The Trickery that is Race Shifting.
Michelle Latimer approached Indigenous Matriarch Eden Robinson, a Haisla and Heiltsu Nation member and respected author renowned for her mentorship and generosity within the literary community, to lead her book Son of a Trickster adaptation into a television series.
On Dec 17, 2020 Ka’nhehsí:io Deer, Jorge Barrera via CBC new posted this article.
"Census records reviewed by CBC News state Latimer's grandfather was French-Canadian. Dominique Ritchot, a genealogist and researcher with an expertise in French-Canadian families, reconstructed Latimer's genealogy independently. Ritchot's research found two Indigenous ancestors — Marguerite Pigarouiche and Euphrosine-Madeleine Nicolet — dating back to the 17th century. "Most of her ancestors were quite easily identifiable as French Canadians, Irish, Scottish," said Ritchot."
Latimer has been called out for not being Indigenous which has resulted in a brutally messy situation. One that has opened up some harsh realities in the Indigenous storytelling verse. Out of respect to the Haisla Nation and Robinson I would like start with making space for Eden's response:
That is the high bar response from an Indigenous Matriarch. The generosity, accountability, reciprocity and humility. Ooooooof. That's my response every time I read it oooooooooof.
Latimer's deflections have been insulting at best. They are direct evidence that she’s a medogh and way too distanced from Indigenous ontologies to give her any business being in an artistic leadership positions. Cause an Indigenous Matriarch would be courageous enough to address the pain this have brought the community and the shame it brings to her family and community. That’s Indigenous accountability.
There was no apology to Eden. No apology to the cast and crew. No bravery and no transparent reflection to say - I owed the audience and Indigenous peoples more thorough work regarding my ability to create, lead and evolve Indigenous stories and I failed to do that. Instead we got a me, me, me, “I was struck”, “I envisioned”, “I am proud.” Then the “we’s” devolve to a continued insertion of white washing a beloved Indigenous book. Powerful leadership would be distancing yourself from the work not squeezing yourself in there on an embarrassing and violent departure.
Latimer's response is so saturated with imperial egoism and an incompetency to grasp the blatant white supremacy it is alarming. The absence of presencing her Ancestors is an indication of the danger of giving an individual like this power in Indigenous cultural conjuring. It also utterly fails to address the actual harm done. It’s about as deep and real as her Indigeneity and I am over this very low bar for how medoghs treat Indigenous people.
In a 2019 blog I wrote about Bonita Lawrence’s Real Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood, she examines how the canadian state historically and presently implores tactics of genocide via state legislation, to displace Indigenous peoples from our land, culture and ultimately selves.
For centuries agents of the imperial state have tried to control Indigenous identity and obstruct Indigenous peoples sovereign right to self-determine Nation members and be the authorities of what constitutes Indigenous identity. Latimer's harken to having Indigenous ancestry from over 400 years ago are the actions of a state agent enacting what Lawrence calls the "bleeding out tactic" which undermines the complex ascendancy of what Indigeneity means.
Being Indigenous is much and to truly comprehend it we must shift out of the colonial binary dimensional paradigm. I will humbly attempt and fail to fully communicate what it means in order to get a small understanding of the brutality of Latimer's claims and impact of her ignorance of being an imperialist.
Indigeneity is about our relations and responsibilities to our kin, land, communities and culture. Indigenous identity is an alive embodiment of our encircling world views and values. Indigenous identity is about our servitude to nourish our communities so future generations have the opportunity at peace. Indigenous identity is about our intrinsic relations to culture, the cosmos and our abilities to contribute to our heritages and cultural evolutions. Which require conscious, reflective and truthful understandings of where we fit in our current Nation's ecologies.
