Drew Hayden Taylor is an Anishnawbe playwright and humorist.
I never really understood that phrase about “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” until I heard the CBC was cancelling the miniseries Trickster. Now I get it.
A highly popular drama that aired last fall, Trickster has become a cause célèbre for both the network and the Indigenous arts community. Based on a book by Eden Robinson and featuring a talented Indigenous cast, the show garnered much applause in its first season until a rather unique skeleton was revealed in the closet. Its creator and director, Michelle Latimer, had padded her cultural résumé, stating she was Indigenous before acknowledging she couldn’t verify it. It takes a trickster to create a trickster perhaps?
The fallout is one cancelled series, and in practically a week of high-profile women leaving their positions – we’re looking at you, Lynn Beyak and Julie Payette – Ms. Latimer resigned from the production company and has filed a libel suit with the CBC.
In the Twitter universe, the Natives are restless. Much of the Indigenous arts community is up in arms about the near-sightedness of the Mother Corp. They want their baby in the bathwater back, albeit with a new mother.
While nobody can speak for the dozens of different Indigenous Nations in this country, I think I can safely say many liked the series. It was clever, well made, featured amazing talent and was a unique window into a world the vast majority of Canadians weren’t that familiar with. Yes, it was created under a cloud of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, but using a settler metaphor, if the chief executive officer of a company does something questionable, you fire the CEO, you don’t dissolve the company.
Adapting another popular saying, are the sins of the mother visited upon the children?
The CBC should reconsider its decision. That has been the predominant theme on Twitter. Yes, it was a publicity problem showing how anybody can claim to be Indigenous, but to be honest, many Indigenous people across the country also had the Cowichan blanket pulled over their eyes. It happens. Rumours say my cat is one-quarter Salish, but I can’t get him to prove it.
The CBC drama department should be aware Indigenous people of Canada are not seeing what is but what could be. I mean, what are the other options for Indigenous representation on television? I suppose they could always bring back The Beachcombers. Jesse, Laurel and the rest could be operating a casino in Gibsons, B.C. Always bet on the red.
I don’t see many Indigenous people in Murdoch Mysteries or Frankie Drake Mysteries. Oh right, this was way back when we weren’t allowed off the reserves.
I think the power of the Trickster story and the talent of the people involved are more than strong enough to weather this little hiccup. The building blocks – that is, the inspiring source material – is still there, including the soon-to-be third instalment of the Robinson series, which is set to be released in the near future. The Indigenous film community is thriving, eager and capable of maintaining, maybe even improving, the framework that is already there and continue it forward. Just get a new showrunner. Showrunners come and go all the time in the television industry. I know three that are baristas.
Already the first six episodes that ran last season could be considered the 21st century’s Indigenous version of Anne Of Green Gables – the story of a young man, growing up in a difficult environment, dealing with adolescence and where they fit in in a changing society. Yes, it’s a bit darker and more mystical, there are drugs and talking ravens involved, but I could see the Jared of Kitimat character striking chords with today’s youth.
One major problem may be that Ms. Latimer still owns the rights to the original book and characters. How that lies in today’s litigious world I can’t say. She has continuously said, postcontroversy, how much she hoped Trickster would continue on and that she was disappointed by the cancellation. One would think two parties wanting the same thing would be a manageable issue, but that lawsuit might make things a little difficult.
In situations like this, it seems what the public wants makes little difference. At least we have the original books to fall back on.
On a related issue, I am going to say something very controversial. Please don’t hate me. Ms. Latimer also directed a documentary based on Thomas King’s fabulous The Inconvenient Indian. It was supposed to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival this year, but its producers withdrew it because of the controversy.
I want to see it.
If people can enjoy what was done with Trickster under Ms. Latimer’s tutelage, I think The Inconvenient Indian is fair game. I’m a huge fan of King and specifically that book. I would love to see in whatever shape his book has taken form.
I’ve always been taught that we can learn as much from mistakes as we can from successes. I saw Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger. It was fun to deconstruct his performance. It added to my knowledge on how the dominant culture should not construct an Indigenous character. I put the movie in the same campy camp as the Ed Wood classic Plan 9 from Outer Space.
I can never see a dead crow without thinking of Depp.
Let’s hope we will get to see the live raven in Trickster again.