Former Fort Albany chief says Joseph Boyden welcome to join First Nation—'let's put the issue to rest'

The premiere of a film set on the James Bay Coast is re-igniting the debate over who has the right to tell Indigenous stories. Through Black Spruce is based on a novel by Joseph Boyden, who has been accused of lying about having Indigenous heritage.

Through Black Spruce premieres at Toronto film fest Sept. 8, will also screen at Sudbury's Cinefest

Former Fort Albany Chief Edmund Metatawabin is making his acting debut in Through Black Spruce, a book set on the James Bay Coast and written by Jospeh Boyden. (Erik White/CBC )

Edmund Metatawabin says he didn't hesitate when he was asked to act in a movie, because it was based on a story by Joseph Boyden.

The 71-year-old former chief of Fort Albany and outspoken former residential school student says he considers Boyden, who has been accused of lying about his Indigenous heritage, a friend.

Metatawabin says it's more important to him that a story is an accurate reflection of the life of Mushkegowuk people on the James Bay Coast than the background of the person who wrote it. 

"Somebody wrote the book and we recognize the story," he says.

Canadian author Joseph Boyden has written several books set on the James Bay Coast, including Through Black Spruce, which has now been made into a movie. (Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)

Metatawabin also says that Fort Albany has offered to officially make Boyden a member of the First Nation.

"Let's put the issue to rest and write another book," says Metatawabin. 

The film is also drawing criticism for having a non-Indigenous director, Don McKellar.

Metatawabin says these are simply non-Indigenous "friends" helping his people to navigate the largely unfamiliar entertainment industry.

"So we have an interpreter, we have a guide. And they're showing us the ropes. They're showing us how to and when and who to talk to," he says.

"So, they will continue to teach us."

The film version of Through Black Spruce premieres Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival and it will also screen at Cinefest in Sudbury later this month.

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to