Indigenous

Indigenous screen industry wants stricter policies on establishing identity, report suggests

The Indigenous screen industry wants to see a more rigorous process for establishing identity, according to a report released Thursday. The report also says there is a "current climate of hurt" due to a number of people falsely claiming Indigenous identity to gain access to funding and grants earmarked for Indigenous creators.

Roots of issue 'grow from the very core of colonialism,' says Jesse Wente of the Indigenous Screen Office

Jesse Wente, the co-executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, says the issue of people falsely claiming Indigenous identity for financial gain has 'roots that grow from the very core of colonialism.' (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The Indigenous screen industry wants to see a more rigorous process for establishing identity, according to a report released Thursday by the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) in partnership with Aboriginal People's Television Network. 

The report, titled Building Trust & Accountability, says there is a "current climate of hurt" within the industry due to a number of people falsely claiming Indigenous identity for financial gain and access to funding and grants earmarked for Indigenous creators. 

"It's an issue whose roots grow from the very core of colonialism," said Jesse Wente, the co-executive director of the ISO during a media conference Thursday.

"We are not the first generation who had to face it, and sadly we are unlikely to be the last."

The ISO was created in 2017 to advocate for and increase representation of Indigenous people in film and television.

Consultations led by Indigenous-owned company

In January 2021, the ISO announced it would start a community engagement process to develop guidelines that would help inform future policy decisions in the industry, including those regarding how to establish Indigenous identity.

By February of that year, the ISO confirmed it had stepped up the community engagement process for the report because of the questions raised by Kitigan Zibi members about director Michelle Latimer's claims to their community.

The consultations, which began in May 2021 and continued into the fall, were led by Archipel Research and Consulting Inc., an Indigenous-owned and women-led company.

"The opportunity to tell the stories of our nation's communities and families come with a great deal of responsibility," said Sabre Pictou Lee, CEO of Archipel.

"Those who tell these stories need to be held accountable to their communities and actions."

Data was collected through interviews, focus groups and surveys.

Nuance needed in determining eligibility: participants

During the consultations, the majority of participants agreed the first step in determining eligibility of an applicant to Indigenous-specific funding should be immediately answering what nations, community or tribe they belong to. 

Participants also acknowledged, however, that the nuance of relations that people have to families must be considered when determining eligibility. 

Since many communities are still dealing with dislocation and separation, Lee said it was clear that denying potential funding to anyone who could not provide proof, such as status cards, would only cause further harm.

It was also recommended that letters of support from band councils and friendship centres be considered when determining eligibility. 

It is essential to Indigenous peoples and our communities to have accessible opportunities and to lead the challenging conversation around self identification.- Monika Ille, CEO of APTN

Next steps include listening to the Indigenous production community's response to the recommendations and taking their thoughts into consideration before moving ahead with changes.

"It is essential to Indigenous peoples and our communities to have accessible opportunities and to lead the challenging conversation around self identification," said Monika Ille, CEO of APTN.

"It is up to us to come up with a process that works for our people."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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