Latimers inability to get particular, specific and nuanced regarding the spherical constitutions of what being Indigenous means, feeds the states attack on inter-National Indigenous existence. It attacks what is most sacred to us - our stories. It attacks what makes each Indigenous Nation whole and unto themselves - our culture. Culture being the constructs of a social group including the philosophy, mysticism, science, eroticism and spiritual embodiments which create our heritages and compose our inter-National ethnospheres - our participation in the happenings and totems we mark upon the Universe.
What's very disturbing about this situation is Latimer's incapacity to articulate why she believed she had any authority to take up cultural space when her relations with her community were and continue to be so fraught and fragile. To harken to Ancestors from “400” years ago being a qualification to lead Indigenous work is of the greatest insult to those of us working with cultural integrity today. It’s reckless ignorance and a clear example of colonial cultural oppression.
Producers if they are not leading their introductions with proud, complex and current practices of self-locating themselves within their Indigenous nations - you do not want them leading Indigenous productions. It demeans the work for those of us embodying positions of artistic leadership.
For we know to contribute to our peoples culture, our ethnosphere, it must be deeply and specifically rooted in our Nation's, otherwise we perpetuate pan-Indigenous homogenized notions of culture which threatens Indigenous existence. For culture is how we have survived. It is what we have baked our values into, it is where we plant and nourish our teachings and where we hide our ways of being when we're under threat and acts of genocide.
Race shifting attacks the very essence of what it means to be Indigenous, to be from a Nation, a part of a community, an ascendent, participant and in relational presence with knowledge keepers. The fiery responses from Indigenous peoples are a reaction to someone who has infiltrated the community and ceremony and put our survivance at risk.
The Violent Impact:
The reason this race shifting is so deplorable is it insults the many dispossessed and displaced Indigenous peoples who are working so hard to honour Ancestors whose stories and relations were stolen from us through imperial genocide. This degree of colonialism obstructs, delays and undermines the deep and difficult work Indigenous peoples do everyday to reclaim Indigenous identities and cultural relations.
But I want to be very clear about something, our Indigenous community members who have been taken, stolen and dispossessed from their cultures and communities by the state are not the people and actions in question here.
If you are a dispossessed Indigenous person, an inter-generational survivor of the 60’s scoop, or your parents have been harmed by imperialism and they or you have so much internalized racism you’ve been distanced from your culture, or your family has been under attack by the state and or you were apprehended as a child or youth in care - this is not your issue.
These journeys of dispossessed Indigenous peoples is not at all what we are talking about here. What’s being addressed with Latimer is her feigning Indigenous descendancy with such a close kin and cultural proximity that she falsely assumed a position of authority to represent, create and evolve Indigenous culture and parlay that “authority” into million dollar artistic deals and opportunities.
Dispossession is not the race shifting Latimer has done. I know many Indigenous peoples who are doing what Latimer failed to do and as a race shifter cannot do, which is the courageous work to repair the bonds between themselves, their peoples, culture and communities.
Do not let white people appropriating Indigenous culture disrupt your healing journeys. Do not let white people make you feel less about your ability to call yourself Indigenous and honour the stage you are at on your brave journey of cultural and Indigenous reclamation and resurgence. I wish these Indigenous peoples nothing but love and ferocity on these remarkably tenacious journeys. This is The Work.
I also really have to - have to say this. As an actor, who had to endure one of the peak eras where the only auditions for Indigenous women were for being murdered, raped and or abused as sex workers. The actors who’ve been cast, paid and continued to be celebrated on Trickster will be fine. If you want to give care to any group of Indigenous performers I direct your attention to the Indigenous women who’ve been used for one time gigs in Hollywood and thrown away.
Indigenous women like: -Irene Bedard, who if you been paying attention to the media longer this blip, is really struggling at the moment. -Michelle St John who was told by Disney she wasn’t pretty enough to be Pocahontas so they gave her the side kick Nakoma role and let a white women sing the Pocahontas songs -and Misty Upham used for August Osage County and was murdered at 32.
