Encountering the “Other”: The Search for Indigenous Identity in Québécois Cinema

Karine Ber­trand
Scott Mac­Ken­zie

It is neces­sa­ry to walk the ter­ri­to­ry with the help of a hand-held came­ra and a tape recor­der, which “magnif[y] and heigh­ten […] memo­ry.”1 Howe­ver effer­ves­cent it may have been, direct cine­ma, or what Per­rault cal­led ciné­ma vécu, born out of the Quiet Revo­lu­tion and thri­ving in the libe­ra­ting social and poli­ti­cal cli­mate of those times (rough­ly bet­ween 1960 and 1970), was none­the­less short-lived. The loss of the 1980 and 1995 refe­ren­dums, the rise of indi­vi­dua­lism and of other values rela­ted to neoliberalism—the col­lapse of col­lec­tive values, the eva­cua­tion of Catholicism’s legi­ti­ma­cy in favor of capi­ta­list efficiency—found their way onto the screen and images of loss, depri­va­tion and confu­sion over one’s natio­nal iden­ti­ty were inter­po­la­ted by Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois vie­wers, who wan­der aim­less­ly, sear­ching for a place to belong, des­pite, and igno­ring, their set­tler colo­nial sta­tus. The consi­de­rable increase of migra­to­ry flows in Qué­bec over the last twen­ty years has accen- tua­ted this never-ending iden­ti­ty cri­sis, revi­ving the quest for the French- Cana­dian Qué­bé­cois sub­ject, who, to get out of this pre­di­ca­ment, “resorts to an inten­sive uti­li­za­tion of the past” and of figures that have been iden­ti­fied with the past (such as Indi­ge­nous peoples) to recon­fi­gure Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois memo­ry and myths.2

Pro­found­ly ancho­red in the ima­gi­na­ry of the Qué­bé­cois people, Indi­ge­nous peoples were pre­sen­ted on screen as meta­pho­ric cha­rac­ters. In seve­ral occur­rences, and in an act that can be construed as appro­pria­tion, they sym­bo­li­zed the rela­tion­ship bet­ween the people and the land. The lat­ter was seen as an immense space that was once explo­red by the voya­geurs, cou­reurs des bois, and fur tra­ders that, gui­ded by Indi­ge­nous allies, were consi­de­red through the ove­ru­sed ste­reo­type of the “guar­dians of nature.”

Fur­ther­more, Indi­ge­nous peoples conti­nue to occu­py an impor­tant space in repre­sen­ta­tio­nal eco­no­mies (both real and ima­gi­ned) situa­ted within Qué­bé­cois cine­ma. In recent years, contemporary—and controversial—documentaries that address the ques­tion of rela­tion­ships bet­ween Qué­bé­cois and Indi­ge­nous peoples, such as Qué­bé­koi­sie (Méla­nie Car­rier and Oli­vier Hig­gins, 2014) and L’empreinte (Carole Poli­quin, 2015) have, at least super­fi­cial­ly, chan­ged their tone. None­the­less, they extend the image that posi­tions the Amé­rin­dien as a mir­ror for the fraught iden­ti­ty of the French-Cana­dians living in Qué­bec, whose home­si­ck­ness and sense of ima­gi­ned dis­pla­ce­ment can be cured through a hybrid iden­ti­ty that allows them to ground them­selves in a contem­po­ra­ry mul­ti­cul­tu­ral land­scape. In Qué­bé­cois fic­tions films, the Indi­ge­nous cha­rac­ter remains a sym­bol of proxi­mi­ty to the land as well as one of alien­ness to the ter­ri­to­ry, with films such as Ce qu’il faut pour vivre (Benoît Pilon, 2008), Maï­na (Michel Pou­lette, 2013) and 3 his­toires d’Indi- ens (Robert Morin, 2014) tack­ling the sub­ject of inter­cul­tu­ral iso­la­tion and incommunicability.

Ever since Zacha­rias Kunuk relea­sed his inter­na­tio­nal­ly acclai­med fea- ture-length fic­tion film Ata­nar­juat: The Fast Run­ner in 2001, Indi­ge­nous film­ma­kers in Qué­bec and Cana­da have increa­sed their use of film and digi­tal video as a means to represent their own cultures and for poli­ti­cal, eco­no­mic and social aims. Fol­lo­wing the reve­la­tions about the resi­den­tial school sys­tem and the recent publi­ca­tion of the Truth and Recon­ci­lia­tion Com­mis­sion report, Indi­ge­nous film­ma­kers’ works have reflec­ted a diverse yet dis­tinct aes­the­tic, which does not echo a desire to return to the past or engage in “sal­vage eth­no­gra­phy,” but rather express a desire to build a bet­ter and brigh­ter future from the fraught times of the present with the voices of their com­mu­ni­ties taking cen­ter stage.3

For the youn­ger gene­ra­tions that hold the chal­lenge of recon­ci­ling two cultures and two ways of life—tradition ver­sus modernity—,Indigenous iden­ti­ty is a concept that can­not be unders­tood without indi­vi­dual, com­mu­nal and some­times even inter­cul­tu­ral hea­ling. Many fic­tion films such as Before Tomor­row (Le jour avant le len­de­main, Marie-Hélène Cou­si­neau and Made­line Piu­juq Iva­lu, 2008), Uvan­ga (Cou­si­neau and Iva­lu, 2014), Mes­nak (Yves Sioui-Durand, 2012), Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Jeff Bar­na­by, 2013), Le Dep (Sonia Bons­pille-Boi­leau, 2015) and Res­t­less River (Cou­si­neau and Iva­lu, 2019) address, each in their own way, the hurt and dif­fi­cul­ties of adap­ting to an ever-chan­ging world. They show that in order to sur­vive and find one’s iden­ti­ty, a balance bet­ween the modern world and tra­di­tio­nal ways must be achie­ved. Through the ana­ly­sis of both contem­po­ra­ry Indi­ge­nous and non-Indi­ge­nous films and col­la­bo­ra­tions, this article iden­ti­fies the confi­gu­ra­tions of a cine­ma slow­ly retra­cing and re-ima­gi­ning inter­cul­tu­ral rela­tion­ships. Fur­ther­more, by consi­de­ring what might be cal­led “clum­sy,” “naïve” or hope­ful explo­ra­tions of these rela­tion­ships in Qué­bé­koi­sie and L’empreinte, and then giving examples of suc­cess­ful inter­cul­tu­ral rela­tion­ships and repre­sen­ta­tions in other Qué­bé­cois and Indi­ge­nous films, we seek to paint a more com­plete land­scape of Qué­bec cine­ma and its—more or less—evolving rela­tion­ship to Indi­ge­nei­ty. Need­less to say that it is rele­vant to bring up the inade­qua­cy of recon­ci­lia­tion, hybri­di­ty and/or inter­cul­tu­ra­lism as solu­tions for many Indi­ge­nous cri­tics, who ulti­ma­te­ly see the lat­ter as uphol­ding set- tler nation­hood and ins­tead seek deco­lo­ni­za­tion, Indi­ge­nous sove­rei­gn­ty and land recla­ma­tion. Howe­ver, where Québécois/Indigenous film col­la­bo­ra­tions are concer­ned, works such as Mes­nak (Sioui-Durand, 2011) Kues­si­pan (Myriam Ver­rault, 2019) or Avant les rues (Chloé Leriche, 2016), to name but a few, are salient examples of fruit­ful col­la­bo­ra­tions that fur­ther demons­trates that divi­sion is not always the best solu­tion. Final­ly, the use (and misuse) and per­haps misun­ders­tan­ding of the word métis and métis­sage have also brought forth cen­tral debates around the sub­ject of Indi­ge­nous iden­ti­ties in Qué­bec, a consti­tuant part of reconciliation.

