Two days after the Sundance Film Festival announced that it would host the international premiere of Michelle Latimer’s documentary Inconvenient Indian, the Canadian filmmaker released a statement on Facebook addressing questions surrounding her Indigenous ancestry.
“I now realize that I made a mistake in naming Kitigan Zibi as my family’s community before doing the work to formally verify this linkage. I understand that there is an important difference between having this ancestry verified by the community of Kitigan Zibi and having it named and validated by members of my own family,” Latimer wrote in a social media post released Thursday morning. “I apologize and hold myself accountable for the impact this has had on the community of Kitigan Zibi.”
In previous interviews, Latimer has said that her father is French-Canadian and that her mother is Algonquin and Métis, raised as a Catholic in Northern Ontario away from her community in Kitigan Zibi, which is located in western Quebec. Latimer herself grew up in Thunder Bay, and now splits her time between there and Toronto.
“In order to address this mistake, I have reached out to Elders and community historians in Kitigan Zibi, and the surrounding areas, to receive guidance and obtain verification,” Latimer said in her statement. “Community members have been sharing the oral history of the area with me and have highlighted the impact of colonialization on how people identify and claim their family lineage in this area. I have also hired a professional genealogist so that my family and I can understand our family history with greater clarity.”
Latimer’s post was sparked by recent questions about her ancestry within the broader Indigenous community. Requests for comment to the Kitigan Zibi Band Council were not immediately returned Thursday.
“I understand these concerns given the long history of colonialism and violence in Indigenous Nations. Identifying and honoring the connection to our ancestries and the specific communities from which we come is complicated, but I am committed to being accountable to my community and moving forward in a good way,” wrote Latimer, whose representatives declined an interview request from The Globe and Mail.
Latimer has been a staple of the Canadian film and television industry for two decades, with a focus on Indigenous content. After getting her start as a performer on such series as Paradise Falls and Blackstone, Latimer moved to the other side of the camera, directing short films (2010′s Choke), which led to feature-length documentaries (2013′s Alias) and episodic television (CBC’s Little Dog and Burden of Truth).
Latimer’s breakthrough came with 2017′s Rise, an eight-part Viceland documentary series that chronicled the Standing Rock occupation protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. That acclaimed project led to the director’s buzzy run at this past September’s Toronto International Film Festival, where she launched both Inconvenient Indian and her new CBC series Trickster.
Inconvenient Indian won TIFF’s People’s Choice Award for Documentary and the Best Canadian Film honour. Trickster, meanwhile, was renewed for a second season by the CBC ahead of its premiere this past October.
“I hope it’s the beginning of more of this kind of storytelling, because the CBC has never adapted an Indigenous book with an Indigenous team. It’s the national broadcaster, so that’s shocking,” Latimer told The Globe ahead of Trickster’s premiere. “I hope there’s power given to more creators – the power to have a real voice. I’m happy to take notes and be collaborative, but I don’t want to be a puppet for someone’s social agenda.”
Both of Latimer’s 2020 projects are based on works by celebrated Indigenous authors: Trickster is adapted from Eden Robinson’s trilogy of novels, while Inconvenient Indian is based on Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America.
Inconvenient Indian is set for a 2021 release through the National Film Board. In a statement to The Globe, the NFB says that it is “proud” of the film and that the organization “remains committed to programming and producing Indigenous stories from the POV of Indigenous creators.”
90th Parallel Productions, the Toronto-based production company behind Inconvenient Indian, said in a statement that “as a settler-run company we know that it is not our place to comment on this matter. We will listen to the Indigenous community about how best to proceed. Michelle is a talented director, and 90th Parallel is proud of Inconvenient Indian, a beautiful, sensitive, and insightful film.”
Regarding the second season of Trickster, the CBC on Thursday said that the series is an important show for the network and the Indigenous communities, and that “we very much hope that Michelle, her community and all the partners on Trickster will find their way through this to complete season two following the value and protocols of the Indigenous screen community.”
Meanwhile, Latimer noted that her statement is bound to affect not just herself and her creative partners, but “our entire community.”
“I take responsibility for the strain this conversation is having on the people who have supported me, and I apologize as well for any negative impact on my peers in the Indigenous filmmaking community,” she wrote.
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