Filmmaker Michelle Latimer is photographed in Toronto on Wednesday, August 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Filmmaker Michelle Latimer is photographed in Toronto on Wednesday, August 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Michelle Latimer resigns from CBC television series ‘Trickster’

Concerns raised about the accuracy of her claimed Indigenous ancestry

TORONTO — Michelle Latimer says she’s resigning from the second season of CBC’s Indigenous TV series “Trickster” where she served as co-creator and director.

The Thunder Bay, Ont.-raised filmmaker says it’s “with a heavy heart” she’s leaving the production after seeking advice over concerns raised about the accuracy of her claimed Indigenous ancestry.

Latimer posted a Facebook message on Monday saying, “I have listened to my community and feel that stepping away from the production is the appropriate course of action.”

The decision comes near the end of a whirlwind year that saw Latimer’s star rise in the context of being a voice among Indigenous creators.

She scored praise for “Trickster,” which was pitched as a Canadian series made by an Indigenous cast and crew, while her documentary “Inconvenient Indian” won two awards at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Latimer had previously said she was of Algonquin, Metis, and French heritage, from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Maniwaki area in Quebec, but a CBC investigation last week challenged those claims and raised issues over her self-identification.

On Thursday, Latimer wrote that she “made a mistake” in naming Kitigan Zibi as her family’s community before verifying the linkage. She said she has reached out to elders and community historians to receive guidance and obtain verification.

“I stand by who I am and by my family’s history, but I also understand what is being asked of me,” Latimer said in her Facebook post on Monday as she explained her resignation from “Trickster.”

“I recognize my responsibility to be accountable to the community and my fellow artists, and that is why I have made this decision.

“It’s been an honour to have spent the last three years working to bring this story to the screen,” she added.

“Trickster” is based on a series of novels by Eden Robinson that tell the story of a teenager from Kitimat, B.C. who discovers he has magical powers passed down through generations.

Robinson issued her own statement on Monday, addressed to her community, saying she was “so embarrassed” and “felt like such a dupe” over the recent developments.

“I don’t know how to deal with the anger, disappointment and stress. As wretched as this moment is, I’d rather know the truth,” she wrote.

“Keep holding me to account,” she continued. “Going forward, I’m going to donate all further author royalties from the ‘Trickster’ series to the Haisla Language Authority for the preservation of the Haisla language. As messy and real as our lives can get, I don’t know how to walk in the world without my people and I pity anyone who doesn’t understand what we have.”

In a statement, CBC acknowledged that questions around Latimer’s involvement with “Trickster” have impacted everyone tied to the show and many Indigenous communities, as well.

The organization said it will work with production company Sienna Films to “determine the future” of the TV series, which is currently at the script stage of its second season.

“Whatever the outcome of those conversations, CBC’s commitment to telling Indigenous stories with the many creative Indigenous storytellers will not waver,” the broadcaster said.

Canada’s arts community was roiled by the developments around Latimer, who was celebrated for drawing attention to Indigenous stories through her Toronto-based independent production company Streel Films.

Several organizations issued statements in recent days addressing the path forward for grant programs and policies meant to financially support Indigenous film and TV projects.

On Friday, the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) called Latimer’s situation “an ongoing and evolving process,” and said it intends to hold further community consultations in 2021 with a goal towards “robust and transparent processes.”

Telefilm said Monday it intends to “work closely” with the ISO to assesses how its Indigenous funding programs can be best implemented and “understand what implications this recent story may have for our programs.”

The National Film Board, which is slated to release “Inconvenient Indian” in 2021, said the organization is “currently engaging with, and listening to the Indigenous filmmaking community.

“We are at the beginning of a process, and will have more to say in the coming days,” the NFB said in a statement.

ImagineNative, a non-profit organization focused on showcasing Indigenous creators, says it will continue to develop policies that consider “the diverse Indigenous communities and experiences” of applicants for programs, such as its annual film festival.

“We recognize that many people who identify with Indigenous nations and communities have been disconnected from their communities and cultural ties due to the impacts of colonial assimilationist practices and policies,” the organization said in a statement.

“In the spirit of caring and understanding, we support those individuals who are doing the work of reclaiming and being claimed. However, Indigeneity needs to be affirmed by the community before accessing opportunities and resources meant to mitigate colonial impacts experienced by Indigenous peoples and communities.”

Latimer’s “Inconvenient Indian” is scheduled to make its international premiere in January as part of the documentary lineup at the Sundance Film Festival. Organizers said on Friday they intend to screen the film “as planned and announced.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2020.

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