Canada's first Indigenous stunt school, Stunt Nations, opens in Alberta

Canada’s first Indigenous stunt school has opened, with veteran stunt actor Marty Wildman getting the next generation of Indigenous stunt performers ready for the entertainment industry. 

Next generation of Indigenous stunt performers are getting ready for the entertainment industry

Students at Indigenous-led Stunt Nations learn how to fall properly. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Canada's first Indigenous stunt school has opened in Cochrane, Alta., with veteran stunt actor Marty Wildman getting the next generation of Indigenous stunt performers ready for the entertainment industry. 

"We want to break those barriers, we don't want to be the stereotypical drunken Indian … or stoic Indian," said Wildman. 

"We've seen non-First Nations people getting painted red and stuff, and it just left a bad taste in our mouths. But we wanted to get more people involved in the industry," he said.

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Stunt Nations teaches Indigenous students from across the country how to fall, fight, ride and represent proudly in a changing film industry.

Wildman, from the Stoney Nakoda Nation west of Calgary, co-founded the school with his friend and fellow stuntman Nathaniel Arcand. 

They had been talking about starting a school for years until COVID-19 shut down the film industry and gave the pair the time to turn their dream into a reality. And so Stunt Nations Limited was born. 

Marty has worked on film and television sets for 25 years. He recently worked with Arcand on Netflix's hit show Outlander

The pair reached out to Heartland's stunt co-ordinator, Tom Eirikson, and First Nation cowboy Wright Bruisedhead. 

Together, the veteran stunt actors hosted their first class in April and have continued to host four-day workshops. 

Marty Wildman is the co-founder of Stunt Nations Limited, an Indigenous stunt school. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

But it's not always been easy. Wildman says the school has faced pushback from the industry. 

"I was told that I'd never work in the industry again just because I've started a First Nations stunt company," he said. 

Learning to fall 

At 20 years old, Rebekah Cardinal had no aspirations to become a stunt performer. But that all changed when she got the chance to do her own stunts. 

"They always say throw self-preservation out the window," she said. 

She's learned to fall off a horse, a ladder, and to choreograph her own fight scenes. 

"I'm thinking like, 'hey, this could open doors for me.' I'm for sure into it now," she said.

Rebekah Cardinal, 20, is an aspiring actress who took a stunt workshop at Stunt Nations. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

She says the most empowering moment in the workshop was when an elder spoke to the students and gave them their blessing. 

"After that, something changed, the air shifted," she said. "We're standing on their shoulders and they're really happy." 

Keeping up with Stunt Nations 

As for the future of the school, Wildman says it'll be bright. 

A recent graduate was a double for an actor on Heartland. And a big production company is looking at turning Stunt Nations into a reality television show. 

"It'll be like a contest, whoever lasts longest or whoever can do this properly and stuff," said Wildman. "Kind of like a Big Brother kind of deal." 

'It gives me hope' 

The star of the television series Mohawk Girls, Heather White, stopped by the school on Thursday to speak  to students. 

White stepped back from acting for a while at the start of her 20-year career. 

"The culture of Canadian productions at the time wasn't something that was appealing," she said. 

Mohawk Girls' actress Heather White speaks to Indigenous students training to become stunt performers. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

But watching the industry change in the last couple of years and seeing the students train has given White hope. 

"It gives me hope that there's going to be more people out there that are going to be able to authentically tell our stories to change the way we are represented on TV," she said. 

With files from Terri Trembath