Jennifer Podemski Storytelling Masterclass – Yorkton Film Festival

Awakening to Indigenous Narrative Sovereignty

As a white settler on the journey of allyship and anti-racism, I strive to use my voice and privilege to amplify Indigenous leaders and their vital work of decolonization. When I attended Jennifer Podemski’s powerful masterclass, I was immensely humbled and educated on the revolutionary concept of narrative sovereignty for media and storytelling.

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

Authentic Indigenous Narratives

Jennifer Podemski is reshaping the media landscape with her dedication to Indigenous storytelling. From the impactful Moccasin Flats to the acclaimed Little Bird, her work is a testament to her commitment to authenticity and respect in Indigenous narratives. It’s her core values and mission to uplift these stories that make her a standout force in the industry, ensuring they are told with the integrity they deserve.

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

Core Values

Narrative Sovereignty

At the heart of Podemski’s mission lives an unwavering belief in the importance of narrative sovereignty – the vital concept that Indigenous stories must be reclaimed from the harm of colonial propaganda and filtered through the authentic lens of Indigenous peoples themselves.

“I made a decision when I was 20…I thought propaganda got us here. And, you know, storytelling with authentic storytelling will get us out of it,” she proclaimed.

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

For too long, Indigenous narratives have been co-opted, misrepresented, and twisted to uphold systemic racism and oppression. Podemski understands that revitalizing these stories is about the entire process of how they are developed, created, and shared. “It’s not just the story, it’s the process. They go together.”

Indigenous Ownership and Leadership

Podemski champions Indigenous ownership over projects involving Indigenous stories and characters as an inviolable principle. “If there is Indigenous content that is being made, it should never ever be allowed to be made unless it is a majority Indigenous owned.”

This stems from her own experiences as a young actor constantly being one of the only Indigenous voices on set or in the writers room, despite the Indigenous subject matter. “I never ever want to be the only Native in the room anymore.”

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

By advocating for Indigenous people to lead and own their narratives, Podemski is dismantling the white-centric power structures that have long suppressed authentic Indigenous storytelling.

Community Engagement and Upliftment

Another key pillar is Podemski’s emphasis on engaging and employing Indigenous communities as part of the creative process. On Moccasin Flats, she directly involved locals for training opportunities: “We had 30, I think 35 trainees on that show. The whole idea was like identifying the absence of Indigenous people in the sector…”

By embedding skills development and job creation, Podemski ensures the opportunities extend far beyond just the final product – it’s about empowering and nurturing the Indigenous creative workforce.

Leading with Kindness and Assertiveness

While Podemski leads with kindness, she also knows when to be firm. “I think it’s just really important to be a kind leader because there’s a lot of mean leaders,” she noted. But she also emphasized the importance of standing up for oneself: “Sometimes, being kind to yourself is more important in this situation. And that means being stern. And standing up for yourself and using your voice.”

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

Putting Values into Revolutionary Practice

Moccasin Flats

Podemski’s breakthrough series exemplified an Indigenous-run production from all angles: “It was owned, and operated, and created by, and…the community was such a big part of it.” Not only were Indigenous narratives at the forefront, but the entire process was steeped in community engagement and Indigenous upliftment.

Little Bird by Kris Krüg

Little Bird

Decades later, Little Bird dives headfirst into the heavy and complex legacy of the Sixties Scoop with unflinching honesty and cultural sensitivity. Podemski, knowing the deep impact of this narrative, made sure the production had solid support systems. “We needed a trauma therapist. We knew we needed a trauma therapist on set, um, for everybody,” she emphasized.

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

This wasn’t just a box-ticking exercise. By bringing in trauma therapists and cultural advisors, Podemski showed a genuine, all-in commitment to the well-being of everyone involved. This approach wasn’t just about respecting the weight of the story – it was about creating a space where the truth could be told authentically and respectfully, with everyone feeling supported and valued.

The Shine Network

Perhaps Podemski’s boldest embodiment of her values is the Shine Network, “dedicated to advancing the careers of Indigenous women within the screen, media, and creative arts.”

By fostering opportunities and mentorship, she is cultivating the next generation of Indigenous industry leaders who will forge an entertainment landscape rooted in narrative sovereignty.

Distant Drumming by Kris Krüg

An Inspirational Force

Podemski’s tireless advocacy and achievements like Little Bird’s 19 Canadian Screen Award nominations have cemented her status as an inspirational force for the Indigenous creative community.

“You’re like a big influence in my life…thank you for everything you do,” effused one emerging Indigenous filmmaker.

(Film still from Jennifer Podemski’s Little Bird)

Her ability to couple this uncompromising values-driven leadership with kindness and warmth is also noteworthy. As a non-Indigenous person, I was struck by Podemski’s wisdom in recognizing when kindness must give way to assertive truth-speaking in the fight to decolonize industry power structures.

The Path Forward

While celebrating her profound impact, Podemski acknowledges the battles still ahead to reach true narrative sovereignty:

“We as a community…I would have expected that there would be a lot more, or at least a core group of Indigenous owned production companies that could make content and be the leaders of the content going into the global market. I don’t think that’s true today.”

Akilla’s Escape by Kris Krüg

Yet she presses forward, eager to transpose her values into new frontiers like comedy while nurturing the Shine Network’s emerging generation of leaders.

As Podemski shares: “I’m excited to be in the comedy space for a little bit, dipping my tone into the comedy space.”

Awakening for This Settler

Attending Jennifer Podemski’s masterclass awakened me to the vital importance of narrative sovereignty in a way I hadn’t fully grasped before. While I cannot authentically spearhead or own this movement as a white settler, I have a responsibility to use my voice to amplify Indigenous leaders and be a committed ally in the decolonization of media narratives.

Fire Song by Kris Krüg

Podemski and the values she embodies – Indigenous ownership, culturally authentic processes, community empowerment, and the revolutionary power of storytelling to uplift suppressed truths – have profoundly inspired me to deeper awareness and action.

I can only hope that by uplifting visionary voices like hers, more non-Indigenous people will be catalyzed to listen, support, and join in the righteous struggle to transform our media and cultural landscapes. The path to collective liberation lies in the sovereignty of Indigenous narratives.

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