Voices from the Barrens

About the Film

Voices from the Barrens: Native Peoples, Blueberries and Sovereignty is a documentary film which tells the story of Native Peoples from the USA and Canada participating in the wild blueberry harvest in Maine.

Every August First Peoples from the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet tribes of the Maritime Provinces of Canada migrate across the International Canadian-USA border to participate with their tribal brothers and sisters—the Passamaquoddy Native Peoples of Maine in the tradition of hand raking wild blueberries. They do not describe this seasonal “agricultural labor” as work, but as part of the harvest from the earth, part of a visit to the blueberries of Maine’s glacial barrens. The “rakers” live in camps at the Passamaquoddy tribal owned company where they participate in the largest wild blueberry harvest in the world. The story touches on the ancient pattern of this migration and how it relates to border crossings and Agri-Business in the 21st century.

Although the blueberry rakers are categorized as agricultural migrant laborers by the US Department of Labor, the Passamaquoddy blueberry rakers own the land on which they are laboring. The history behind this ownership is discovered in interviews and conversation. For both Canadian and American First Peoples, the right to continue an inherent practice of moving on the season, is interpreted as their sovereign right. This includes fishing rights, logging rights, and in the case of this story working rights. Is this a human right, to access economy unavailable at home, and then to return home? The investigation of this working experience at the Eastern United States and Canadian border exposes human rights principles that challenge the USA’s current border policies.

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