KIKINO - Métis youth throughout Kikino have been a part of a one-of-a-kind journey since last July to reclaim their heritage while learning about the arts through Tantoo Cardinal’s Tap Root Actors’ Academy.
Cardinal, a critically-acclaimed Canadian Métis actress, is known for television, stage and movie roles including the blockbuster films Dances with the Wolves and Legends of the Fall.
The Kikino connection comes 37 years after another area link to the well-respected actress — her leading role in the Canadian film Loyalties that was filmed in the Lac La Biche region in 1985.
Cardinal created the art academy in 2020, basing its operations in Kikino, to create authentic opportunities for youth in the film and arts industry. Kikino remains as the only production location for the unique acting academy.
“In my 50-plus years in this business, I have noticed the lack of focus on our stories; in this case, Métis stories,” the actress notes in the program’s online introduction. “We give our artists the experience of telling their own stories, as well as the experience of being part of someone else’s vision.”
Throughout the summer, over a dozen youth were immersed in creating and starring in two short films dedicated to sharing local Métis stories. The films premiered last Friday, said Grace Hardy, the academy’s coordinator and a founding member.
“The two films we created this summer actually used parts of stories that we heard from various families whose children were in our program…I think that those stories are at the heart of what we’re doing here,” she said.
The first film was Kikino Kids, a comedy written by the youth at the academy. The second short film was a thriller called Obscheenies. The final productions not only showcased the acting talents of the young academy members, says Hardy, but also their technical skills behind the camera. The young actors were also integral in the research for the storylines, she said, learning about their ancestral land and culture through seminars and Cree language lessons.
“We started our first week with teaching knowledge of our settlements and teaching knowledge of our community,” Hardy said, explaining that former Kikino Settlement Council chairperson and community Elder Floyd Thompson offered a lot of assistance. Other community members also shared input in sessions about community life and social events. “We wanted to sort of focus on prayers in regards to gatherings. We learned songs and words," says Hardy from Cree language educator and Elder Marge White.
Creating Tap Root
Along with the influences from Cardinal and a strong executive board, the Tap Root project has a lot of backing from the local and national film industry, said Hardy.
“Three years ago, we created the conception of the idea, we got mentored by people in the industry…we had some really great mentors to guide us along,” including Tina Keeper from North of 60 who helped the group learn how to approach partnerships in the industry, said Hardy.
Like the scroll of names at the end of a movie, Hardy says the people who need to be thanked are a long list, including documentarian Connor McNally, filmmaker Brock Davis Mitchell, Tap Root’s executive director Clayton Conroy, film director Barry Bilinsky and Kikino local film and acting student Spencer Blyan.
Considering the pilot project began throughout the pandemic, she says many industry professionals made time for the project, and with that support came a high level of skill and knowledge to the program.
Including Hardy who has worked in Vancouver as a makeup artist on music videos,the Discovery Channel and more.
Tap Root youth
Applying skills from industry professionals and learning more about how stories can be told through a Métis lens has been a valuable experience that has broken barriers, said Métis actress and Tap Root Academy youth member, Adrienne Lynis.
“We all got involved in acting, writing, in the background — we got involved in everything…and learning more about my culture that I didn’t know,” said Lynis, a 14-year old actor who starred in both Tap Root productions over the last year and said the experience provided an education on many levels. “We don’t really get to learn as much as we should and just having other people come in and tell us about that was great.”
The teenage actress says the Tap Root experience — her first acting performance in front of a camera— has helped her to find a passion for theatre. In the future, she plans on auditioning and utilizing the skills from the academy.
“I have learned how to be the character…study the character, and do the role the best you can,” she said. “Before Tap Root I was kind of into acting…but now, after Tap Root, it’s really something I want to do.”
Tap Root organizers are now planning the upcoming summer schedule for the next academy session in Kikino. It will cover the same message while growing the academy’s offerings for all Kikino youth, Hardy said.
“There is so much more to learn in regards to not necessarily just acting, but the industry and culture as well, we are going to continually promote that growth,” she said, highlighting the support of the Kikino community for the unique program’s success in bringing awareness to the industry and Métis culture.
“At its core, it is storytelling. Every film, actor, writer, and director is working together to share stories. So why not us? Why not Métis people or the youth of Kikino? Everybody has a story to tell or share.”
With grant funding, access to Hideaway Adventure Ground and Silver Birch lands for the academy's films and program, it was all possible, she said.
Premiere and streaming
The premiere of the short films was a private screening that was held at St.Paul’s Elite Theatre on Friday with an audience of invited guests.
There will be a public online premiere for both films on Sunday March 20 at 6 p.m. MST. beginning with Obscheenies followed by Kikino Kids. Both short films run for roughly 15 minutes and can be accessed on www.linktr.ee/TapRootAcademy.
The academy also plans to enter various film festivals soon.
More information about Tantoo Cardinal’s Tap Root Actors’ Academy at the Kikino Métis Settlement can be found at the project’s website www.taprootactorsacademy.com.