Kahnawa’kehró:non Keysa Parker was impressed by Blackfoot actress Lily Gladstone when she met her during work on Fancy Dance, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January.
Parker had been hired as a Cayuga language advisor on the set, helping Gladstone with her pronunciation for the film.
“We started study sessions, and her dedication and determination shined through by the way she performed her lines. She held the language with such high respect,” Parker said.
Parker knew Gladstone was special from that experience, and she was hopeful that the awards committee for the 81st Annual Golden Globes would see the same thing.
And they did – last Sunday, January 7, Gladstone won best actress in a drama for her performance as Mollie Burkhart in Martin Scorsese’s
Killers of the Flower Moon, becoming the first ever Indigenous actress to take home a Golden Globes trophy.
“This is for every little rez kid, every little urban kid, every little Native kid out there who has a dream, who is seeing themselves represented and our stories told by ourselves, in our own words, with tremendous allies and tremendous trust from each other,” Gladstone said in her acceptance speech.
“It brought me to tears. I know the passion and dedication she puts into her performances. I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Parker said. “She is an amazing person on and off screen, paving the way for more Onkwehón:we everywhere to say ‘it is possible!’ I am honoured to be able to call her my friend.”
For Onkwehón:we across Turtle Island, Gladstone’s win represents Hollywood finally recognizing the talent of Indigenous people, something Kahnawa’kehró:non Kyle Zachary can attest to, knowing how important seeing mainstream success can be for young creatives.
Zachary, who has been involved in local theatre for many years, recalled a recent Turtle Island Theatre production of Beauty and the Beast, where a young actor realized they could follow in Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs’ footsteps.
“The look on her face when she was informed that Devery Jacobs started the same way she did, walked the same hallways, sang on the same stage as her was priceless,” he said. “In that moment, she had found what she wanted to do with the rest of her days and that’s magic to me.”
Zachary said the response from Indigenous people across Turtle Island to Gladstone’s win is testament to the impact of her achievement.
“What was really awesome was seeing the reactions to it. Not just from the Indigenous acting community but from all First Nations people around the continent. I saw a lot of pride and inspiration,” Zachary said.
“It’s a big step forward for Indigenous artists, especially in the film and television industry. We’re not that far removed from the time where Indigenous people were portrayed as negative stereotypes.”
Marion Delaronde, artistic director at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR), who organizes the Eastern Connection Film Festival and has made short films herself, said that she was moved to hear Gladstone speak Blackfoot during her acceptance speech.
“When I hear our language on a big stage like that, I feel like it goes straight to all our hearts directly. It’s our ancestors’ language and we have kept it alive, and we are not dropping the ball. We are watching each other keep it alive still,” she said.
She said that it’s only a matter of time before Indigenous names are dominating awards shows.
“I hope they kick down the door and take over. They should be the directors next,” she said, adding she would like to see a Native new wave genre of cinema that interrogates the ways in which the industry has excluded Indigenous artists.
“It could be a new vision, a collective goal. I hope to see Natives really shake things up at the base. I believe it’s possible to dream that big,” she said. “There is talent, there is collective strength, there is support. Maybe it’s already begun.”
Delaronde said she is looking forward to watching Gladstone continue to be an impactful role model for young Indigenous creatives.
“Her name is powerful, and she put it there. She did the work.”