They revealed that by the time an indigenous woman came of age there was a high probability she would be murdered, abused or suffer from addiction issues. Her daughter had yet to be born, but the Ojibwe TV and film producer was struck by a sense of dread.
It was the starting point for the documentary series, Taken, an Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and CBC documentary series that will look at stories of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“Taken was born out of fear,” Meeches told an audience Monday night at the the International Public Television Screening Conference (INPUT) in downtown Calgary. “You find those passion pieces and you are able to roll the dice and really believe in those projects.”
While the focus of INPUT is to watch, discuss and debate public television content from around the globe, Monday’s Canadian Indigenous Showcase shone a light on a distinctly Canadian phenomenon. Moderated by Calgary’s Michelle Thrush, a Calgary actress and activist who stars in Blackstone, and Tina Keeper, an activist, former MP for Churchill, Man. and star of the Alberta-shot CBC series North of 60, the panel celebrated Canada’s leadership in Indigenous television.
As Taken proves, Indigenous filmmakers and TV producers rarely shy away from the painful aspects of aboriginal life, both past and present, in Canada. But the panel discussion heard how Canada has been a leader in providing opportunities for these stories to be told. The rise of Internet and social media has only opened the doors wider and allowed more stories to be told as the audience continues to grow. Aboriginal youth are one of the largest growing demographics in Canada, with 40 per cent of all aboriginals 19-years-old or younger.
The international audience on Monday, which included delegates from around the world involved in public broadcasting, heard how Indigenous storytelling reached this point in Canada.
That included APTN’s origin story. Executive director Monika Ille and senior manager of programming Danielle Audette chronicled the network’s early days in the territories and rise to national broadcaster, the first of its kind in Canada.
Producers Bonnie Thompson and Tasha Hubbard spoke about the National Film Board’s evolving relationship with aboriginal filmmakers, including the establishment in 1968 of the Challenge for Change program, which allowed Indigenous filmmakers to tell their own stories and led to the cinematic careers of artists such as Gil Cardinal and Willie Dunn.
CBC reporter Duncan McCue spoke about the power of seeing aboriginal representation on television when he was growing up as a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.
It was after seeing actor Pat John as Jesse on the CBC series The Beachcombers in the 1980s that McCue first realized aboriginal characters on TV could stray from the stereotype personified by the Lone Ranger’s stoic and loyal sidekick Tonto.
“Jesse wore plaid shirts and jeans, he worked hard and he had a big smile,” McCue said. “Jesse was a sidekick too (to Bruno Gerussi), but he looked like one of my relatives. To me, Jesse was a real Indian on TV. There’s something about seeing your own people on TV that makes you feel bigger.”
Taken is scheduled to run in 2017 on the CBC and APTN. The NFB’s Thompson and Hubbard will be producing the upcoming documentary Birth of a Family, which will follow the story of how Saskatoon Star Phoenix reporter Betty Ann Adam’s three siblings were reunited after being taken from their Dene mother during the “Sixties Scoop,” a mass removal of aboriginal children from their families and into the Canadian child welfare system starting in the mid-1960s.
Meanwhile, one of the most critically acclaimed series on APTN, Blackstone, could soon have much more of a global reach. While the Edmonton-shot series, which focused on the politics and drama on a First Nations reserve, ended after five seasons in December, creator Ron Scott said that the series has entered a deal with Netflix that will soon have Blackstone seen in more than 80 countries.
“For thousands and thousands of years we’ve been passing down stories through our elders to our children,” said Thrush, who won a Gemini in 2011 for her role as Grace Stoney in Blackstone. “This has been going on for a long time. We are seeing the modern way of using the oral tradition. That’s how we are telling our stories: Through filmmaking, through community news, through the media.”
INPUT continues until Thursday at the Telus Convention Centre. Visit inputcalgary.com