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Trickster producers resign amid Michelle Latimer Indigenous identity questions

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Two producers with the CBC television series Trickster announced their resignations on Friday, a day after the Indigenous identity claims of the show’s co-creator and director Michelle Latimer were called into question.

Danis Goulet, a Cree/Métis filmmaker who worked as a consulting producer, stated on Twitter she resigned from the show last week. She wrote she initially joined the production because it would be led by Indigenous creators. 

“However, now that there is uncertainty about this, I feel a responsibility to uphold the values that I am dedicated to,” she wrote.

Tony Elliot, Trickster‘s executive producer along with Latimer, also said on Twitter that he quit last week. 

Elliot wrote he was a co-creator, co-showrunner and executive producer but had dropped the first two positions in January. At the time he said he planned to remain an executive producer under Latimer. 

“As a settler, it’s not my place to comment on concerns raised by the Indigenous film and television community,” said Elliot on Twitter.

“This is an important time for all non-Indigenous people to listen. My heart goes out to the Indigenous community.”

Connection questioned

Questions around Latimer’s Indigenous identity claims came under scrutiny after a National Film Board news release said she was of “Algonquin, Métis and French heritage, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Maniwaki), Que.,” an Algonquin First Nation in Quebec about 120 kilometres north of Ottawa.

CBC News exchanged emails with Latimer over a two-month period asking her to explain the roots of her identity claims. Latimer declined repeated requests for an interview. 

Latimer said in the emails that she had believed she had a legitimate connection to Kitigan Zibi, was mistaken, and prematurely claimed a link without first doing the proper research to back up her belief.

“I sincerely apologize for naming the community of Kitigan Zibi publicly before I had done all of the necessary work to understand the connection,” said Latimer, in an emailed statement to CBC News. A similar statement was issued publicly on Thursday through Facebook.

Latimer said in the emails she drew her identity from her maternal grandfather’s “oral history” and his connection to the village of Baskatong, a Catholic mission north of Kitigan Zibi, which had a majority French-Canadian population by the time it flooded in 1927 due to the construction of a dam. Census records reviewed by CBC News state Latimer’s grandfather was French-Canadian.

Dominique Ritchot, a genealogist and researcher with expertise in French-Canadian families, reconstructed Latimer’s genealogy independently.  

Ritchot’s research found two Indigenous ancestors — Marguerite Pigarouiche and Euphrosine-Madeleine Nicolet — dating back to 1644.

Prominent Métis artist Christi Belcourt is also calling for an apology from Latimer for claiming Métis heritage with no proof.

“You can’t claim to be Métis and Algonquin and apologize to Kitigan Zibi for not providing those ties and then not also apologize to the Métis Nation for claiming Métis ancestry which also has not been equally proven,” Belcourt tweeted Friday.

The Métis National Council does not recognize the existence of Métis communities in Quebec.

Personal pitch to Trickster author

Latimer’s claimed Indigenous identity played a pivotal role in landing the Trickster series, which is based on the Son of a Trickster trilogy of novels by Haisla-Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson, according to details of how the project grew outlined in a 2018 CBC News story.

Latimer said she wrote a personal pitch letter to Robinson telling her the first novel was “medicine” and that the journey of the story’s main character, Jared, “reminded me of where I come from and also where I had just been.”

Latimer’s Streel Films then went into a 50-50 partnership with Sienna Films to purchase the rights to Robinson’s trilogy. 

Sienna Films co-owner Jennifer Kawaja, who worked directly with Latimer on securing the rights, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Robinson’s agent said the writer would not comment on the unfolding controversy.

A spokesperson for CBC, which is broadcasting the series, said it was “premature for us to speculate on any next steps” with the show.

Trickster is an important show for CBC and the Indigenous communities. We hope that Michelle Latimer and all the partners on Trickster will find their way through this to complete Season 2,” said Chuck Thompson, in an emailed statement.

Thompson said the CBC would take the “protocols” of the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) “into consideration as discussions continue.”

The ISO, which supports and develops Indigenous screen storytelling, has not been involved with Trickster or any Latimer production. The ISO’s vetting process requires more than Indigenous self-identification to qualify for support.

The investigation is sending shock waves throughout the Indigenous film industry. Anna Lambe, the Inuk actress who plays Sarah on Trickster, said via Instagram that the situation was hurtful.

“I think the last thing we should be doing is absolving accountability for what happened and trying to affirm that what happened was a little mistake or in any way OK,” she wrote.

“It was not, and it is hurtful for so many for those in Kitigan Zibi feeling misrepresented and exploited, those who have had opportunities taken from them, and those who have worked with Michelle and had no idea that this was happening.”

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) actress from Kahnawake, Que., penned an open letter on Twitter on Friday stating that she was “deeply hurt, disappointed and betrayed.”

“As Indigenous artists, we need to normalize asking our peers about our connections to community, and not taking offence at being asked in return,” the letter stated.

“I remain hopeful for the day that we can share our rich cultures, languages and stories on screen but we all need to hold each other accountable in doing so.”

But for Sonya Ballantyne, a Cree filmmaker originally from Misipawistik Cree Nation in Manitoba, said the issue points to a larger systemic problem.

“This is not about just one specific person. This is about the culture that allows this sort of hidden secrets to continue,” she said.

Ballantyne said the problem lies with big film organizations in Canada and their expectations of what it means to be an Indigenous filmmaker. For Ballantyne, it means reassessing what success means to her.

“It became having to pantomime being a certain type of Indigenous person to get funding, having to sell certain aspects of my story and trauma in order to be viewed as worthy,” she said.

“I’m from the rez and still feel like I don’t have the right to tell certain stories. The people who are getting successful are the people who don’t care about that sort of culture and nuance and careful storytelling, and that’s really bothersome to me.”

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