In Plain Sight: Indigenous Representation

 

I’m furious about an editorial piece in a Toronto newspaper with an inflammatory headline asking why racism against Indigenous people isn’t getting more attention. The editors cite that there has been more reporting on anti-Black racism, and that’s the most divisive thing I’ve heard during the uprising. I’m not adding a link to this article because I don’t want them to get the click stats, and I don’t want that garbage linked to my website.

Who wrote this piece? White editors, that’s who. In their article, they include stats about the injustices done to Indigenous people and a quote from Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam. He was severely beaten and wrongfully arrested by RCMP officers (the charges against him have now been dropped, thank the gods), all accurate and information everyone needs to be aware of. All true, but they couldn’t focus on just anti-Indigenous racism. In their insidious wording, they pit Indigenous and Black struggles against each other by making it a competition, a shouting contest about who will listen to the loudest cries. They’re not considering the damage of the language they used and the division it could cause. If these editors had an ounce of sensitivity, they would have skipped comparisons and focused on the matter at hand: atrocities, violence, and neglect inflicted on Indigenous people. Black Canadians and Indigenous people were both enslaved here, and share similarities and complicated relationships with each other and within their respective communities. Did they think that maybe pitting the struggles of two mistreated peoples against each other would keep us apart because they don’t want us to unite and fight? Their white guilt is misguided and inflammatory, and as usual, takes the blame away from them.

Yes, it’s true – Black people have been able to integrate into white society more than Indigenous people, even if it’s mostly to mine our culture for the latest entertainment value. From my perspective, however, if Indigenous and Black people weren’t both so oppressed economically and socially, a lot of us would have the energy for even more visible support. The (overwhelmingly white) media doesn’t want to acknowledge these factors; they want to lay blame on disenfranchised people to keep us separate. Thankfully, there is evidence of two oppressed groups coming together in protest, with numerous photos of Black and Indigenous people in the streets raising their voices against police brutality despite this virus outbreak.

This interview with Afro-Indigenous activist Keisha Erwin on TVO.ca addresses the issue:

“I do strongly believe that Black liberation is tied to Indigenous sovereignty. White supremacy and the “oppression Olympics” dictate that we always have to be competing against other marginalized groups for recognition of our traumas — but what are we competing for? Recognition from whom? So my question is, what would it look like for both groups to validate our humanities to each other? There are a lot of examples of Black and Indigenous peoples already forming kinship and solidarity on these lands. We have been in intense contact for more than 400 years together on these lands, and those connected histories have been deliberately erased because white supremacy does not want us to be in solidarity with each other.”

There was a more thoughtfully written article about violence committed on the Indigenous Canadian population by Professor Sherene H. Razack. Check it out here. She puts the focus on the real problem: white apathy.

I’m also here to talk about Indigenous film because this is a film website after all, and where they fit into sci-fi, genre film, and future worlds. The fact that Indigenous filmmakers have a growing voice in cinema and media builds a very evident and bright future.

  • The Northlander is a gorgeous Indigenous sci-fi film. I reviewed it for Cinema Axis and have thought about it for years since. The director Benjamin Ross Hayden is alumni from the Adam Beach Film Institute…I have to stop here. ADAM BEACH RUNS A FILM INSTITUTE! When I was researching The Northlander, I discovered that Beach opened a film school for Indigenous youth to get started in the film industry. I loved him previously as an actor, but his dedication to pay it forward and amplify Indigenous voices makes him a champion in my eyes. Hayden created a futuristic vision of POC coming together, and I’m here for it. The Northlander is available for viewing on several streaming websites, and you can rent it online here.

 

  • The imagiNATIVE Film Festival has been around since 2000. The Northlander was part of this festival in 2016, and there are so many fantastic films featuring prominent Indigenous figures, history, stories, and folklore. It’s a festival I’ve covered for Cinema Axis (check out the several years of coverage there), partnered in the past with Blood in the Snow Film Festival, and one that has thrived for over twenty years showcasing Indigenous film. They are, in fact, specialists in Indigenous Media Arts.

 

  • One of my favorite documentaries is about an Indigenous DJ. Turning Tables, directed by Chrisann Hessing, features Joshua DePerry, aka Classic Roots, who is determined to combine traditional Pow Wow music with electronica and make a name for himself. Check out the film on the Turning Tables website.

 

  • The Blood in the Snow Film Festival has featured Indigenous film, women directors, and the LGTBQIA2S+ community for years. Our most recent runaway hit has been Frostbite, a monster who will eat you if you’re not warmly dressed for a winter in the Northwest Territories. Indigenous students created Frostbite at the Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah, NWT, and his popularity won them several awards and encouraged the kids to create more films in the Frostbite saga. The charm and enthusiasm of these young filmmakers would melt the heart of any winter monster out there, and with support, they’ll continue to strive as our future genre filmmakers.

 

  • The National Film Board programs films on many Indigenous subjects, and it’s well worth the look, like a collection by Alanis Obomsawin, a prolific filmmaker and one focused on the fate of Indigenous children. You can read about her incredible career on the NFB blog. There is also a documentary series on TVO called First Contact. A group of white Canadians travel across Canada to challenge their racist beliefs about Indigenous communities. It’s infuriating to see the systemic racist views that plague the First Nations peoples in action, and it may count as sensationalist television. Still, I found the series valuable because the Indigenous community participated in dispelling the lies we’ve all been taught about their history.

 

  • Jeff Barnaby, who wrote and directed Rhymes for Young Ghouls in 2013, came up with another critically-acclaimed film, Blood Quantum in 2019, about a zombie apocalypse with Indigenous heroes. As society falls apart when a zombie virus hits the white population, a Mi’gMaq community must rally together and help survivors when they realize Indigenous people are immune to the infection because of their Native blood.  Barnaby wanted to layer the experiences of Indigenous communities, and the injustices doled out to them historically and, at the same time, make a great horror film to reflect his love for the genre. It’s a fresh take on the zombie trope and much-needed Indigenous representation, and what I hope leads to more Indigenous genre film in the future. You can find it on most VOD platforms.

 

  • One last pick is episode #1053 of Yo, Is This Racist? Podcast with hosts Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome. The talk to actor Joey Clift about his experiences as a Native American actor and racist representation of Indigenous people.

 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a ton of Indigenous content out there, and it all needs to be front and center, so First Nations people don’t have to struggle to picture themselves in the future. I’m doing this post to show my solidarity, and I implore you to read, watch, and listen to content by Indigenous creators. The more eyes on their work, the more normalized it becomes, and the easier it is for BIPOC creators to gain access to opportunities.

 

 

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