I’m not into participating in the oppression Olympic Games but holeh. The cast of Trickster should be very fine. The Indigenous women used in the media to die, cry and be sexualized for white consumption are the ones who need some attention. Hollywood has a violent history of picking a pretty/quirky/gritty native woman getting their hopes up with 1-2 movies and leaving them for dust. Truly the treatment of Indigenous women in media has been egregious.
Deep respect to the cast of Trickster and CBC owes them much care but c’mon now. If you want to take a look - take a deeper look. Cause I think the other real victims here are the Indigenous audiences. Our peoples who’ve been fed whitewashed and white led Indigenous stories for far too long. Our people deserve so much more respect. They deserve at the bare minimum account and truth. They deserve stories written through and through by us.
Blood to blood.
The mystical nature that this is about a trickster is humbling and terrifying. The Trickster, the Trickster, the Trickster. I want to honour the powers of the Tricksters and I believe if we want to get out of this - I highly recommend if you haven't already - take a moment to bear witness to all the mystical beings encircling this entire transaction. This colonial and violent manufacturing is like if someone gifted us a designer bag and then months later we find out that it’s a really really good fake. It still works. Still functions. Still looks aesthetically pleasing but it lacks authenticity. And that sucks.
Cause had we known it was a fake we would’ve approached it differently. Managed our expectations. Set particular and deliberate boundaries. But now we feel violated and that’s real. White folks take advantage of our generosity so often, so we have every right to retreat. But I think what we can do here is not let their bad behaviour obstruct our ability to be vulnerable, courageous and joyful.
I think it's crucial that people do not mistake any Indigenous persons discernment in this situation as hatred. It’s accountability to protect Indigenous existence and culture which is under constant attack - whether you comprehend that or not. There are protocols for being a storyteller, specific and particular to each Nation - where are Latimer's? Where are the acts and efforts to live in reciprocity and service to her Indigenous community?
Indigenous peoples have and continue to be beyond generous and forgiving to the whites. So do not use this attack on our culture to position us as "merciless". We are looking for an account, a witnessing of the truth of this matter to ensure it never occurs again. This is the justice work to steward in a more equitable environment than the one we’ve inherited.
Do not project your internalized racism and or imperial conditionings onto me or any other storyteller and community member articulating righteous scrutiny. This is a process that is intentional in it’s discomfort. Do not oppress the crowns ideologies of “justice” when Indigenous jurisprudence is in process.
And believe you me - as I’m currently engulfed in traditional Indigenous law and justice for my next two stories, we are being incredibly merciful about a matter so deceitful and with such a great a debt.
Opportunities for Transformation:
The traction this race shifting story has been getting in part reflects the deep pain and challenges our dispossessed Indigenous, Inuit and Métis community members currently face. I’ve received a lot of DM’s around the real and deep pain Latimer‘s actions has caused Indigenous peoples and in particular Indigenous women.
The traction is also evidence that non-Indigenous peoples work to unlearning their anti-Indigenous conditionings is grossly insufficient. So hear this, non-Indigenous peoples need to urgently do more rigorous and nuanced work because the strife our kin and communities face is present, real and evolving.
Latimer’s race shifting clearly illuminates the work non-Indigenous peoples and institutions need to do to build their capacities and cultural procedural competencies to support the protection of cultural processes that are rooted and executed (I can't believe I have to say this) by actual Indigenous people, writers, showrunners and directors.
Her 20+ year long career indicts the canadian artistic sector as accomplices in upholding, perpetuating and supporting white supremacy and anti-Indigenous practices. The arts sector is unequivocally guilty of supporting an unspoken colourism clause that not only favoured light skinned and white passing Indigenous peoples - it actually paid and awarded a white woman to be the “leader” of Indigenous tv and film.
