In my own words

by Michelle Latimer

My Ancestry

My maternal lineage is non-status Algonquin ancestry with intergenerational mixed bloods, French Canadian (Métis) of the Gatineau Valley, Quebec.¹ Through my mother, I have traced my Algonquin ancestry through both my grandmother and grandfather’s lines. My father’s side of the family is of French-Canadian, Irish and Scottish ancestry.²

Me and my mom in Thunder Bay, where I grew up
A photograph of my family members, posted on the historical page of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg website

Today

In the autumn of 2020, the producers who had invited me to direct Inconvenient Indian asked me to be specific about my community affiliation for the launch of the film.¹³ I named Kitigan Zibi. It was what I had been told was the closest historic connection to a “legally established” or non-flooded and non-forcibly dispersed Algonquin nation that represented that side of my ancestry.

My Personal Story

I was raised in a blue-collar working-class family in Thunder Bay, a northern Ontario town renowned for its issues of systemic and overt racism. As a youth, I learned about my heritage and culture through my grandfather who was a hunting and fishing guide for the majority of his younger years. His knowledge and respect for the land was a gift he passed down and it continues to shape who I am today.¹⁵

My grandfather in Baskatong
Oceti Sakowin Camp at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s occupation against the Dakota Access Pipeline 2016

Contributing to Community

I have worked hard to give back to the Indigenous arts community, as I’ve always been taught. I’ve hired dozens of Indigenous people behind the camera, mentored emerging artists, and have advocated for increased representation and capacity for Indigenous people and women in the film and television sector.

The Impact of Cancellation

The article first published by the CBC in December, 2020, as well as subsequent articles and the social media frenzy that followed, resulted in a difficult and challenging time for the Indigenous community. It also profoundly damaged me, personally and professionally, asking questions not only about the validity of my identity, but about my honesty, morality, and integrity. I was not afforded proper time to respond thoughtfully, and I became the target of a violent social media backlash.²¹

How is Indigeneity Defined?

What makes one Indigenous and how is Indigeneity defined? More significantly, who gets to define it? If we ask “who can legitimately claim to be Indigenous?” we must determine what it means to be Indigenous through defined criteria. Currently this criteria is unclear. If it were to become clearly defined for us all, I fear it would ultimately risk erasing the history and identities of many Indigenous peoples across these lands. We need only look as far as the Indian Act policy to see evidence of this.²⁴

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Michelle Latimer

Michelle is a filmmaker, showrunner, writer and activist. Her goal is to use film and media as a tool for social change.