Indigenous

Indigenous Screen Office and APTN partner to develop Indigenous identity vetting policies

The Indigenous Screen Office and Aboriginal People's Television Network are partnering to develop policies and strategies for vetting Indigenous identity in the film and television industry. 

'There needs to be more transparency when it comes to people's identity,' says Kahnawake filmmaker

Jesse Wente says the Indigenous Screen Office has been working to develop policies around Indigenous identity. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

The Indigenous Screen Office and Aboriginal People's Television Network are partnering to develop policies and strategies for vetting Indigenous identity in the film and television industry. 

"I definitely think that there needs to be more transparency when it comes to people's identity," said Roxann Whitebean, a writer, director and producer from Kahnawake, Que. 

"I feel like the Indigenous Screen Office should absolutely look into it and look into the community ties and links, because I don't think it's just about blood quantum," she said.

Roxann Whitebean is a writer, director and producer from Kahnawake, Que. (Submitted by Roxann Whitebean)

The Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) was created in 2017, to advocate for and increase representation of Indigenous people in film and television.

Jesse Wente, executive director of the ISO and a member of Serpent River First Nation, said in an emailed statement that the ISO has consistently worked to develop policies regarding Indigenous identity and this is the next step in an ongoing process.

"We listen to the needs of the community, who have expressed that stronger vetting policies are necessary moving forward," the email stated.

Regarding a question about what role the recent questions surrounding Michelle Latimer's identity claims have played in the process, the statement said, "This just stepped up the timeline in the community engagement process regarding Indigenous identity that will inform future policy directions."

A community engagement process involving elders, organizational stakeholders and leaders with knowledge and expertise in implementing strategies around vetting Indigenous identity will occur during the first phase, which is set to take place from March-May 2021.

The second phase June-July 2021 will involve a broader community consultation process with the goal to have a new set of policies in place before the next round of ISO funding this fall. 

"This will be a robust and engaged process that may inform policies and practices for the industry, and provide context for why this is such a complex issue and how it may be handled with sensitivity and care," Wente said in the statement.

Sky Bridges, chief operating officer of APTN, said from their perspective the ISO was established to deal with issues like this.

"It's about having Indigenous people and an Indigenous organization dealing with challenges such as self-identification and coming up with a process that works for our community and works for who we are as Indigenous people."

The initiative was sparked by the ISO and Bridges said APTN is supportive of the efforts looking into the issue and wants to work with them and provide whatever support they can.

'It's about having Indigenous people and an Indigenous organization dealing with challenges such as self-identification,' says Sky Bridges, chief operating officer of APTN. (APTN)

"I'm just very glad that there is now an entity such as the Indigenous Screen Office for us to work with where we can come up with a process that is relevant in today's context of the challenges that we find ourselves in this industry," said Bridges. 

The ISO and APTN have put out a call for letters of Interest from people wanting to be involved in the process.

Bridges said he imagines the issue of Indigenous identity will continue to evolve and these policies will need to be reviewed in the future to make sure they are still working. 

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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