New show reveals why Indigenous representation in TV is important
A few weeks ago, I saw a post about a new show coming to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) streaming service called APTN Lumi on May 9. The show is titled Shadow of the Rougarou. Any Métis reading this should have some knowledge of the Rougarou, a creature akin to the werewolf of popular stories.
The series was directed by Jordan Waunch, a Métis performance artist and burgeoning filmmaker based out of Vancouver. Waunch has already directed several projects and has also acted as a producer. This project was produced by Sean Ronan and James Kingstone of Hammer and Tong Studios.
The moment I saw the title, I was intrigued. I love the stories of the Rougarou. However, when I went to its Instagram, I knew I had to watch the show the moment it came out. The bio reads, “1800s Métis horror series — hero returns to cursed valley that was once her home. Michif, Cree, & more spoken.” To my knowledge, there are no other shows on APTN Lumi that have Southern Michif, one of the heritage languages of the Métis, spoken. It is also one of very few shows that features Métis people.
On its release day, I logged into APTN Lumi and went to the show. The first season is short, each episode is only about six to eight minutes each. With six episodes, it is about 45 minutes altogether for the season. I was caught off guard, being used to the streaming service giants like Netflix that will release 10 hours of watching at once. However, the time did not matter, it is a beautifully done series.
The show follows a young woman, sâkowêw, played by Morgan Holmstrom and Isabel Deroy-Olson, who travels through a valley that she once called home, having flashbacks to her early life. These flashbacks follow a traumatic event where her grandfather tells her she must flee the valley. She cannot remember why she fled until a flashback in the final episode of the series pulls everything together. Spoiler alert: it involves the Rougarou.
The main antagonists of the show are a group of white wolf hunters, who tell sâkowêw that they heard rumours of a giant wolf in the valley with glowing red eyes. sâkowêw follows them into the valley where she and another Métis, a man by the name of Bruno, played by Métis actor Cody Kearsley, have a gunfight with the hunters.
Bruno is a central and interesting character to the show. He begins the series in the employ of the white wolf hunters, but eventually sides with sâkowêw in their rivalry. Where sâkowêw has a deep knowledge of trading, the land, the languages, and the culture; Bruno is the opposite. In a moment between the two characters Bruno explains to sâkowêw that his mother was Métis and taught him some of her culture. His white father, however, ensured that he didn’t retain much of it and didn’t learn any more.
Shadow of the Rougarou covers Métis legend, uses Michif and nehiyawewin languages, and briefly looks into the difference between Métis identities. It is a fantastic show, and as I watched it had me seriously thinking about the ways in which it presented Métis characters, then about how much I see Métis and other Indigenous representation in our media.
Obviously, Indigenous peoples, like many other marginalized groups, have been severely underrepresented in film and television. For most of the 21st century, non-Indigenous actors have taken Indigenous roles in popular film and TV on screen. These people take jobs away from Indigenous people and end up doing more harm than good when it comes to their portrayal of Indigenous cultures and people.
However, in the last few years especially, there has been an explosion of Indigenous-made films and TV that ensure proper representation, like Shadow of the Rougarou, or the popular show Reservation Dogs.
From our youngest age, our beliefs and values are impacted by what we see and hear, both from those who raise us, those around us, and in our media. It truly matters if we are only exposed to representation in culturally appropriate TV and movies like Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show and Louis Says, or if all we see are the harmful and offensive portrayals in movies like Peter Pan with the “Red Man.”
To have proper representation of culture in shows is extremely powerful. I have never heard of a show that captures Métis history and culture in such a positive and accurate way. That was not an accident. The show was created and came to life through Métis and other Indigenous people, who worked with Métis elders and knowledge keepers to ensure that what was being put in the show was accurate.
As Indigenous-led film and TV becomes more prevalent, and is done in a truly good way, there will be a meaningful impact on our peoples. Shadow of the Rougarou is a powerful beginning, and I cannot wait to see the projects that come next.