First Nations creators from Manitoba pick up TV deals

Two First Nations creators from Manitoba have landed TV deals amid a growing appetite among mainstream audiences for Indigenous storytelling.

Poplar River comedian picks up 10-episode series, Norway House author's books to become series or film

Stand-up comedian Paul Rabliauskas, pictured here with his mom, will start filming a new CTV comedy series based on his life in Poplar River First Nation. (Whitney Bittern)

Two First Nations creators from Manitoba have landed TV deals amid a growing appetite among mainstream audiences for Indigenous storytelling.

"Our stories have always been there and our stories have always been great," said Paul Rabliauskas, an Anishinaabe comedian from Poplar River First Nation. 

"I think everybody is catching up now."

Rabliauskas is the creator, writer and main character of Acting Good, a 10-episode series for CTV Comedy that is being produced in association with Tina Keeper's Kistikan Pictures.

The series will be filmed in Poplar River starting in the spring and is about a stand-up comedian who heads home after failing to make it big.

"He kind of comes back to the reserve with his tail between his legs and he's lying to everybody about how amazing it was, but really, it didn't go so good," said Rabliauskas. 

"The show is basically about our crazy family who happen to live on the reserve."

The series is one of the latest projects by Indigenous creators to be picked up by mainstream production companies, like Trickster, Rutherford Falls and Reservation Dogs, which was recently renewed for a second season.

Rabliauskas points to the success of Reservation Dogs, a comedy based on the lives of four Indigenous youth in Oklahoma, saying it's important to have different genres of Indigenous stories out there.

"Our humour is amazing," said Rabliauskas.

"Our sad stories have been out there so much that now it's time to really showcase our comedy and our humour." 

Amber-Sekowan Daniels, a writer and co-showrunner for Acting Good, said it's rare to have more than one Indigenous writer in the room.

Amber-Sekowan Daniels is going to be one of the writers and show runners for Acting Good. She said the show is going to include as much Indigenous talent from Manitoba as possible. (Dwayne Larson)

"For us to be from Manitoba, telling a Manitoba story, is really special to me," said Daniels, who got her first big writing credit on the Trickster series.

She said the production crew is going to do whatever they can to include Indigenous talent from the province.

"I think it's important to show the side of our communities that I see every day, that mainstream audiences don't. I think we're at a time where we can use some laughter," she said. 

Cree author signs production deal

Cree author David A. Robertson announced last week he has signed a worldwide production rights deal with Disney subsidiary ABC Studios for his Misewa Saga fantasy book series, giving the company the option of turning the books into a TV series or film. 

The books follow the lives of two Indigenous youth going through the foster care system, an issue he wanted to educate Canadians about.

David A. Robertson is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning author. He said that Indigenous art is going through a renaissance period. (Amber Green)

"They're both kind of going through their own struggles . . .  and they just decide they're going to find this secret place in their house just to hang out and just be away from the world," Robertson said.

"And then they end up in that secret room in the attic, opening up a portal to this other reality where they can actually literally leave the world and go to another place that's populated by walking, talking animals and they live traditionally like Indigenous people."

Robertson, a member of Norway House Cree Nation, has written 28 books over the last 11 years, and still works a day job as the publishing and communications manager at Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre.

He said the talent of Indigenous storytellers is the reason why there is a growing demand for their books, stories and productions.

"Oftentimes, more than half of the books on the bestseller list are by Indigenous writers," said Robertson.

"There's a growing awareness by Canadians that storytelling is such an important way to learn about this country, to learn about our different cultures across Turtle Island and to learn about the things that we've been through, but also the ways that we persevered."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1