Je me sou­viens: Qué­bec, the Nation State, First Nations,
Hybri­di­ty and Ori­gins
The mot­to Je me sou­viens (I remem­ber) dates from 1883 and, at that time, was an his­to­ri­cal remin­der for the French-Cana­dian people of their per­cei­ved fai­lures and glo­ries.4 More spe­ci­fi­cal­ly, the mot­to, ins­cri­bed on the coat of arms of Qué­bec City’s Hôtel du Par­le­ment de Qué­bec, ser­ved as an aide mémoire for the popu­la­tion living with the conse­quences of the Bri­tish conquest of 1760 on the Plains of Abra­ham and of the Patriot upri­sing of 1837–1838. The bronze sculp­tures ador­ning the façade of the Hôtel du Par­le­ment had a simi­lar role, as they repre­sen­ted Indi­ge­nous peoples, explo­rers, mili­ta­ry offi­cers and other impor­tant figures of the French and English regimes and ima­gi­na­ries. Je me sou­viens is thus atta­ched to the memo­ry of the Empire, to the dream of a nation-state and to the immense spaces that were tra­ver­sed by the cou­reur des bois, fur tra­ders and other legen­da­ry pro­ta­go­nists still alive and well in the Qué­bé­cois ima­gine-nation.5

Adop­ted once again at the begin­ning of the 1960s, during the Quiet Revo­lu­tion, Je me sou­viens also illus­tra­ted French-Cana­dians’ will to build them­selves a coun­try out­side of theo­cra­tic power and give birth to new­ly re-ima­gi­ned foun­ding nar­ra­tives, in which wri­ters, poets, film­ma­kers, sin­gers and play­wrights would func­tion as revo­lu­tio­na­ry cata­lysts. Howe­ver, in contem­po­ra­ry, mul­ti­cul­tu­ral and post-refe­ren­dums contexts, the imple­men­ta­tion of this col­lec­tive pro­ject is more dif­fi­cult to envi­sion for many youn­ger people. It is also less desi­rable, as it is not a consti­tuent part of their cultu­ral ima­gi­na­ry. Je me sou­viens, in these contexts, thus becomes groun­ded in both the past and the future: on the one hand, it mir­rors the nos­tal­gia of an aging demo­gra­phic towards an era where the emer­gence of Qué­bec as an inde­pendent nation-state see­med pos­sible. On the other, the mot­to expresses the new generation’s desire to draw direct­ly from cultu­ral roots to bring life to a new vision of inclu­sion, one that ack­now­ledges hybri­di­zed iden­ti­ties. Conse­quent­ly, over the last 15 years, a new gene­ra­tion of young Qué­bé­cois artists have pro­du­ced works that touch upon this quest of ori­gins, which can be found, for example, in the neo-trad move­ment of revi­va­list folk music, nou­ri­shed by the music of bands such as Mes Aïeux, Les Cow­boys Frin­gants and La Volée d’Castors, or in the pro­li­fic work of the sin­ger-poet-sto­ry­tel­ler Fred Pel­le­rin. Rea­ding Pellerin’s sto­ries or lis­te­ning to the afo­re­men­tio­ned bands’ songs, through an incur­sion into the his­to­ric and sym­bo­lic past of the Qué­bé­cois still sear­ching for an ima­gi­ned coun­try to call their own and through the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the ter­ri­to­ry, lies the foun­da­tion for buil­ding a new, hybri­di­zed, re-ima­gi­na­tion of identity.

If part of the Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois nation wishes to iden­ti­fy with the ter­ri­to­ry, what are we to make of the First Nations, Métis and the Inuit, who have inha­bi­ted the North Ame­ri­can land for the past twelve thou­sand years and who have wal­ked and defi­ned this land through their tho­rough unders­tand- ing of com­mu­ni­ty dyna­mics and through the rela­tion­ship they share with the ter­ri­to­ry? And how do Indi­ge­nous repre­sen­ta­tions par­ti­ci­pate in today’s edi­fi­ca­tion of a plu­ra­lis­tic Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty that is constant­ly dig­ging into the past?

To ans­wer these ques­tions, the nume­rous articles on this topic writ­ten by anthro­po­lo­gist Rémi Savard and sur­veyed by eth­no­lo­gist Syl­vie Vincent offer some insights.6 Savard’s articles bring to light the pro­found inse­cu­ri­ty of the French-Cana­dian people, who, facing the colo­nial yoke of the Bri­tish Empire, have tried to define them­selves as the “abso­lute oppres­sed,” thus nega­ting their own his­to­ry as set­tler colo­nia­lists towards the First Nations people.7 This his­to­ric denial, writes Savard, leads to the Indi­ge­nous peoples being consi­de­red com­pe­ti­tors ins­tead of allies by the French-Cana­dian people, a fee­ling rein­for­ced by the rising of Qué­bé­cois natio­na­lism, which eli­ded and era­di­ca­ted Indi­ge­nous pre­sence on its own ter­ri­to­ry, for­cing on Indi­ge­nous peoples’ assi­mi­la­tion and guar­dian­ship rather than on their recog­ni­tion.8 From an Indi­ge­nous pers­pec­tive, this issue has also been the cen­tral topic of many docu­men­ta­ries, most nota­bly Ala­nis Obomsawin’s Kaneh­sa­take: 270 Years of Resis­tance (1993), which exposes the racism that often lays at the heart of the Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois unders­tan­ding of the Oka Cri­sis of 1990.

When tra­cing the his­to­ry of Indi­ge­nous repre­sen­ta­tion in Qué­bé­cois lite­ra­ture, visual arts and films, Indi­ge­nous cha­rac­ters can be lin­ked to the para­digms of both the Self and the Other; they are some­times consi­de­red to be reflec­ting the colo­ni­zed state of the French-Cana­dian sub­ject and is the sym- bol of a fal­te­ring iden­ti­ty, “often in search of Indi­ge­nous ori­gins, sus­cep­tible of stea­ling or absor­bing india­ni­ty, just like a praying man­tis swal­lo­wing her prey.” 9

Howe­ver, in the last fif­teen years, media cove­rage of seve­ral issues rela­ting to Indi­ge­nous peoples, such as the mur­de­red and mis­sing Indi­ge­nous women; the resi­den­tial school trau­ma; the ques­tions of recog­ni­tion and land claims, accom­pa­nied by the occu­pa­tion of spea­king spaces and a cultu­ral renais­sance that mani­fests itself in various spheres—political, eco­no­mic, aca­de­mic and artistic—is slow­ly chan­ging the land­scape. Indeed, First Nations and Inuit com­mu­ni­ties are crea­ting and using ideo­lo­gi­cal (both real and reel) tools that bor­row from both tra­di­tion and moder­ni­ty to move for­ward, recon­nec­ting with a culture and iden­ti­ty that were lost in the dark hall­ways of assi­mi­la­tion, colo­ni­za­tion and resi­den­tial schools.

Qué­bé­cois Docu­men­ta­ry Films and Inter­cul­tu­ra­li­ty:
Dig­ging to Find Dee­per Roots
More than 30 years after Pierre Perrault’s Le pays de la terre sans arbre (1980), Le goût de la farine (1977) and Arthur Lamothe’s Mémoire bat­tante (1983), new iden­ti­ty-based issues have now sur­fa­ced for the youn­ger gene­ra­tions who have only lear­ned about the Quiet Revo­lu­tion through his­to­ry books and have but a vague memo­ry of the Oka cri­sis. These ques­tions have mul­ti­plied in recent years, in a context where glo­ba­li­za­tion and tech­no­lo­gi­cal deve­lop­ment ensure that we often know more about the people living at the other end of the globe than we do of our own neighbours.

Fit­tin­gly, it is from this ques­tio­ning that young glo­be­trot­ters and cyclists Méla­nie Car­rier and Oli­vier Hig­gins set out to meet the Indi­ge­nous peoples of Québec’s Côte-Nord, the very same com­mu­ni­ties that were pre­vious­ly fil­med by Per­rault. Pro­du­ced in 2013, their docu­men­ta­ry Qué­bé­koi­sie starts by inter­ro­ga­ting how Qué­bec might be defi­ned: “It’s lum­ber­jacks, log dri­vers and far­mers who built our coun­try and people into what they are today.” Howe­ver, when reflec­ting upon this quite folk­lo­ric defi­ni­tion of Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty, the two com­pa­nions admit their total igno­rance of the First Nations peoples who have lived on the same land for thou­sands of years prior to Euro­pean arri­val. Because they want to bet­ter unders­tand the connec­tions that unite the Indi­ge­nous peoples to the Qué­bé­cois, along with the causes of the rup­ture bet­ween the two, they hop on their bicycles and tra­vel route 138 right to its end, where the small com­mu­ni­ty of Nata­sh­quan is located.

