A PACT to do better
The Shine Network and the National Screen Institute team up to offer a free Indigenous cultural competency course, to boost equity on set and on screen
Jennifer Podemski (Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi) has been in Canada’s screen industry, both behind and in front of the camera, for 30 years, and she’s heard it all. She’s heard generalizations, misconceptions, and flat-out racist comments. She’s been asked to consult on BC First Nations content (she was raised in Toronto). She’s been asked, “Do you speak Indian?”
Thankfully, Podemski isn’t afraid to tackle a challenge head-on. It occurred to her that many sectors—healthcare, education, justice—offered cultural competency courses. The screen sector didn’t, and she thought “that was indicative of a space that is really in need of some change.” So, she brought that change.
Non-Indigenous stakeholders in the screen sector are now able to register for PACT (Pledge Activate Cultivate Thrive), an online cultural humility and competency certificate course that will prepare them to work with Indigenous partners and content. The program is the product of a partnership between Podemski’s Shine Network Institute, which develops and mentors Indigenous women in the sector, and the National Screen Institute. The course is fully funded by the federal government’s Department of Women and Gender Equality, and has been developed for, and is available to, everyone in the industry—free of charge.
The course takes approximately 35 minutes to complete, and covers the foundations of Indigenous history in Canada. It was carefully designed to reveal a participant’s unconscious bias in a constructive way—not to play “gotcha” or to shame the participant, but to help them reflect on their personal awareness and interpretations of Indigenous history and culture.
“Ultimately, it’s a basic 101 to reduce harm,” says Podemski. Part of that harm reduction has to do with ensuring Indigenous people on a set can focus on their job, rather than spending the majority of their time educating others or acting as the de facto cultural consultant: “We are [on set] in the capacity of the role that we are there to do—whether it be director, producer, writer, actor, set designer [or] costume designer. We are not there as your full-time Indigenous consultant.”
Joy Loewen, CEO of the National Screen Institute, says that her goal with PACT is that “every Indigenous person working in this industry, regardless of their role, feels safer, more confident, and like it’s no big thing, because they’re surrounded by people who acknowledge, appreciate and accept their contributions.”
And no matter how much EDI training you’ve already completed, PACT’s focus on Indigenous cultural competency is unique in the industry. Even Loewen, leader of an organization that has focused on raising up underrepresented storytellers, admits that the course showed her “it’s shocking and humbling what I don’t know” about Indigenous history and culture.
But that’s no cause for despair, for Loewen or anyone else. As Podemski says, “In this sector, people will be surprised by how little they know—and how easy it is to take a step forward.”