Indigenous filmmaker tells her family’s complex history

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ films tackle issues as diverse as their style 

Filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers was featured at last Tuesday’s event.
Filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers was featured at last Tuesday’s event.
Supplied by Dylan Robinson
From a mockumentary to fictional revenge fantasy to a personal documentary, no two films by Indigenous filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers are alike.  
Tailfeathers’ films were screened on campus in the first event of the “Conversations in Indigenous Arts” series. The series addressed questions from the ethics of making a film about your parents’ marriage to curating an exhibition that brings up painful memories from a community’s past. 
The series featured two events — the screening of Tailfeathers’ films and a panel discussion on writing, research and curation using Indigenous methodologies. At the first event last Tuesday, audience members gathered in the screening room of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. 
Tailfeathers, who’s a member of Kainai First National (Blood Tribe) and part Sámi from Norway, screened five of her short films at the event. Her films have been screened at festivals around the world, including the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and the TIFF Top Ten Festival.
All five films —  Bloodland (2011), A Red Girl’s Reasoning (2012), Colonial Gaze Sámi Artists’ Collective (2012), Bihttos (2014) and Mavericks (2015) — dealt with Indigenous themes, and each film was unique while retaining the director’s distinct vision. 
Bihttos stood out most. The film, which explored how past injustices faced by the Tailfeathers’ parents contributed to the breakdown of their marriage, was touching and deeply personal. It used animation and re-enactments using actors to tell her family’s story in an unconventional way. 
The following day’s event, a panel of visiting Indigenous speakers, was held at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Presenters included Tailfeathers, Karyn Recollet, assistant professor in the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto; Eve Tuck, associate professor in Critical Race and Indigenous Studies at OISE University of Toronto; and Jordan Wilson, curator at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.
The talk focused on the speakers’ use and understanding of indigenous methodology in their practice, although the importance of community was the biggest talking point of the afternoon. 
During a Q&A following the panel event, a member of the audience asked the presenters to what they credited their success. 
“I’m quite uncomfortable using the word ‘success,’” Tailfeathers said. “I just consider myself to be continuing the work that my grandparents did.” 
She credited the work of her grandparents and parents — all of whom were firm advocates for Indigenous rights — for her generation’s ability to “engage in the way that they have.” 
Jordan Wilson highlighted his experience as a co-curator for the exhibit c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The exhibit, which highlighted the Musqueam’s landscape and living culture, was particularly meaningful for Wilson as a member of the Musqueam community.
“While working on the exhibit, I knew I had to be careful because I felt a strong sense of accountability to my extended family and community,” he said. 
Wilson credited the “support and welcoming of his community” for what he has been able to accomplish. 
The series was organized by Dylan Robinson, assistant professor in Indigenous Arts and the Canada research chair in Indigenous Arts at Queen’s University. Both events opened with an introduction by Janice Hill, a member of the Turtle Clan, Mohawk Nation and the director of the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre at Queen’s. 

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