Through conver­sa­tions, visits in the com­mu­ni­ties and infor­mal inter­views with the Côte-Nord Innu, the silent pro­ta­go­nists met by Per­rault in the 1970s are repla­ced by new gene­ra­tions who do not fear to speak their minds and reveal them­selves to the came­ra. In sum­ma­ry, the inter­ac­tions bet­ween the film­ma­kers and the Innu under­lines the fact that most Innu do not iden­ti­fy them­selves as Qué­bé­cois and that for them, the iden­ti­ty ques­tion is far from simple. For the com­mu­ni­ties’ Elders, the ans­wer to the ques­tion of iden­ti­ty does not lie in nos­tal­gia nor in recap­tu­ring the noma­dic way of life that used to ensure their sur­vi­val; ins­tead, it is about kee­ping tra­di­tion alive, while bene­fi­ting from all of the advan­tages of moder­ni­ty such as edu­ca­tion, tech­no­lo­gy, medi­cine, science and com­fort. Iden­ti­ty pre­ser­va­tion for the Innu is syno­ny­mous with lan­guage and cultu­ral trans­mis­sion and with indi­ge­ni­zing modern culture by youn­ger gene­ra­tions who are see­king balance bet­ween two very dif­ferent worlds. For the Elders fea­tu­red in the docu­men­ta­ry, the rela­tion­ship with the ter­ri­to­ry is still very much alive; whe­reas a more seden­ta­ry life­style and an acqui­red taste for Hol­ly­wood movies, video games and the Inter­net is the norm with youn­ger generations.

In regards to hybri­di­ty, iden­ti­ty and mixed cultures, two tes­ti­mo­nies coming from the Indi­ge­nous view point stand out. The first one comes from Mario Bacon, an Innu man who works and lives in the town of Chi­cou­ti­mi, Qué­bec, far away from his com­mu­ni­ty. After fin­ding out that part of his lineage is French, he decides to embark on a jour­ney that takes him to Nor­man­die (France) where his Bacon ances­tors once lived. Dri­ven by a present curio­si­ty about his French ances­tors (which can be construed as a posi­tive pro­cess) rather than a nos­tal­gia for a lost past (which can be seen as, if not nega­tive, then pain­ful), this quest for iden­ti­ty fore­grounds the fact that many Qué­bé­cois and Indi­ge­nous indi­vi­duals living in Qué­bec are métis­sés (of mixed blood). In fact, it is gene­ral­ly thought that a signi­fi­cant pro­por­tion (though this is now often chal­len­ged) of French Cana­dians from Qué­bec has at least one Indi­ge­nous ances­tor in their lineage, an idea that is cor­ro­bo­ra­ted by anthro­po­lo­gist (and long-time bro­ther to the Innu Nations of la Côte- Nord) Serge Bou­chard, who has spent his life and career resear­ching and wri­ting about French Cana­dian and Indi­ge­nous expe­riences and rela­tion­ships. In Qué­bé­koi­sie, he shares his obser­va­tions concer­ning the foun­ding myths and for­got­ten his­to­ry of Québec:

It was a vast métis Nation but we ended up mur­de­ring it in our culture, in our col­lec­tive memo­ry, we became numb to it. We eutha­ni­zed the Métis in us, as though he had never exis­ted. Why were we never told? And why don’t Indians know to what extent they too are a mixed race? When did we split from that memo­ry? And when did we split with our ter­ri­to­rial and his­to­ri­cal Native Ame­ri­can roots? Along simi­lar lines, in the docu­men­ta­ry, Eruo­ma Awa­shish, an Atti­ka­mekw artist, agrees with Bou­chard when it comes to the ques­tion of hybri­di­ty, sta­ting that culture is some­thing that is constant­ly trans­for­ming and evol­ving in order to stay rele­vant and alive. Eruo­ma Awa­shish sti­pu­lates that for the youn­ger gene­ra­tions, this means fin­ding balance bet­ween tra­di­tion and moder­ni­ty and coming up with ways to enrich their culture as well as non-Indi­ge­nous cultures. For example, the appro­pria­tion of the woven sash (cein­ture flé­chée) by the Qué­bé­cois, as well as the adop­tion of the Catho­lic reli­gion and the use of Euro­pean glass beads by Indi­ge­nous peoples, show how cultures influence each other, both posi­ti­ve­ly and nega­ti­ve­ly, and at times in une­qual and colo­nial ways. None­the­less, the artist says she iden- tifies “with Indi­ge­nous cultures from Wes­tern US rather than with Catho­lic reli­gion” and that she “will never let the Indian Act decide if her kids are Atti­ka­mekw or not.”

Fol­lo­wing this train of thought, Cana­dian phi­lo­so­pher John Ral­ston Saul writes, in A Fair Coun­try (2008), “that we are far more Abo­ri­gi­nal than we are Euro­pean” and that “our fai­lure to reco­gnize it pre­vents us from beco­ming the strong, confi­dent and pro­gres­sive coun­try that is our bir­thright.”10 In Qué­bé­koi­sie, Serge Bou­chard pushes this argu­ment even fur­ther by decla­ring that “[s]ocieties that start refer­ring to each other as Abo­ri­gi­nals, Non-Abo­ri­gi­nals, Alloch­toons […] have lost their col­lec­tive wis­dom and com­mon sense.” This notion, howe­ver, conti­nues to be contes­ted, poin­ting to the ten­sions of his­to­ri­cal and cultu­ral re-ima­gi­na­tion on the part of white settlers.

Even if Indi­ge­nous pro­ta­go­nists some­times iden­ti­fy with the terms métis (which for most people in Qué­bec means of mixed-blood or mixed ances­try) and métis­sage, the ques­tion of métis­sage and of the defi­ni­tion of who are métis—mixed-blood—or Métis in Cana­da is far more com­plex than what is pre­sen­ted in the docu­men­ta­ry, which fails to ack­now­ledge a rea­li­ty that trans­cends Qué­bec bor­ders. On this sub­ject, author Chris Ander­sen cri­ti­cizes Saul’s book A Fair Coun­try (cal­led Un pays métis in French) and its decla­ra­tion that Cana­da is a Métis civi­li­za­tion, making gene­ral sta­te­ments that do not consi­der or speak of the “Métis people’s ter­ri­to­ry, his­to­ry, events or culture” or that refers to the Métis as an “indi­vi­dual or group asso­cia­ting with the ori­gi­nal core in the Red River region.”11 Indeed, for Ander­sen and other scho­lars such as Bren­da Mac­dou­gall and Dar­ryl Leroux, the term Métis is not only misu­sed, thus redu­cing abo­ri­gi­na­li­ty to an incom­plete iden­ti­ty, but for Leroux, the term has become a way for Eas­tern Cana­dian indi­vi­duals and asso­cia­tions (in Qué­bec and the Mari­times) to claim Indi­ge­nous rights—for example hun­ting and land claims—in the name of a (some­times very) dis­tant or made-up ances­tor, going as far as taking these issues to court without consi­de­ring the impact these claims have on Indi­ge­nous identities:

To be clear, there is wides­pread consen­sus among Métis poli­ti­cal orga­ni­za­tions and intel­lec­tuals that the Métis consti­tute a dis­tinct Indi­ge­nous people—and, fur­ther, that these Qué­bec-based orga­ni­za­tions are not Métis at all. “It’s very dama­ging,” Jesse Thistle told CBC Radio last year. The fact that new claims to a Métis iden­ti­ty have piled up so qui­ck­ly has led to wides­pread confu­sion among non-Indi­ge­nous people, who don’t tend to know how Indi­ge­nous peoples tra­di­tio­nal­ly reco­gnize kin­ship and belon­ging.12

