Several years ago I read Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden. A film adaptation of this story premiered at TIFF recently. It's a powerful story of contemporary indigenous life set in both Northern Ontario and several mega-cities. At the time of the book's release in 2008, it was highly acclaimed. As was his previous novel 2005 novel, Three Day Road.
It was only after the release of his 2013 novel, The Orenda, that Boyden began to be questioned about his claimed aboriginal identity. I have a suspicion that the shaming of Boyden began because certain elements didn't like the content of that novel. There is so much to be explored in the story of his shaming -- the "real" issues behind the APTN "expose" of Boyden, and the white liberal, neo-colonialist progressives who made the story "popular," etc.
But what really grabbed me this week was this CBC conversation with Tina Keeper, one of the aboriginal producers of the new film. She's a personal friend of Joseph Boyden. The article touches on an issue that I raise frequently, "who gets to tell whose story?" Keeper is aware that working on a project like this involves a cooperative, collaborative process in an industry where indigenous people are in short supply. She says:
"There are some cultural elements that need to be addressed and how we work together, absolutely. I'm not talking about those things, I'm talking about how do we collaborate and work together," she says. "Because I know [Indigenous people have] been so discarded and so dismissed in the history and the cultural memory of this country, so I just feel that it's important for us to understand all of that when we're collaborating."
For me, that is a positive "way forward" approach to navigating our differences. Being aware of our own "stuff," paying attention and listening authentically to others, and then collaboratively finding a way to work together -- because together is much better than separate or oppositional.