idea was to show the movie while featuring Collective photos along with life art during a big event to raise money for Dene wilderness protection efforts. Forlise, in Whistler, hosted us and it was super successful. We sold out the space – 200 people, thanks to support from Coldsmoke Co and a bunch of awesome sponsors. We had Steve Fagan live painting, raffles, First Nations art, healthy snacks, even a keg. And looking around the room — I forget sometimes because our Whistler community is so amazing – but we had three Olympians there, amazing athletes, artists, actors, Shambhala hippie types, elderly folks… every demographic you can imagine was in that room. We raised over $1200 and hopefully sparked some minds while inspiring people. There is a new way of living, it will build. And if people agree they should join us and we can continue to explore truths and create connections. There will be a trickle down effect, for sure.

The Free Collective launch party at Whistler's Forlise space raised funds for Dene conservation efforts.
The Free Collective launch party at Whistler’s Forlise space raised funds for Dene conservation efforts.

Check out for more info, art and a look at what’s next for Eric and the crew.

— Feet Banks