It is paramount that non-Indigenous peoples stop inserting themselves as authorities with any determination regarding our artistic leaders because your policies and systems management has failed us. Get Indigenous decision makers on standing committees, jury's and BOD’s and start reading:
-Audra Simpsons, Mohawk Interrupts
-Kim Tallbear's comprehensive work on white people claiming Indigeneity
-Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s, Dancing on a Turtles Back
-Bonita Lawrence’s, Real Indians and Others
-Adrienne Keene’s work on Native Appropriations and listen to her podcast
-Darryl Leroux’s, Distorted Descent. -Margaret Kovach, Indigenous Methodologies and
-Kathleen Absolon‘s, Kaandossiwin: How We Come To Know
Read these Indigenous theorists and academics who have been studying and writing about Indigenous ontologies and methodologies for a very long time. Our Indigenous community members deserve your faculties regarding race shifting, white supremacy and imperialists attempting to determine, influence and govern Indigenous status to be much more significant and have far more nuance.
The Road Forward:
Can we still like Trickster - sure. Representation matters and means a lot to NDN country. But do we need to be mindful of what “Indigenous” productions and shows mean - yep. Do we absolutely need to demand representation beyond casting - ya damn right we do. Otherwise, we accept the dog and pony dances with wolves twilight shit where white folk manipulate and appropriate Indigenous stories and then position us - the Indigenous peoples - away from being the protectors and authorities of our storytelling responsibilities.
Theatre, tv and film has gotten away when this for far too long. As we all anticipate an exciting Indigenous tv and film era - we as consumers must do our diligence and refuse white people infiltrating our sacred ceremonies, commandeering writing and creating positions and then accepting them as "Indigenous art" pieces.
Look at the composition of the teams. Ask if that production was meaningfully and respectfully giving Indigenous storytellers our rightful places as decision makers and the authorities of our stories. Otherwise we will just get another wave of media where white people insert their perspectives and call it “Indigenous.”
I want to honour some Indigenous community members who have been holding brave space on sosh meeds and in the Indigenous storytelling world.
Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers who bravely shared her relational intersections with Latimer in this article and how they impacted her work and artistic leadership. Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs and her very generous and potent offers around Indigeneity. And finally Jeff Barnaby.
Barnaby's sharing throughout all of this has been relentlessly astute, powerful and endearingly vulnerable. His experiences working in the sector with Latimer, whose been the darling and him the gritty horror movie maker in already almost impossible industry, has been remarkably moving for me. It might be because I'm impacted by the similarity in the challenges of his journey to tell and make Indigenous stories. Maybe it's because he so eloquently captured the pain of being obstructed by a white supremacist system designed for a race shifters success over a Mi'kmaq mans.
And a large part is because of his clear demonstration as an Indigenous artistic leader. It is in my teachings that leaders speak up in challenging situations and there have been many, many times in my career that I wish I had someone like Barnaby in my corner. The way he's articulating accountability is another high bar for Indigenous leadership, artistry and community servitude. I respect him deeply but please do not tell him that I'm too scared to watch his movies (even his twitter picture scares me ). But I will be a fan for life and will support and amplify his artistry in any way that I can.
To My Indigenous Relations:
It's been a week. I honour the complicated pain you have and are enduring. These attacks hurt. They trigger old and make new wounds that can obstruct our ability to breathe deep and root ourselves in already trying journeys.
I offer as we work towards artistic sovereignty we must manage our expectations accordingly. Know that we deserve more respect than what a lot of white people are capable of but that does not mean we lower ourselves.
Love to you as we continue to protect our culture and defend ourselves from the constant attacks by the state and its agents trying to influence, govern and control Indigenous identity and our right to self-determination. And strength to you as we protect the essence of what is means to be distinctly Indigenous - our cultures.
With love and in honour to all of those working so hard to bring the bonds of our Ancestors into our hearts and return home into our spirits, lands and all our relations.
p.s I'm on a good writing role. Yesterday I finished writing my second pilot, "On The Plateau" an Indigenous love story and I'm completing my first animation script "The Mystics" about the blood travelling powers of Juniper Mack tomorrow. Here's to work by our people for our people. Hire Indigenous people to write Indigenous stories.