Fur­ther­more, while Ander­sen pre­fers loo­king at Métis in “poli­ti­cal terms of his­to­ri­cal, people-based relationships—rather than in post-colo­ni­zing terms of mixed­ness,” accor­ding to Leroux, Eas­tern Cana­dians have, for the most part, very lit­tle know­ledge or inter­est in these kinds of rela­tion­ships, and their act of self-indi­ge­ni­zing is often tied to eco­no­mic motives.13 Along the same lines, in her article on the Daniels Deci­sion (2016), Bren­da Mac­dou­gall ques­tions the efforts of the Supreme Court bent on defi­ning “Métis and Non-Sta­tus Indians by a new form of legal and his­to­ri­cal fic­tion but in this case based on a cri­te­ria of mixed­ness,” thus not taking into account the ways in which Métis peoples define them­selves today.14 Howe­ver, Law pro­fes­sor Sébas­tien Malette, along with anthro­po­lo­gist Michel Bou­chard and his­to­rian Guillaume Mar­cotte in their prize-win­ning book Les Bois-Brû­lés de l’Outaouais. Une étude eth­no­cul­tu­relle des Métis de la Gati­neau (2019), “conclu­si­ve­ly demons­trates that a Métis com­mu­ni­ty emer­ged in ear­ly nine- teenth cen­tu­ry Qué­bec” through “strong scho­lar­ly com­mit­ment to archi­val and eth­no­gra­phic evi­dence.”15 Fur­ther­more, respon­ding to Leroux’s dis­course, Malette warns people against expla­na­tions that do not take into consi­de­ra­tion each individual’s per­so­nal his­to­ry and rela­tion­ship to their roots:

It is first use­ful to unders­tand that craf­ting an expla­na­tion about the ori­gin of eth­nic iden­ti­ty via the act of impu­gning motives to all of its bea­rers, consti­tutes a double fal­la­cy (i.e. abu­sive gene­ra­li­za­tion and gene­tic sophism). More pre­ci­se­ly, while cer­tain Qué­bé­cois Métis may express ideas we might disa­gree with, this doesn’t allow us to move on direct­ly to the conclu­sion that all Métis with roots in Qué­bec have evil and secre­tive or even igno­rant moti­va­tions, fur­ther posi­ting that the gene­sis of all Métis people in Qué­bec is roo­ted in such false claims and even malice. Each case must be ana­ly­zed sepa­ra­te­ly without pre­ju­dice. The gene­ra­li­za­tions found in Leroux’s rhe­to- ric seem abu­sive.16

The­re­fore, it is clear that Canada’s colo­nial lega­cy is com­plex. The actions of repre­sen­ting, defi­ning and enca­ging Indi­ge­nous peoples in a very nar­row box, most­ly through poli­ti­cal lan­guage and more spe­ci­fi­cal­ly in a his­to­ri­cal pers­pec­tive that does not consi­der the ever-chan­ging land­scape that com­poses Indi­ge­nous iden­ti­ties contri­butes to this confu­sion about iden­ti­ty. This is espe­cial­ly the case in Eas­tern Cana­da, where the term Métis has come to signi­fy a way of inter­pre­ting the sha­ring of cultures and gene­tics, some people taking advan­tage of the term for their own per­so­nal gain and others clai­ming an Indi­ge­nous ances­try that was for a long time asso­cia­ted with loss and shame but can now be cele­bra­ted. Of course, not all Cana­dians clai­ming Indi­ge­nous ances­try are frauds. Per­haps because the ques­tion of iden­ti­ty in Qué­bec has always been and remains ever-present, the Qué­bé­cois use the term métis­sage in a very fluid way in order to explain their connec­tion to the ter­ri­to­ry and to their his­to­ry. In the docu­men­ta­ry films men­tio­ned in this article, it is clear that the term métis is not used in the sense given by Leroux, Mcdou­gall or even Malette and is rather used to des­cribe mixed-ances­try or mixed-blood. Moreo­ver, while there are impor­tant and salient ques­tions about who gets to use the term, it is impor­tant to note that, whe­ther accu­rate in its usage or not, métis is a term that is part of the contem­po­ra­ry Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois imaginary.

Indeed, this idea of a hybrid socie­ty where the recons­truc­tion of the Qué­bé­cois and Indi­ge­nous peoples’ his­to­ry must be put for­ward is also sug­ges­ted in Carole Poliquin’s docu­men­ta­ry L’empreinte. Nar­ra­ted by the popu­lar Qué­bé­cois actor Roy Dupuis—star of the tele­vi­sion series Les filles de Caleb (Jean Beau­din, 1990–1991) and of the film Séra­phin, un homme et son péché (Charles Bina­mé, 2002)—, the docu­men­ta­ry fol­lows Dupuis on an iden­ti­ty quest of his own, as he wants to confirm his indian­ness. The first part of the docu­men­ta­ry deve­lops some inter­es­ting themes rela­ted to the sub­jects of hybri­di­ty and of Indi­ge­nous influences in Qué­bec. Dupuis seeks the advice and opi­nions of an array of experts (his­to­rians, eco­no­mists, judges, media­tors, anthro­po­lo­gists) who all confirm the fact that, his­to­ri­cal­ly spea­king, the fran­co-amé­rin­dienne alliance dis­tin­guishes itself from the Spa­nish and English conquests that led to the cultu­ral geno­cide of the Indi­ge­nous peoples of Ame­ri­ca. Fur­ther­more, these experts sug­gest that this alliance bet­ween the fur tra­ders, explo­rers, voya­geurs and Indi­ge­nous nations has clear­ly left its mark on the French-Cana­dian society.

To cor­ro­bo­rate this fact, the res­pec­ted and acclai­med Innu poet and Elder José­phine Bacon can­did­ly explains in the docu­men­ta­ry how Indi­ge­nous people took under their wing the French set­tlers that first came to Cana­da, sha­ring know­ledge that would help them sur­vive for decades to come. We are told that because of all the inter­ra­cial mar­riages and day-to-day com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the fur tra­ders who lived with Indi­ge­nous peoples, the Qué­bé­cois conti­nued to main­tain mul­tiple values and ways of thin­king and of doing things that were direct­ly influen­ced by Indi­ge­nous ways of life. Howe­ver, when in the second part of the docu­men­ta­ry, ex-judge and media­tor Louise Otis explains how the Qué­bé­cois judi­cial sys­tem is the only one to inte­grate media­tions conduc­ted by a judge and tax lawyer and pro­fes­sor Luc God­bout insists that Qué­bé­cois socie­ty is based on the idea of com­mu­ni­ty, just like those of the First Nations, both audiences and film cri­tics such as film revie­wer René Lemieux remain unconvinced:

In rea­li­ty, L’empreinte should not be des­cri­bed as a socio his­to­ric docu­men­ta­ry but rather as an audio-visual work where the audience is bom­bar­ded with sym­bol after sym­bol of a fan­ta­sy-like Qué­bé­cois culture. […] All those Qué­bé­cois are put on screen with the pre­sump­tion of pro­ving with facts that “our people” are tole­rant and soli­da­ry ega­li­ta­rians. The argu­ment would have been bet­ter ser­ved if we had not had the impres­sion that this entire pro­ject is but a pre­text used to nou­rish the Qué­bé­cois myth of pro­gres­si­ve­ness.17

In the same way, Métis wri­ter Chel­sea Vowel cri­ti­cizes the docu­men­ta­ry, decla­ring that:

Roy Dupuis, Carole Poli­quin and Yvan Dubuc have an entire film about the Qué­bé­cois-as-Métis cal­led L’empreinte. In inter­views, Dupuis has stres­sed that the French did not come to Qué­bec as conque­rors, and that they were char­med by the “sexual libe­ra­tion of les sau­va­gesses” (Indi­ge­nous women). Much like Ral­ston Saul, Dubuc and Poli­quin claim that Québec’s tole­rance for dif­fe­rences (Isla­mo­pho­bia and a pen­chant for conti­nuing to cham­pion the use of black­face aside), consen­sus see­king, and love of nature all come from the mix­ture of cultures; Euro­pean and First Nations.18

These fan­ta­sies play them­selves out in many ways in cine­ma by enga­ging in the pro­cess of hybri­di­zed re-ima­gi­na­tion, not consi­de­ring that this idea­li­zed road to recon­ci­lia­tion is shown once again to be paved with the best of inten­tions, which car­ry the “bur­den” of a white Set­tler pro­vince (Qué­bec) per­haps not yet rea­dy to take full res­pon­si­bi­li­ty for the impacts of its colonization.

