“Stories from the Land” could widen scope with future seasons

This is the last in a series with Ryan McMahon and Wendell Collier about their CBC Gem series “Stories from the Land,” an adaptation of McMahon’s podcast which premiered on the digital streaming platform Friday, March 19.

The inevitable question comes up whenever conversation about a nearly-finished project starts to reach its endpoint. Now that the project is done, or almost done, or ready to go out for the world to see, interact with and enjoy, what comes after? Where do its creators go from here?

For Ryan McMahon and Wendell Collier, the creator and series producer, respectively, of the CBC Gem documentary series “Stories from the Land,” the answer is as simple as it is ambitious. The next step would bring them wherever there are Indigenous stories to be told.

“We hope that we get to do more of these,” Collier said.

“We hope that we get a second season, a third season. It would be amazing to do 52 of these. We’d love to do more of this, to go across Canada. We’d love to go into the States. There are, as we’ve learned from the podcast and Ryan can attest to, stories everywhere.”

While the television version of the series made its premiere on March 19, McMahon pointed to a hashtag campaign he began with the podcast version, #IndigenousStoriesEverywhere, which in turn was informed by community responses he received when he planned to take the podcast on tour.

“When I announced the podcast tour in 2016, the grant I was awarded to do the project originally was through the Canada Council for the Arts Reconciliation Grant program,” McMahon said.

“This project was in the first cohort. What I proposed was a 12-stop tour, and when I announced that I was awarded the prize and going on tour I had 92 communities say, ‘come here.’ I could only go to 12 of them. I ended up doing 30… but it really did prove to us that #IndigenousStoriesEverywhere.”

Those untold stories, and the sheer volume of them waiting and wanting to be told, are behind the drive to extend the reach of the series, either visually or in podcast form. While earlier McMahon and Collier noted the documentary series made a conscious effort to tell stories of Indigenous people while not necessarily focusing on larger systemic and cultural problems, those questions still linger and need to be addressed, and years of mistreatment at the hands of the Canadian government mean that Indigenous stories can come out of almost anywhere.

“Canada, for better or worse, has done a great job of erasing Indigenous history,” McMahon explained.

“90 percent of that job was purposeful and intentional. The reserve system was built to erase Indigenous people, but what we know to be true is that in downtown Toronto there are sacred sites. The west coast of Vancouver, Stanley Park, is all Squamish land, so we have these stories all across Canada.”

Ryan McMahon, centre, speaks with knowledge keep Audrey Deroy on the shores of Lake Superior in this screen-grab form McMahon’s “Stories of the Land” episode “Wiigwaasabak – The Tree of Life.” McMahon said that there are many places from around the world where he could take his series to hear and explore Indigenous stories for future seasons. – photo courtesy of CBC

More than Canada, however, McMahon stressed that Indigenous stories aren’t just restricted to Canada, and that someday in the future the series might follow suit.

“We have these stories all across New Zealand and Australia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Thailand, Japan,” he continued.

“There are Indigenous people everywhere who are chomping at the bit to have their voices heard. Colonization is not a Canadian project, it was a global project. I think it’s important to say we’re releasing a new season of the podcast along with the series [on March 19], so brand new episodes of the podcast will be available wherever you listen to podcasts.”

Both McMahon and Collier gave props to CBC for their support in helping to shoot the series and get it off the ground, and said they’re hopeful that the relationship continues to be beneficial for both sides so they can continue working on the show.

“CBC was super supportive through the whole shooting,” Collier said.

“They wanted to see the paperwork, that we had a plan and protocols. They wanted us to succeed as well. They didn’t want us to just sit and wait [through COVID]. Our executive had our backs the entire time.”

Even as the pair work towards the goal of more seasons and telling stories from further afield, McMahon said he and Collier are also in a better position to make those subsequent episodes and seasons even better now that they have the experience of the first production under their belts.

“We’re really excited that we have this series of films,” McMahon said.

“They stand alone. They’re fantastic on their own, but we know what we can do. We did this with COVID being our reality. Wendell is a fantastic filmmaker, a world-class DOP, one of the ones in Canada that has shot outside throughout his career and has mastered those tools. When you’re creating a series called ‘Stories from the Land,’ you need dudes that aren’t afraid of bug bites, who can rack focus from the front seat of a boat. You put all of that together and I think there’s something special here.”

The complete first season of “Stories from the Land” is available to stream now on CBC Gem.