In a time where we near closer to the Canada 150 celebrations across Turtle Island, many Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit filmmakers are taking action to make sure that their perspectives are being heard in an industry that has a long history of misrepresentation. Indigenous filmmakers are using their voices to educate, preserve cultures, shatter myths, and entertain so that film lovers have the opportunity to see an important viewpoint on the big screen. Due to growing interest in these stories, lack of representation may become a thing of the past, and a more contemporary way of looking at communities and their perspectives are being realized

 Benjamin Ross Hayden, a talented and rooted Métis writer and director from Calgary Alberta, Treaty 7, is breaking stereotypes and redirecting narratives. Audiences are given the opportunity to look through a different lens. His film The Northlander is futuristic science fiction, with strong matriarchal female characters, and allows the audience to be immersed into his world where he sees the strength of his ancestors present with future generations.

Now completed, his film has done an impressive amount of traveling to 11 major cities across Canada, as well as visiting film festivals such as ImagineNATIVE International film festival, Cannes Film Festival for the perspective Canada Program, 40th American Indian film Festival, amongst many others. Writing two new science fictions called Red-Eye and The First Encounter that are both in development with Telefilm Canada and with The Northlander in development as a six-part mini-series with Canada Media Fund, Hayden is working hard to tell these stories of diversity. He speaks with Freq. writer, Redx Talks production manager, and Blackfoot filmmaker Danni Black/Sui-Taa-Kii about the film and his call to storytelling. 

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Acknowledgement

Oki Benjamin, before I begin, I would like to start by acknowledging the ancestors and land as we have this interview together on Treaty 7 Territory. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, I look forward to our conversation.

Yes, thank you for doing this acknowledgment, Sui-Taa-Kii. These are moving days for us as the federal and municipal governments are beginning Agreements with the Métis, and hanging the flags that should have been hung long ago.

Could you introduce yourself, and share what your film is about?

My name is Benjamin Ross Hayden, I am a Métis film director and writer based in western Canada. The Northlander is an indigenous futurist science fiction tale in the year 2961 when a hunter named Cygnus must travel far from his people to find a way for his tribe of Last Arc to survive. Their way of life threatened by a band of heretics; the matriarch Nova of Last Arc sends Cygnus on the journey across deserts and valleys in a time when nature has recovered the land. Upon facing many traps and dangers on the way, Cygnus discovers what hunts him is his own identity.

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As a Metis, a writer and a director from Calgary, how much of your identity and living on this territory were an inspiration when writing this film?

This dry land is my home. In it, I see a future and the past. My mother grew up near Batoche where the battle of 1885 took place. As a little girl, she plugged the bullet holes in the old church. She wished for peace. But peace is never that easy. The fight for a home is echoed in The Northlander with Cygnus turning Riel’s historic footsteps into a cinematic myth. The past we know can be just as clear to us as the futures we imagine. Where a legend is born, is a myth to be told.

Was it difficult for you to write from indigenous perspectives in a genre, like science fiction, where audiences haven’t necessarily explored those perspectives before?

A futuristic world with characters who have needs and desires as living people in a time when the rules of life are different was the thrill. Establishing them this new world was the greatest challenge. But something incredible happened, like the world finally started to exist, and I navigate inside it with the characters! Suddenly, telling the story became easier, and the characters were feeling real. That part is when the magic of storytelling begins.

In The Northlander, I was happy to see a number of strong female characters, specifically Mari and Nova. What or who were your inspirations to write these incredible women?

Traditionally speaking, matriarchal societies put females in charge of camps and villages while males would go and hunt. Female intuition is a virtue to be respected in all societies. Nova the matriarch is the heartbeat of the tribe in Northlander. This type of society is more progressive for what the world needs more of now.

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You have described this film as “Indigenous futuristic” while also acknowledging the parallels with the plot of the movie and Canada’s history and relationship with Louie Riel, the Métis, and the rebellion. Could you speak about why it was important to remember the past as we watch a story set in the future?

The Northlander is a combination of my draw to the past and the future together at once. We can learn much by looking in both directions. Time is a wheel, and history repeats. Indigenous futurism goes in the opposite direction- future narratives conscious of the environment long before us that are spiritual and sustainable. Addressing new alternatives and breaking cycles of conflicts against “the other”, repeating this very moment in our world is why indigenous futurism is important.

Northlander was filmed in the Áísínai’pi Historical site of Writing-on-Stone. This means “it is written”. This region is important to the Blackfoot and to Louis Riel, who in 1880 traveled past these lands down to Montana to escape the colonials pursuing him. In Northlander, Cygnus being pursued by the Heretics through these places is an homage to when facing oppression is a call to move in a new direction.

Stay tuned for more from Benjamin Ross Hayden

Words: Danni Black/Sui-Taa-Kii

Photos: Courtesy of Benjamin Ross Hayden 

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