Qué­bec Indi­ge­nous Cine­ma and New Forms of Hybridized/ Ima­gi­ned-Nations
Over the last few decades, Qué­bé­cois cine­ma has enga­ged in what Mar­tin Allor calls “cultu­ral métis­sage.” Allor notes that:

the cultu­ral métis­sage effec­tua­ted through recent Qué­bec cine­ma and tele­vi­sion is both indus­trial and dis­cur­sive in nature. Nar­ra­tive cine­ma and tele­vi­sion do not sim­ply reflect the ten­sions bet­ween the prag­ma­tic and public and the affec­tive and per­so­na­li­zed move­ments of the dis­courses of l’identitaire in Qu[é]bec. They are cen­tral­ly pro­duc­tive of their uns­table arti­cu­la­tion.20

At the time Allor wrote this ana­ly­sis, the role of Indi­ge­nous peoples in Qué­bec were lar­ge­ly off the cultu­ral map—if present at all, they took the form of the Other, such as during la crise d’Oka. Howe­ver, the para­digm out­li­ned by Allor aids our thin­king of the new forms of métis­sage that have sub­se­quent­ly emer­ged as part of a Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois cine­ma­tic ima­gi­na­ry. This shift from colo­nial other­ness to a more hybri­di­zed form of inclu­sion, both as Indi­ge­nous peoples and as part of a new­ly sha­red form of his­to­ri­cal ima­gi­na­tion, can be tra­ced through a long his­to­ry of shif­ting unders­tan­ding of what colo­nia­lism in Qué­bec and Cana­da actual­ly are. In thin­king about the role of nos­tal­gia in Qué­bec in a hybri­di­zed world, one of the things which is intri­guing is Québec’s sta­tus as both a colo­ni­ser and a post­co­lo­nial nation-state. Indeed, there are some broad simi­la­ri­ties bet­ween Cana­da and other post­co­lo­nial nations, but it is these simi­la­ri­ties that fore­ground pro­found dif­fe­rences. His­to­ri­cal­ly, the Qué­bé­cois natio­nal colo­nial ima­gi­na­ry emerges with the infa­mous Durham report of 1839, which, like many colo­nial ideo­lo­gies, argued for the com­plete assi­mi­la­tion of the French-Cana­dians for their sup­po­sed bene­fit. Because of this trau­ma­tic past, Qué­bec has never total­ly esca­ped a colo­nial men­ta­li­ty or ful­ly ack­now­led­ged its own com­pli­ci­ty in colo­nia­lism even as, through the Catho­lic church, it essen­tial­ly under­took the goals of the Durham report and pla­ced them on Indi­ge­nous peoples. In this men­ta­li­ty, one of the Euro­pean natio­na­li­ties that colo­ni­sed the coun­try (the Qué­bé­cois) feels colo­ni­sed by the other inva­ding natio­na­li­ty (the English) while the English in Qué­bec often claims colo­ni­sed sta­tus at the hands of these very same people, who feel colo­ni­sed by the rest of English Cana­da. While all these white colo­nial sub­jects argue about who colo­ni­sed whom first, the Indi­ge­nous peoples, who were colo­ni­sed by both groups, are left out of the equa­tion. This dis­so­lu­tion of a clear­ly defi­ned nation-state has led some to call Cana­da the first post-modern State. Charles Levin, for example, uses the quan­da­ries posed by the ambi­gui­ties as a salient example of the conse­quences of exis­ting in these post­mo­dern circumstances:

Although Cana­da is offi­cial­ly a “dua­li­ty”, the num­ber of pos­sible Cana­dian nations is far grea­ter, since not only the pro­vince of Qué­bec, but all the pro­vinces secret­ly want to become “inde­pendent”. Moreo­ver, the Abo­ri­gi­nals are divi­ded among them­selves over how many nations they com­prise, and whe­ther these belong to Cana­da, or to some lar­ger abo­ri­gi­nal nation which is also part of Cana­da, though not actual­ly belon­ging to it. Each of this gro­wing num­ber of nations wants to have nothing to do with the others: and each bit­ter­ly opposes the attempts of the others to leave.20

Recent cine­ma in Qué­bé­cois culture has been as a site where radi­cal­ly shif­ting notions of Qué­bé­cois natio­nal iden­ti­ty in the twen­tieth cen­tu­ry have been publi­cly nego­tia­ted within a new­ly recon­fi­gu­red, hybri­di­zed public sphere. Many types of media and dis­courses feed the public sphere itself and the rise of both new forms of a Qué­bé­cois ima­gi­na­ry and of Indi­ge­nous media has allo­wed for new, yet at times contra­dic­to­ry dis­courses in the public sphere. Cana­dian phi­lo­so­pher Charles Tay­lor des­cribes the mass media­ted public sphere in the fol­lo­wing man­ner, which pro­vides one with a salient map of how these new kinds of re-ima­gi­na­tions are mediated:

What is a public sphere? I want to des­cribe it as a com­mon space in which the mem­bers of socie­ty meet, through a varie­ty of media (print, elec­tro­nic) and also in face-to-face encoun­ters, to dis­cuss mat­ters of com­mon inter­est; and thus to be able to form a com­mon mind about those mat­ters. I say “a com­mon space” because, although the media are mul­tiple, as well as the exchanges taking place in them, they are dee­med to be in prin­ciple inter-com­mu­ni­ca­ting. The dis­cus­sion we may be having on tele­vi­sion right now takes account of what was said in the news­pa­per this mor­ning, which in turn reports on the radio debate of yes­ter­day, and so on.21

In this model, Québec’s new­ly for­ming, hybri­di­zed culture of nos­tal­gia includes Indi­ge­nous peoples, fran­co­phones of Euro­pean des­cent and immi­grants as active par­ti­ci­pants in the crea­tion and dis­se­mi­na­tion of the cultu­ral mea­nings of texts through a re-ima­gi­na­tion of, and enga­ge­ment with, new arti­cu­la­tions of an alter­na­tive public sphere. A key example of this new form of hybri­di­zed ima­gi­na­tion is found in the work of the Inuit film col­lec­tive Arnait, which bridges both Qué­bé­cois and Inuit cultu­ral for­ma­tions in a new, hybri­di­zed form.22 Arnait Video Pro­duc­tion Col­lec­tive is loca­ted in Igloo­lik, Nuna­vut. The first women’s Inuit film­ma­king col­lec­tive, Arnait arose both as an off-shoot of, and a res­ponse to, Isu­ma Igloo­lik Pro­duc­tions. Foun­ded in 1991, the col­lec­tive engages in the col­lec­tive pro­duc­tion of films and videos from Inuit women’s pers­pec­tives. Arnait’s foun­ders, Marie-Hélène Cou­si­neau, a Fran­co-Qué­bé­coise from Mont­réal, and Made­line Piu­juq Iva­lu, an Inuk from Igloo­lik, col­la­bo­rate on most of Arnait’s pro­duc­tions, in spite of the fact that they did not have a sha­red lan­guage bet­ween them at the ini­tia­tion of the col­lec­tive. Other impor­tant players in this col­lec­tive are Elder Susan Avin­gaq (exe­cu­tive pro­du­cer, wri­ter and set desi­gner) and Lucy Tulu­gar­juq (pro­du­cer, direc­tor, actor and wri­ter). More recent­ly, Arnait has also been invol­ved in ano­ther kind of inter­cul­tu­ral sha­ring through the archi­ving, dig- iti­zing and reme­dia­tion of their works through the Depart­ment of Film and Media’s Vul­ne­rable Media Lab at Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty (the Arnait archive is depo­si­ted in the Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty Archive) and through the SSHRC fun­ded Archi­ve/­Coun­ter-Archive pro­ject. This col­la­bo­ra­tion bet­ween the Inuit col­lec­tive and the aca­de­mic world enhances the visi­bi­li­ty of the col­lec­tive in aca­de­mic net­works and beyond. This ini­tia­tive has faci­li­ta­ted mul­tiple events, such as cura­ted scree­nings and work­shops with the Elders, as well as an exhi­bi­tion of their works at the Queen’s Agnes Ethe­ring­ton Art Centre in 2020. These events have led to aca­de­mic and com­mu­ni­ty-based outreach fore­groun­ding Arnait’s vast diver­si­ty of works.

