The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has pulled Michelle Latimer’s documentary Inconvenient Indian from distribution.
“After engaging with the Indigenous participants who appear on screen, the NFB’s Indigenous Advisory Group, and industry partners, the NFB, 90th Parallel Productions and producer Jesse Wente have decided to withdraw Inconvenient Indian from active distribution,” the NFB said in a statement today (December 22).
The move means the film will no longer play film festivals, including the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in January.
“Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to dialogue and engage with Indigenous communities to explore an accountable path forward for the film,” the NFB statement continues.
“The NFB is committed to the On-Screen Protocols & Pathways developed by imagineNATIVE and the guidelines of the Indigenous Screen Office, and remains dedicated to the principle that Indigenous stories must be told by Indigenous creators,” it adds.
The NFB decision follows a December 17 CBC News investigation that cast doubts over Latimer’s claim to Indigenous identity.
Latimer posted an apology on Facebook that said she made a mistake by claiming a connection to the community Kitigan Zibi without formally verifying the linkage.
She also resigned from season two of the B.C.–set CBC TV series Trickster, which Latimer cowrote, coproduced, and directed. Co-showrunner Tony Elliot and consulting producer Danis Goulet have also left the series.
B.C.–based Eden Robinson, who is of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations and whose novel Son Of A Trickster was the basis for the series, took to social media to express her disappointment in recent revelations regarding Latimer’s identity.
“I don’t know how to deal with the anger, disappointment, and stress,” Robinson said, adding that she will be donating future residuals from the CBC series to the Haisla Language Authority.
CBC reporters Ka’nhehsí:io Deer and Jorge Barrera began pursuing rumours that surfaced regarding Latimer’s identity within the Indigenous community in August.
According to the report, people began questioning Latimer’s identity just as she was being celebrated as an Indigenous creator for directing Trickster and the documentary Inconvenient Indian.
The CBC interviewed prominent Elder Claudette Commanda, who comes from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg community, where Latimer claims her grandfather comes from.
“Why is it that they just want the fame and glory, but they don’t want the struggles that come with it?” Commanda said.
Commanda stressed the importance of reaching out to connect with the community and doing research to verify a claim to Indigenous identity before claiming it or profiting from it.
The CBC also reports findings from genealogist and researcher Dominique Ritchot, which contradict Latimer’s claims to the community. She independently reconstructed Latimer’s genealogy based on documentation, finding two Indigenous ancestors dating back to the 17th century.
In a statement posted on Facebook on December 17, Latimer provided an explanation about her grandfather’s connection to the Indigenous community and said she is having her own genealogy test conducted.
She also apologized for the fundamental mistake of not verifying her connection to the Kitigan Zibi.
“I understand that there is an important difference between having this ancestry verified by the community of Kitigan Zibi and having it named and validated by members of my own family.”
Indigenous Screen Office executive director Jesse Wente, who produced Inconvenient Indian, told CBC that he prioritizes healing.
“These issues are best resolved at the community level,” Wente told CBC, emphasizing the deep hurt a situation like this causes for Indigenous people. “I believe we must always centre healing above harm, even when we hold people accountable.”
Latimer has been both supportive of and supported by the Indigenous film community.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls actor Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs made a statement on social media outlining the differences between having Indigenous ancestry centuries removed and being Indigenous, reinforcing the importance of being claimed by and accountable to a specific clan or community.
“Latimer has received countless Indigenous grants, opportunities for Indigenous artists, is the showrunner on a major network programme and had two Indigenous projects premiere at TIFF this year,” wrote Jacobs, who is kanien’kehá:ka.
“It wounds me to learn that Michelle Latimer, the biggest Indigenous director in the country, is a white woman.”
Inconvenient Indian is an essay film based on author Thomas King’s book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America and explores representations of Indigenous people in pop culture. King narrates and appears in the documentary.
The film was set to screen at Sundance next month in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it won the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries and the Best Canadian Film prize, and it also screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it won the audience award for Most Popular Canadian Documentary.
The NFB has worldwide distribution rights for Inconvenient Indian, which covers theatrical, festival, digital (including VOD), non-theatrical, in-flight, educational, and broadcast releases.
Bell Media-owned streaming platform Crave is also a producer on Inconvenient Indian.
“Inconvenient Indian is not currently scheduled to air on Crave,” a representative for the platform said in a statement.
With files from Craig Takeuchi.