The partnership between Rogers, Parks Canada and Northwards Media will result in a pilot documentary called “Northwords.”
The documentary will focus on the writers’ journey in the park and how their experiences on the land shape their work.
Torngat Mountains National Park is home to the Labrador Inuit.
Rogers has been recognized for her work in reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.
A journalist with CBC Radio for over 30 years, she has hosted numerous flagship programs including This Morning and Sounds Like Canada. She now lives in British Columbia and hosts CBC’s Radio One’s The Next Chapter – a program highlighting Canadian writers and songwriters.
Rogers recruited authors Joseph Boyden, Alyssa York, Noah Richler, Sara Leavitt and Rabindranath Maharaj to participate in the documentary.
A crew filmed the writers as they settled in at base camp at Saglek Bay, adjacent to the southern boundary of the park. They then travelled through the park over a one-week period.
During a recent telephone interview, Rogers described the park as “a fascinating example between of great co-management between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.”
“The people who own the land and have the land in their DNA are there watching the land. They could see bears and caribou ages before we could. They just know what to look for.”
Rogers said one of the highlights of the expedition was travelling the land with Inuit elder Sophie Keelan who was born on Rose Island – a sacred place to Labrador Inuit.
The elder hadn’t been back to the island since her childhood.
“She took off on her legs and she seemed to know the land through her legs. She remembered where the food caches were, she remembered where there were burial sites. It was a privilege to be with her and to see the land through her eyes.”
The group also visited Hebron – the former site of the Moravian mission which started in the 1830 and disbanded in the 1950s.
“In 1959 (former premier) Joey Smallwood decided that the community would be shut down and the people resettled.”
Resettled is an unsettling word, Rogers said.
“There’s a plaque there of (former premier) Danny Williams’ apology to the Labrador Inuit for the disbursement of all these families, some of whom were broken up and sent to different places.”
There is also a plaque in which Andrea Webb, one of the survivors of the Hebron resettlement accepted Williams’ apology.
“The very last line says ‘We forgive you.’ We were all very moved by that,” Rogers said.
Another highlight of the trip, Rogers said, was swimming off an iceberg – something she did with two of the male writers in the group.
It’s an opportunity she couldn’t refuse, she said.
“Something about swimming in cold water makes you feel incredibly alive. That was just a dream of a day.”
The writers also caught and ate char under the guidance of a Labrador Inuit woman named Mary Sam.
“She helped cook the char. We had it in a soup, we had it roasted on a flat rock over a fire and we had it baked.”
The writers tried numerous other traditional foods including seal and caribou.
The climax of the expedition was a harvesting expedition where, after a guide killed a caribou, the writers helped skin the animal.
Rogers describes the experience as amazing and intense. They ate the caribou’s heart right after it was taken from the animal.
“I’ve never done anything like that in my life. But I did it because I think it was an honour to be asked.”
Rogers said the heart tasted like lamb. She felt energized after she ate it, she said.
The majority of the writers ate the caribou and took it back to base camp to share with others.
While at base camp, the writers also spent time with Derrick Pottle, a master carver from Rigolet.
Pottle teaches Inuit culture to Inuit youth to keep the culture alive. He helped the youth create a carving called “Hanging by Ivuluk... Hanging by a String.”
What's hanging is Inuit culture, Rogers said, going on to describe the piece of artwork.
“There’s a carved face, hanging by sinew from an antler--but we remember the sinew is strong. And beneath the face, there's a drum--and the drum is the heartbeat of drum dancing and Inuit culture and the heartbeat is loud.”
The Inuit youth gave the writers a lesson on throat singing and drum dancing.
The writers wrote about their experiences and, during the last night at the park, read their stories to the people at base camp.
Rogers credits not only the Labrador Inuit and Parks Canada but also filmmaker Geoff Morrison for the expedition’s success.
The hope now is that the documentary will be picked up by a broadcaster.
“I really hope the CBC will pick it up because I think every Canadian should see this,” Rogers said.