Arnait has direc­ted, pro­du­ced and co-pro­du­ced over twen­ty works since its foun­ding. Howe­ver, two of their fea­ture films are of spe­cial inter­est in our ana­ly­sis of hybri­di­zed culture in Qué­bec: Before Tomor­row and Uvan­ga. Before Tomor­row is set in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and tells a fic­tio­nal sto­ry, recoun­ting the tra­gic effects of a small­pox out­break in Nuna­vik. The film is based on Jørn Riel’s Danish novel Før Mor­gen­da­gen (1975), which is set in pre­mo­dern Green­land. Arnait adap­ted this novel because of the plot’s reso­nance with the local expe­rience of colo­nia­lism and because of the ways in which the film pro­vi­ded an oppor­tu­ni­ty to expose a tan­gible connec­tion to his­to­ri­cal and ongoing inter­changes bet­ween the Inuit of the east coast of Cana­da and the Inuit of wes­tern Green­land. Debates about cultu­ral trans­fer and lan­guage poli­cy are impli­cit in Arnait’s adap­ta­tion of Riel’s work. Cou­si­neau read Riel’s novel in French as it had not been trans­la­ted to English (or, for that mat­ter, Inuk­ti­tut or Green­lan­dic). Cou­si­neau, moreo­ver, does not speak Inuk­ti­tut, while Iva­lu and seve­ral other Arnait contri­bu­tors do not speak English or French. Contem­po­ra­ry Qué­bé­cois lan­guage debates, tied to the poli­tics of the nation-state and of the pure laine Fran­co-Qué­bé­cois, are thus impli­cit­ly chal­len­ged by Before Tomor­row. The mul­tiple lan­guages of Arnait’s crea­tive culture, reflec­ted in the gene­sis and pro­duc­tion of Before Tomor­row, pro­ble­ma­tize the debates sur­roun­ding lan­guage that have played a cen­tral role in Québec’s sta­tus in Cana­da since the late 1950s and the kinds of often unques­tio­ned assump­tions of inclu­sion and exclu­sion that emerge from this kind of cultu­ral ima­gi­na­ry. In the film, lan­guage bar­riers are trans­cen­ded through other forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In fact, Before Tomor­row contains rela­ti­ve­ly lit­tle dia­logue: what is shown is far more impor­tant than what is said. Arnait’s pro­cess-orien­ted pro­duc­tion stra­te­gies thus appear to over­come the limi­ta­tions posed by entren­ched debates about lan­guage. The recep­tion of Before Tomor­row the­re­by reflects the emergent pro­cesses of cultu­ral hybri­di­ty in Qué­bec, though not without pro­blems. For ins­tance, Before Tomor­row was not selec­ted for the Édi­tion 2008 de la semaine du Ciné­ma du Qué­bec à Paris, as it was not consi­de­red repre­sen­ta­tive of Qué­bé­cois film­ma­king, though fun­ded in part through the Qué­bec pro­vin­cial govern­ment, co-direc­ted by a Qué­bé­coise and set in nor­thern Qué­bec. The issue at stake, accor­ding to Cou­si­neau, was one of lan­guage: as the film was not shot in French, it was not suf­fi­cient­ly “Qué­bé­cois” to represent the pro­vince. Des­pite this lack of qua­si-state sanc­tio­ned recog­ni­tion, its pro­duc­tion prac­tices and themes reso­nate high­ly with the new-found prac­tices of ima­gi­na­tion a Qué­bé­cois nation tied to the land, reco­gni­zing the Indi­ge­nous Other and map­ping the two cultures’ sha­red tra­jec­to­ries and trau­mas through his­to­ri­cal re-telling.

This prac­tice of hybri­di­za­tion and re-ima­gi­na­tion is also present in Arnait’s second fea­ture Uvan­ga. The film is set in contem­po­ra­ry Igloo­lik, empha­si­zing eth­nic and cultu­ral hybri­di­ty, insi­der-out­si­der iden­ti­ty poli­tics, inter-gene­ra­tio­nal lear­ning and pas­sing on of tra­di­tions and the jux­ta­po­si­tion of metro­po­li­tan Canadian/Québécois moder­ni­ty with lived expe­riences in a Nuna­vut small town. In this way, it evokes mecha­nisms com­mon to many mino­ri­ta­rian and Indi­ge­nous cine­mas as well as it reflects staples of Qué­bé­cois art-cine­ma, name­ly the tropes of the “voyage of dis­co­ve­ry,” har­ke­ning back to les voya­geurs, and the road movie. The co-direc­tors express that their film has inten­tio­nal and direct connec­tions with contem­po­ra­ry life as expe­rien­ced by them and others:

The cha­rac­ters […] were not ins­pi­red by anyone in par­ti­cu­lar, but there are many fami­lies like theirs in the world today: sepa­ra­ted, mixed-blood chil­dren dis­co­ve­ring their roots and iden­ti­ties; Grand­pa­rents connec­ting with new­ly found Grand­chil­dren; and adults trying to mend bro­ken rela­tion­ships. This sto­ry could have taken place anyw­here, but the one we are tel­ling takes place in the North in a remote com­mu­ni­ty on Baf­fin Island.23

As Mont­réa­laise Anna returns North with her tee­nage son Tomas to visit Tomas’s fami­ly, wounds are ope­ned as Tomas, Anna and the com­mu­ni­ty are for­ced to revi­sit the cir­cum­stances sur­roun­ding the death of Tomas’s father Caleb. The film’s ope­ning does not make this clear, howe­ver; like Tomas, the vie­wer is left on the out­side to learn as events unfold who is who in the com­mu­ni­ty as well as what the road and object of dis­co­ve­ry will be: the film, then, is as much a nar­ra­tive jour­ney as it is about new­found notions of hybri­di­zed iden­ti­ty. As such, as vie­wers, we are consis­tent­ly asked to refute such spec­ta­cu­la­ri­za­tion as we wit­ness the land­scape first via a plane’s arri­val at an air­field, and then through the smud­ged win­dows of a car. These cine­ma­to­gra­phic stra­te­gies are indi­ca­tive of the film’s non-jud­ge­men­tal and non-mora­li­zing ethi­cal stance: vie­wers are offe­red a com­po­site of hybri­di­zed pers­pec­tives, and though these pers­pec­tives may be ascri­bed to par­ti­cu­lar view­points, their amal­ga­ma­tion and simul­ta­neous co-exis­tence is repea­ted­ly empha­si­zed as cen­tral to the rea­li­ty that the film seeks to embo­dy. Uvan­ga also contri­butes to the recon­cep­tua­li­za­tion of dis­courses of culture and heri­tage and how they ope­rate in Indi­ge­nous film­ma­king. Moreo­ver, the works of Arnait func­tion as a means to deli­neate new forms of connec­tion and nos­tal­gia, map­ping out both a series of links bet­ween Inuit and Québécois/Canadian his­to­ries, while simul­ta­neous­ly paying atten­tion to details of dif­fe­rence and reco­gni­zing the colo­nial his­to­ry that lies at the heart of the rela­tion­ship bet­ween the two peoples.

