High above the polar circle in Utsjoki, Finland, thousands of reindeer are herded from surrounding mountainsides where they graze in warmer months. The indigenous Sámi people depend on them for food, hides, and farm work. As temperatures fall to -18°C, and darkness settles in by 2 pm, the storybook animals journey slowly across a frozen expanse, exhibiting a breathtaking energy and inexplicable mystery. The sound they make is unlike anything you’ve ever heard.
Haida Gwaii is an archipelago drifting off the edge of the North American continent. Its diverse geography supports an uncommon abundance of wildlife that has sustained its inhabitants for generations. In the past century, commercial logging, over-fishing, and invasive species have compromised the availability of traditionally harvested foods and threatened the long-term viability of these practices.
Compounding this ecological damage is the imminent extinction of the Haida language and loss of traditional knowledge. Naanii Mary Swanson, a “last speaker,” frames this portrait of age-old traditions at risk. Her ancient words evoke timeless rhythms. Following food harvesters as they gather and prepare for the winter, Survival Prayer vividly illuminates the profound relationship between individuals and the land that sustains them. An intimate ethnographic reflection, this meditative encounter with the Haida people’s traditional practices reveals poignant possibility amid great loss. [subtitles]