More than half of Canada's Aboriginal population now lives in cities. They sometimes call themselves "Concrete Indians". And they are challenging stereotypes.
In the opening episode of the four-part series 8TH Fire, host Wab Kinew, from the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation in Northern Ontario, and now a Winnipeg-based TV journalist, invites us to come "meet the neighbours". It's about time, since many Canadians say they have never met an Aboriginal person.
This vibrant kaleidoscopic hour, introduces a diverse cast of Indigenous characters living in the cities. They are united in a shared bond as Canada's First Peoples and in their determination to reassert their culture within a wider population of non-Indigenous Canadians.
"Winnipeg's Most" are three rising-star rappers, trying to move past their own struggles by using their music to charm kids away from gangster life. In Montreal, Nakuset was adopted in the 1970s by Jewish parents and now, against their wishes, embraces her Aboriginal ancestry. She raises her own kids in their Aboriginal culture and runs a native women's shelter. In Vancouver we meet siblings Herb Dixon and Leslie Varley. Leslie holds a senior position in BC health, but her much-loved brother has spent years trying to get out of the drug-plagued Downtown East Side. Together their story offers a powerful and moving look at the ties that bind.
Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL, escapes the pressure of urban life with trips back to shoot the puck around in Rankin Inlet. In the art markets of Paris, Montreal and Toronto, the work of Cree artist Kent Monkman sells for six figures. His work is fun and subversive, challenging our most widely accepted notions of the colonial relationship.
Litigation lawyer Renée Pelletier works in a law office in the big towers of Toronto, but embraces her Maliseet culture. Successful graphic novelist Steve Keewatin Sanderson loves debunking the notion that as an Aboriginal artist he would only draws buffaloes. In Winnipeg, Ron Linklater teaches Aboriginal ways to aspiring community workers, many of whom are immigrants who have incorporated stereotypical ideas about Canada's First Peoples.
Dr. Evan Adams, famous for his acting role in the movie Smoke Signals, plays a real-life role as BC's first Aboriginal Physician Advisor. Kahnawake Mohawk Taiaiake Alfred, an ex-marine, now provocative professor at the University of Victoria, forces us to question our ideas about the place of Aboriginal people in Canada.
As Edith Cloutier, an Algonquin who runs the Native Friendship Centre in Val d'Or, Quebec, says: "Nobody's going anywhere. Everybody's here to stay. Now, how do we work it out together?"
DIRECTOR: Ryszard Hunka
PRODUCERS: Coleen Rajotte, Charlotte Odele, Griffin Ondaatje