Simi­lar works are now emer­ging in Qué­bec. Yves Sioui-Durand’s pro­duc­tion Mes­nak (2011), the first fea­ture-length Indi­ge­nous film made in Qué­bec, also pro­poses a form of hybri­di­zed iden­ti­ty through the sto­ry of a young Indi­ge­nous boy who, having been rai­sed by a Qué­bé­cois fami­ly in Mont­réal, decides to tra­vel to the reserve of Kino­ga­mish to get to know his estran­ged mother. Ins­pi­red by the clas­sic Sha­kes­pea­rian dra­ma Ham­let (1603), the play­wright-tur­ned-film­ma­ker Sioui-Durand indi­ge­nizes the tra­gic sto­ry of the Prince of Den­mark in order to reflect the contem­po­ra­ry rea­li­ties of life on an Indi­ge­nous reserve. In doing so, all the ele­ments of the tra­di­tio­nal Innu culture are incor­po­ra­ted in an aes­the­tic where the old and the new inter­sect. Ele­ments such as spirituality—and more spe­ci­fi­cal­ly rela­tion­ships to the decea­sed and connec­tion to the ter­ri­to­ry (shown through ear­thy tones of orange and brown)—coexist with more recent mar­kers of Indi­ge­nous life (i.e. conse­quences of colo­nia­lism) in a com­mu­ni­ty: cor­rup­tion, alco­ho­lism, drug usage, vio­lence, sui­cide and sexual abuse. The lan­guages used by the protagonists—who jump from French to Innu in a second’s notice—mirror a desire to be heard by a wide and diverse set of publics, all the while remai­ning fai­th­ful to the land they are spo­ken on. The constant move­ment back and forth bet­ween French and Innu also conveys the rea­li­ty of youn­ger gene­ra­tions, who juggle with the two lan­guages in order to bet­ter fit into a tech­no­lo­gi­zed world, where the voca­bu­la­ry of the land is no lon­ger enough to insure emo­tio­nal and phy­si­cal sur­vi­val. Fea­tu­ring an all-Indi­ge­nous cast, as well as a Qué­bé­cois and Indi­ge­nous pro­duc­tion team who fil­med on Innu ter­ri­to­ry, Mes­nak is des­cri­bed by Indi­ge­nous film cri­tic André Dude­maine as a “well-roun­ded tale offe­ring a mythic-poli­ti­cal pers­pec­tive of com­mit­ment, in accor­dance with Indi­ge­nous tra­di­tion and present-day exi­gen­cies.”24 The­re­fore, the iden­ti­ty quest pre­sen­ted in the sto­ry has less to do with the desire to go back to tra­di­tio­nal ways of life than it has with the abi­li­ty to feel this sym­bo­lic sense of coming home through values such as fami­ly, com­mu­ni­ty and phy­si­cal and emo­tio­nal secu­ri­ty. The ter­ri­to­ry is no lon­ger roman­ti­ci­zed as it was—and some­times still is—by non-Indi­ge­nous film­ma­kers. Ins­tead, it is seen for what it is: a space that allows one to recon­nect with culture and lan­guage. In the same way that the Indi­ge­nous Other pre­sen­ted itself as a mir­ror for the colonized/colonizing white film­ma­ker, the tale of Ham­let creates connec­tions bet­ween Indi­ge­nous and non-Indi­ge­nous iden­ti­ties through ahy­bri­di­zed re-ima­gi­na­tion of the Indi­ge­nous Self.

Alter­na­tive media prac­tices also inform us of ways in which Indi­ge­nous peoples in Qué­bec recon­nect with the land without a return to the mytho­lo­gi­cal and colo­nial nos­tal­gia of white set­tler Qué­bé­cois film­ma­kers. For example, scrol­ling through the incre­dible body of work (docu­men­ta­ry and fic­tion) pro­du­ced by the film­ma­kers of the Wapi­ko­ni Mobile, we find that themes such as cultu­ral re-appro­pria­tion, hea­ling, as well as fami­ly and com­mu­ni­ty dyna­mics are at the heart of many Wapi­ko­ni pro­duc­tions. 25 The trai­ning pro­gram is built to ins­pire Indi­ge­nous youth to create and tell their own sto­ries, using contem­po­ra­ry tools and indi­ge­ni­zing them, not sim­ply copying mains­tream styles of film­ma­king. Through films such as Wabak (Kevin Papa­tie, 2008), Blo­cus 138-Innu Resis­tance (Réal Junior Leblanc, 2012) and La ton­sure (Meki Otta­wa, 2012) emerges a will to heal both past and present scars that can be cured through sto­ry­tel­ling and remem­brance. In these short films, ter­ri­to­ry is also seen as a space for hea­ling, not only because it holds the sto­ries of the past but most­ly because of its poten­tial to bring contem­po­ra­ry tales to life. For these Indi­ge­nous youth, the sym­bo­lic home of the soul can be found in the use of the medium, the came­ra func­tio­ning as a modern-day tal­king stick (a tra­di­tio­nal ins­tru­ment of Indi­ge­nous demo­cra­cy) allo­wing them to speak up, tell their sto­ries and make their voices heard.26

The explo­sion of hybri­di­zed pro­duc­tions over the last few years in Qué­bec, the­re­fore, does not speak to a firm­ly re-ima­gi­ned iden­ti­ty, but to its ongoing and pro­duc­tive des­ta­bi­li­za­tion, which can be tra­ced back to the rise of both the quest for inter­na­tio­nal mar­kets and trans­na­tio­na­lism and to the concur­rent but per­haps somew­hat para­doxi­cal and com­plex re-ima­gi­na­tion of inclu­sion.27 In fin­ding new connec­tions and new nostalgias—looking simul­ta­neous­ly inward and outward—Québécois and Indi­ge­nous cine­mas do not sim­ply strive in a neo-libe­ral man­ner for new forms of inclu­sion: they speak to the ongoing radi­cal insta­bi­li­ty of iden­ti­ty and natio­nal ima­gi­ning. By pos­tu­la­ting the cen­tral role of hybri­di­ty in the new notion of “the Qué­bé­cois”, they also recon­fi­gure many of the entren­ched col­lec­ti­vist myths about Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty. Under­cut­ting col­lec­tive, homo­ge­nous myths is not some­thing that must only hap­pen in Qué­bec because of its his­to­ry of inha­bi­ting and ima­gi­ning the posi­tion of both colo­ni­zer and colo­ni­zed, but also because iden­ti­ties them­selves are never stable, col­lec­tive nor unchan­ging. By reco­gni­zing the chan­ging nature of Qué­bé­cois iden­ti­ty, these films also point to new forms of coa­li­tio­nal poli­tics of sha­red inter­ests, while ack­now­led­ging deco­lo­ni­za­tion and the hie­rar­chies that none­the­less under­pin these rela­tion­ships. Howe­ver, the sense of sear­ching for a new sense of Self and self-unders­tan­ding, so cen­tral to all these films, speaks to the fact that the indi­vi­dual, like the nation, is always in a state of becoming.

Authors Bio­gra­phies
Karine Ber­trand
is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Film and Media depart­ment of Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty and co-direc­tor, with Flo­rian Gran­de­na (UOt­ta­wa) of the inter-uni­ver­si­ty research group EPIC (Esthé­tique et poli­tique de l’image ciné­ma­to­gra­phique). Her research inter­ests are cen­te­red around Indi­ge­nous cine­ma and deco­lo­ni­za­tion, Que­bec cine­ma and memo­ry, contem­po­ra­ry road movies and women on the road and trans­na­tio­nal cine­mas. Her latest publi­ca­tions include a book chap­ter on resur­gence in Indi­ge­nous women’s cine­ma (Win­ton and Clax­ton, 2023) on the works of film­ma­ker Caro­line Mon­net (Pano­ra­ma Ciné­ma, 2023) as well as in Indi­ge­nous women’s tes­ti­mo­nies (Rava­ry-Pilon et Conto­gou­ris, Vigi­lantes, 2022) on the rock group U2 (Mac­ken­zie and Iver­sen, 2021) and on the explo­ra­tion of Indi­ge­nous lands (Cahill and Cami­na­ti, 2020) as well as an article on Caro­line Monnet’s expe­ri­men­tal work (Pano­ra­ma Ciné­ma, 2023) an article on the writ­ten word in contem­po­ra­ry Qué­bec films (Área Abier­ta, 2019) and an article on Qué­bé­cois cine­ma and Amé­ri­ca­ni­té (Ame­ri­can Review of Cana­dian Stu­dies, 2019).

