In the new season of the documentary/reality TV show “Queen of the Oil Patch,” two-spirit Indigenous entrepreneur Massey Whiteknife embarks on an introspective, healing journey.
Whiteknife is a businessman in the northern Alberta oilsands and also a glamorous female recording artist known as “Iceis Rain.”
In season 2, which airs Sundays on APTN, Whiteknife moves to Edmonton and works on his mental health, while Ices Rain is curbing the clubbing lifestyle to focus on her next album.
The Canadian Press recently spoke with Whiteknife by phone from Edmonton to discuss the show and current events.
CP: What are you most proud of when it comes to season 2?
Whiteknife: There’s so many amazing moments but I like the fact that I was able to be exactly who I am and I didn’t have to face any scrutiny or anybody that was very aggressive in the process of filming, which was actually quite shocking. The camera crew was worried for me to dress up as Iceis Rain and walk down the street in daylight. They were scared because they thought, ‘Oh my God, what if somebody comes and gay-bashes you or what if somebody throws something at you?’ I would tell them, ’Do you see the way you guys are feeling right now because you’re with me? That’s how me and my people — the (LGBTQ) people and the Indigenous people — feel every single time we walk out our door.’ That to them was just like — what a wake-up call. For you guys to have to feel this fear every day. It’s stressful. So for me, I told them this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. This is why I tell you guys no holds barred. Show everything in the show because I want people to see the successes that I have been able to achieve but I also want you guys to show the failures and the struggles that I also have to face every day.
CP: Have you faced discrimination in the oil patch and have you noticed more acceptance in the region since the show started?
Whiteknife: The way I came out was I did an anti-bullying show in Fort McMurray. I asked the companies that I work for if they would sponsor the event. When they found out what kind of event I was actually doing — like dressing up in drag and I was going to have drag queens — they didn’t care that the money I was raising was going to non-profit organizations, they cared about the fact that their name was going to be associated with somebody that was not only gay, but dressed up as a female. And I lost 10 of my largest clients. They just flat out told me, they said, ‘We are not going to be associated with this. We’re sorry but we’re cutting your contract.’ That started the struggle for me and Iceis and my company. I just said, ‘OK, well you know what, I don’t want to work with people like that anyway.’ Then when I did do the anti-bullying show, the local newspaper had put a thing on it and I ended up getting like 25 new clients because of it.
CP: Can entertainment serve as a blueprint to help people, especially in marginalized communities, cope through times of hardship?
Whiteknife: I think so. A perfect example, take for instance, Hollywood. If you look back in the day, the big movie companies wouldn’t allow to have a Black screenwriter. They wouldn’t allow to have a Black actress in a leading role and it wasn’t until one person finally stood up and said, ‘I’m the executive of this production company and we are going to have a Black lead actress.’ And it ruffled a lot of feathers in Hollywood. Just like in the oil sands, they’re like, ‘We’re not going to allow a female business owner run the company. We’re not going to have a female tell the men, the union people, what to do.’
But it wasn’t until somebody actually does it that people will start to calm down and realize that it’s no big deal and that we’re just human beings. Life goes on and we all have to face the same challenges of bidding, contracts, negotiations and profit margin.
CP: How much has the conversation changed on the anti-Indigenous racism front in the wake of recent examples of police brutality around the world?
Whiteknife: What I’ve noticed just personally in being here in Alberta is that there was a lot of vocal haters. There was a lot of people that were saying, especially to my friend, Chief Allan Adam, there was a lot of people that were coming forward saying he deserved it or he provoked it or that wasn’t racism. It’s that sort of ignorance that to me, left me shaking my head. How could somebody, by tackling another person to the ground and bashing their face in like that, be justifiable in any circumstance? That’s the kind of conversations that go on over here that we have to face. It’s sad but it is real.
CP: In season 2, the show’s protagonist deals with a self-improvement journey. Given the challenges in the world right now and many people looking within to be better versions of themselves, is that a topic that more people can relate to?
Whiteknife: Yes, absolutely. 100 per cent. Because right now it’s a struggle for me. I am open about my addictions on the show. I suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction and gambling. A lot of that stems from the sexual abuse that I endured when I was a child. The bottle kind of helped me cope. It didn’t really help me though. It just made things worse. But right now with COVID, having to be isolated, there’s no resources available at all. I want to go to an AA meeting when I’m feeling like I’m going to fall off. Or that I’m feeling this stinking thinking where, ‘Right now a bottle of gin would be perfect.’ I don’t have the opportunity right now to go to an AA meeting because of social distancing and because they were all shut down. I pray every night for my people because there are a lot of people right now that have internet that could go online and that can take an AA meeting. But there’s people that depended on those meetings to go to that were in smaller communities that don’t know how to use the internet or don’t have access to the internet. So it is really hard.
“Queen of the Oil Patch” season 2 debuted in June and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on APTN. Answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2020.