I was born and raised in Okanesatake. No, that isn't a typo. I did write OKanesatake. I am from Oka and Kanesatake. In my mind and in my heart they are one and the same. It is where I grew up and it is still the place I call home (even if my mortgage is 250 km away!)
I grew up smack in the middle of two worlds. My father is a Quebecois from Oka and my mother is Mohawk.
I never really felt as though I was caught between two worlds until the media slammed it in my face during the Oka Crisis of 1990. It's as if I was asked to choose one side and hate the other. I chose to ignore it all. When you are twelve years old and you close your eyes, the problem goes away. I diverted my attention to lighter and more entertaining things, like the arts!
After graduating from Concordia film school, I directed a handful of short documentaries for La Course Autour de la Grande Tortue. For the series, I visited several Aboriginal communities in Québec and realized how diverse they are.
In 2007, I moved to Gatineau to work with Nish Media, an Aboriginal production house that was working on a suicide prevention video for young people.
We crossed the country to highlight suicide prevention initiatives and tell the stories of people touched by Aboriginal youth suicide.
It was heartbreaking but also rewarding. After that documentary, I wanted my future projects to focus on hope; to be uplifting even in the gloomy and sad situations.
That's when we created La Piqûre!, a series that gave teenagers the opportunity to live out their dream career for a few days. We wanted to encourage them to stay in school and perhaps, in some way, help prevent teen suicide. I am so proud of the series. Today I still get emails from the participants.
Self-confidence is developed before adolescence. That is why I immediately said yes to directing Mouki, a series for toddlers. It encourages kids to have fun and discover the world around them, while learning and respecting Aboriginal traditions and culture.
In 2007 my Mohawk grandfather passed away. He was my link to all that is Native. After his passing I felt very lost.
I knew I was Mohawk but I didn't know what that meant anymore without him. I had never really asked myself because I felt like I didn't need to when he was there.
Even professionally, I felt like a hypocrite. Who am I to say that I'm an Aboriginal filmmaker if I don't even know what it means to be Mohawk?
People around me encouraged me to explore these feelings in my next project. They said that I wasn't the only one with cultural identity issues. I am grateful to my grandfather, because he forced me to face that question about identity; something I had been avoiding since the Oka Crisis.
Trying to answer it turned into Last Call Indian, a film in which I explore my roots and identity. (read an interview about the film) It was broadcast by the CBC, has played at numerous festivals and was nominated for a Gemini for best cinematography. The French version of the film was also awarded the Diversity award at the 2011 Prix Gémeaux.(watch the trailer)
With the 8th Fire Digital Project I continue to focus on the hope that exists within every story, even sad ones.
I want to highlight the beauty and the good of my community, giving it the positive attention it now deserves.
I owe it to my grandfather and to my son. Even if he is more than 200 km away from his own grandparents and my hometown, I will ensure that he grows up proud of his cultural heritage. I will also ensure that he knows he doesn't have to choose between cultures, they are all of him. I want him to know that, to his mama, home will always be Okanesatake.