Scott Mac­Ken­zie is Pro­fes­sor and Head, Depart­ment of Film and Media, Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty. His books include: Cine­ma and Nation (w/Mette Hjort, Rout­ledge, 2000); Puri­ty and Pro­vo­ca­tion: Dog­ma 95 (w/Mette Hjort, BFI, 2003); Scree­ning Qué­bec (Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004); The Per­ils of Peda­go­gy: The Works of John Grey­son (w/Brenda Long­fel­low and Tho­mas Waugh, McGill-Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013); Film Mani­fes­tos and Glo­bal Cine­ma Cultures (Uni­ver­si­ty of Cali­for­nia Press, 2014); Films on Ice: Cine­mas of the Arc­tic (w/Anna Sten­port, Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2015); Arc­tic Envi­ron­men­tal Moder­ni­ties (w/Anna Sten­port and Lill-Ann Kör­ber, Pal­grave, 2017); Arc­tic Cine­mas and the Docu­men­ta­ry Ethos (w/ Anna Sten­port and Lilya Kaga­novs­ky, India­na Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019); Pro­cess Cine­ma: Hand­made Film in the Digi­tal Age (w/Janine Mar­ches­sault, McGill-Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019); Map­ping the Rocku­men­ta­ry: Images of Sound and Fury (w/Gunnar Iver­sen, Edin­burgh Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2021) and New Arc­tic Cine­mas: Media Sove­rei­gn­ty and the Cli­mate Cri­sis (w/Anna Sten­port, for­th­co­ming, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cali­for­nia Press, 2023).


  1. Pierre Per­rault, L’oumigmatique ou l’objectif docu­men­taire (Mont­réal: l’Hexagone, 1995), 16–17.
  2. Chris­tian Poi­rier, Le ciné­ma qué­bé­cois: à la recherche d’une iden­ti­té? Tome 1‒L’imaginaire fil­mique (Qué­bec: Presses de l’Université du Qué­bec, 2004), 23.
  3. Resi­den­tial schools for Abo­ri­gi­nal people in Cana­da date back to the 1870s. Over 130 resi­den­tial schools were loca­ted across the coun­try and the last school clo­sed in 1996. During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit chil­dren were pla­ced in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were for­bid­den to speak their lan­guage and prac­tice their own culture. The Truth and Recon­ci­lia­tion Com­mis­sion of Cana­da has a man­date to learn the truth about what hap­pe­ned in the resi­den­tial schools and to inform all Cana­dians about what hap­pe­ned in them.
  4. Gas­ton Des­chênes, “La devise ‘Je me Sou­viens’,” Ency­clo­pé­die de l’Agora (2012), http://agora. qc.ca/documents/quebec_-etat–la_devise_je_me_souviens_par_gaston_deschenes (consul­ted on 5 Janua­ry 2019).
  5. Des­chênes, “La devise ‘Je me Souviens’”.
  6. 7 Syl­vie Vincent, “Iden­ti­té qué­bé­coise: l’angle mort. Syn­thèse des textes de Rémi Savard publiés dans les jour­naux,” Recherches amé­rin­diennes au Qué­bec 40.1–2 (2010): 13–24.
  7. Vincent, “Iden­ti­té qué­bé­coise: l’angle mort,” 16.
  8. Vincent, “Iden­ti­té qué­bé­coise: l’angle mort,” 16.
  9. Hélène Des­trempes and Hans-Jür­gen Lüsen­brink, “Images de l’Amérindien au Cana­da fran­co- phone: lit­té­ra­ture et image,” Tan­gence no. 85 (2007): 6.
  10. John Ral­ston Saul, A Fair Coun­try: Tel­ling Truths about Cana­da (Toron­to: Pen­guin, 2008), 6.
  11. Chris Ander­sen, Métis: Race, Recog­ni­tion, and the Struggle for Indi­ge­nous Peo­ple­hood  (Van­cou­ver: Uni­ver­si­ty of Bri­tish Colum­bia Press, 2014), 5–6.
  12. Dar­ryl Leroux, “Self-Made Métis,” Mai­son­neuve, Quar­ter­ly of Arts, Opi­nion and Ideas (2018), https://maisonneuve.org/article/2018/11/1/self-made-metis/ (consul­ted on 27 Janua­ry 2022), and Bren­da Mac­dou­gall “The Power of Legal and His­to­ri­cal Fiction(s): The Daniels Deci­sion and the Endu­ring Influence of Colo­nial Ideo­lo­gy,” The Inter­na­tio­nal Indi­ge­nous Poli­cy Jour­nal 7.3 (2016): 6.
  13. Ander­sen, Métis, 11.
  14. Mac­dou­gall “The Power of Legal and His­to­ri­cal Fiction(s),” 6.
  15. This sta­te­ment comes from John Bor­rows and is found on the back cover of the English edi­tion of Les Bois-Brû­lés de l’Outaouais. Une étude eth­no­cul­tu­relle des Métis de la Gati­neau, Michel Bou­chard, Sébas­tien Malette and Guillaume Mar­cotte, eds. (Qué­bec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2019).
  16. Sébas­tien Malette, “The Eas­tern Métis and the ‘Nega­tio­nism’ of Pro­fes­sor Leroux: ‘Aia­bi­ta­wi­sid­jik wi mika­kik’,” Voya­geur Heri­tage (2017), https://voyageurheritage.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/ the-eas­tern-metis-and-nega­tio­nism-in-the-aca­de­my/ (consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  17. René Lemieux, “Tout est à refaire: cri­tique du docu­men­taire L’empreinte,” Tra­hir (2015), https://trahir.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/lemieux-empreinte/ (consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  18. Chel­sea Vowel, “Set­tlers clai­ming Métis heri­tage because they just feel more Indi­ge­nous,”  Rabble.ca (2015), https://rabble.ca/indigenous/settlers-claiming-metis-heritage-because-they-  just-feel-more (consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  19. Mar­tin Allor, “Cultu­ral métis­sage: Natio­nal For­ma­tions and Pro­duc­tive Dis­course in Que­bec Cine­ma and Tele­vi­sion,” Screen 34.1 (1993): 74.
  20. Charles Levin, “Cana­da as an Uni­den­ti­fied His­to­ri­cal Object of Inter­na­tio­nal Signi­fi­cance,” in Jean Bau­drillard: A Stu­dy in Cultu­ral Meta­phy­sics (Lon­don: Pren­tice-Hall, 1996), 201.
  21. Charles Tay­lor, Phi­lo­so­phi­cal Argu­ments (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1995), 259.
  22. Scott Mac­Ken­zie and Anna Wes­ters­tahl Sten­port, “Arnait Video Pro­duc­tions: Inuit Women’s  Col­lec­tive Film­ma­king, Coa­li­tio­nal Poli­tics, and a Glo­ba­li­zed Arc­tic,” Came­ra Obs­cu­ra: Femi­nism, Culture, and Media Stu­dies 31.3 (2016): 153–163. See also Karine Ber­trand, “Le col- lec­tif Arnait Video Pro­duc­tions et le ciné­ma enga­gé des femmes inuit: gué­ri­son com­mu­nau­taire et mémoire cultu­relle,” Revue cana­dienne de lit­té­ra­ture com­pa­rée, 44.1 (2017): 36–53.
  23. See the director’s note on the Uvan­ga web­site, http://www.arnaitvideo.ca/uvanga.html (con- sul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  24. André Dude­maine, “Ce que racontent les pay­sages,” 24 Images no. 155 (2011–2012): 43.
  25. Often des­cri­bed as a socio-cultu­ral inter­ven­tion pro­ject, The Wapi­ko­ni Mobile is a nomad film and music stu­dio crea­ted by docu­men­ta­ry film­ma­ker Manon Bar­beau in 2004. The Wapi­ko­ni Mobile has been tra­vel­ling to Indi­ge­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Que­bec and beyond since 2004, giv- ing Indi­ge­nous youth the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make short films or music videos on a sub­ject of their choice. The Wapi­ko­ni short films are avai­lable for vie­wing online on the studio’s web­site: http:/www.wapikoni.ca/ (consul­ted on 15 Janua­ry 2022).
  26. Although the tal­king stick has been used in many indi­ge­nous cultures, it is often asso­cia­ted with the Nor­th­west Coast Indi­ge­nous Nations. In the context of this article, the use of the term tal­king stick comes from Indi­ge­nous film­ma­ker Kevin Papa­tie, who once decla­red that for him, the movie came­ra is a modern-day tal­king stick, as can be read in Karine Ber­trand, “Kevin Papa­tie et le renou­vel­le­ment de la langue algon­quine à l’écran,” Inter­mé­dia­li­tés no. 4 “Re-dire” (Fall 2011): 1–7.
  27. Scott Mac­Ken­zie, Scree­ning Qué­bec: Qué­bé­cois Moving Images, Natio­nal Iden­ti­ty and the Public Sphere (Man­ches­ter: Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004), 171–180.