Home Arts & Culture Screen Awards highlight new Indigenous talent

Screen Awards highlight new Indigenous talent

Abenaki actor Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie (right) is nominated as supporting actor for a Canadian Screen Award for his first acting gig, as are his co-stars Emilie Bierre (leading role, centre) and Irelande Cote (supporting, right), who both got nods. (Courtesy Julie Caron)

Every year, the Canadian Screen Awards (CSAs) highlight a broad collection of TV and film talent that those accustomed to only watching the glitzy, high-priced American productions may not have checked out.

This year’s nominations came out, and there are a number of gems among the nominees, including a solid contingent of Onkwehón:we talent.

Genevieve Dulude-Decelles picked up a directing nomination for the French-language Une Colonie/A Colony, which was also nominated for Best Motion Picture and Best First Feature Film.

Abenaki actor Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie is nominated as supporting actor in the film for his first acting gig, as are his co-stars Emilie Bierre (leading role) and Irelande Cote (supporting), who both got nods.

The Eastern Door screened the film this week, and it is one to check out if you get a chance. The three young actors are excellent, and it’s refreshing to see a Quebecois movie in French featuring a Francophone Indigenous actor (Whiteduck-Lavoie), and address some of the complications, racism and subtle tension between the two communities.

There are several gut-wrenching scenes that many in Kahnawake will be able to relate to, particularly one where Jimmy (Whiteduck-Lavoie) is forced to stifle his rage as his ignorant classmates discuss Indigenous history and culture, as written in their archaic textbooks.

Dulude de Celles grew up near Odanak, and spoke of the process in writing the film based on her own childhood.

“My work with the First Nations forced me to face my own prejudices, those belonging to that inner child who was afraid of the neighbouring reservation,” she said in an interview promoting the film.

“It is that very shift in perspective that I wanted to highlight through Mylia (Bierre), having Odanak as a setting. Her growing openness to the unknown will cause her to make sense of her own uniqueness.

Kahnawake’s Tracey Deer received a nomination for Mohawk Girls for this year’s awards, as did her lead writer Cynthia Knight. Both are up against perennial heavyweights Letterkenny (which stars Kanientiio Horn) and Schitt’s Creek once again and looking for their first win in the comedy series category.

Iqualuit actor Paul Nutarariaq is nominated as actor in a leading role for Grizzlies along with Akwesasne actor Brandon Oakes, who is nominated for the adaptation of the Joseph Boyden novel Through Black Spruce (see below).

APTN Investigates is nominated against traditional heavy hitters W5, The Fifth Estate and CBC News: Marketplace for best News or Information Series.

Kim O’Bomsawin’s written and directed documentary Quiet Killing is nominated for the Donald Brittain award for Best Social/Political Documentary Program, while APTN’s 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus is nominated for Best History Documentary Program or Series.

CBC’s Fox Chaser is nominated for Best Documentary Program and explores sustainability and traditional Cree trapping. The APTN and CBC docs are available online to stream.

APTN’s First Contact is also nominated in the Best Factual Series category.

This year’s awards broadcast takes place March 31.


Oakes talks nomination, Boyden and inspiring new generation of Onkwehón:we talent

Among the nominees announced last week for the Canadian Screen Awards was veteran Akwesasne actor Rotsienhanoron Brandon Oakes, who got a best acting nomination for Through Black Spruce.

It’s Oakes’ first award nomination since winning an American Indian Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor in the film The Saver, and he spoke to The Eastern Door this week about the film, his career and playing Will in the film, based on Joseph Boyden’s novel.

“To be recognized feels like a win,” said Oakes. “I’ve been at this for just over 20 years because I really do love it. It has not been easy but it’s paid me back at times, saved my life, so I’ll happily give all I can back to it.”

Through Black Spruce author Joseph Boyden was harshly criticized after questions about his Onkwehón:we heritage arose following a December 2016 APTN article digging into his past.

Oakes said cast and crew focused on the importance of the story Boyden wrote, and that those criticizing someone about their past should do so with caution.

“The story is tragic and painful, yet beautiful. Our focus was the story – a very important story and the people,” he said.

“It wasn’t hard to recognize it as sabotage rumours about Joe. I had an academic/artist campaigning in my ear against Boyden as he spoke at an Idle No More event saying that he wasn’t Native. For myself I was just trying to listen. I had to stop them and say, ‘watch it, it’s a slippery slope.’”

The people criticizing Boyden, Oakes said, didn’t seem Onkwehón:we, but he accepted their story while also noting that they were undermining the entire movement. Boyden penned an article for Maclean’s Magazine in 2017 saying a DNA test proved he was 26 per cent Native American.

For Oakes, he knows his story is a fortunate one in that he has a deep connection to Akwesasne.

“We live in the continent that took away the status of Native people (mostly women) at will,” said Oakes. “So many families have been dispersed and never reunited. We need to communicate honestly. I feel fortunate and grateful to know where I am from and the nation I belong to.”

Oakes, who can count 23 acting credits including acting alongside local film star Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs in 2013’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls, hopes young people from his and other Indigenous communities see him on screen and are inspired to pursue film careers.

“I want young Onkwehón:we to see themselves where I am,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone growing up on film or television that I identified with. It made me feel like we were the only “Indians” in the world. We weren’t portrayed kindly.”

Oakes said veterans like his grandfather Alex H. Oakes and ironworkers such as his mother Kanonkwashon Oakes (the first female ironworker) were his heroes growing up, and encouraged him along his artistic path.

“I’m drawn to storytelling and magic that happens in this medium of film,” said Brandon. “I look forward to bringing this home to Akwesasne. All in all, it’s an interesting mix of feelings, happiness.”

The CSAs air on CBC March 31.

(Courtesy Brandon Oakes)


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Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from BC. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press, U.S. Lacrosse magazine and elsewhere. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat. He wrote for The Eastern Door from 2011 to 2019.