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Outside Looking In

Outside Looking In: Viewing First Nations Peoples in Canadian Dramatic Television Series

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    Outside Looking In
    Book Description:

    Using recent scholarship in ethnography and popular culture, Miller throws light on both what these series present and what is missing, how various long-standing issues are raised and framed differently over time, and what new issues appear. She looks at narrative arc, characterization, dialogue, and theme as well as how inflections of familiar genres like family adventure, soap opera, situation comedy, and legal drama shape both the series and viewers' expectations. Miller discusses Radisson, Forest Rangers and other children's series in the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as Beachcombers, Spirit Bay, The Rez, and North of 60 - series whose complex characters created rewarding relationships while dealing with issues ranging from addiction to unemployment to the aftermath of the residential school system.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7487-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents


    • ONE Introduction: Establishing the Boundaries of This Exploration
      (pp. 3-32)

      Start with this: White people should not tell First Nations stories. Anishnabe should not tell certain Dene stories. Read, listen to, or watch the particular work of a person who belongs to a family, a clan, a band, a nation – or two or many. The voice is not only individual and rooted in a specific place, time, and tradition; that voice creates an imaginative place that is often strange to those who do not live there. Not just strange in the way a story that catches the essence of Calgary is to a person who grew up in Toronto, but...

    • TWO “Who are you calling ethnic?”
      (pp. 33-61)

      In the opening chapter ofTelevision Criticism: Approaches and Applications(1991),Leah R Van de Berg and Lawrence A. Wenner have this to say about discourse analysis: “In cultural studies, discourse is defined … as a socially produced and conventionalized representation system which conveys a set of power relationships.” They quote John Fiske, who writes that the analysis of any discourse must include “‘its topic area, its social origin and its ideological work’” (29). But, as they also point out, “[W] hen writing criticism, in practice few essays rely on a pristine use of a single critical approach” (30). Their...

    • THREE “The North is where?”
      (pp. 62-72)

      As the last chapter demonstrated, however politically fraught the quest or contingent the result, the search for identity goes on within and among ethnicity, gender, race, class, and level of education, all the familiar demographic subsets and many others. But one of the important contributors to identity for most people is place. “Where are you from?” is the usual question when strangers meet abroad. The replies range from – “No kidding! I live down the road,” to “No, I don’t know your aunt in Calgary. Winnipeg is not that close and both are big cities.”

      Cities are where the majority of...


    • FOUR Background: From Pageant to Prime Time
      (pp. 75-84)

      Twenty-five years before television’s 1952 debut in Canada, during the early days of radio and silent movies, people still organized all kinds of fundraisers – elaborate garden parties with singers and a highland fling or two, school concerts, minstrel shows, and one-act plays – for local charities, churches, and more general causes, to entertain themselves and their neighbours. On a few very special occasions, such as the sixtieth anniversary of Confederation, a town committee would hire someone to write and direct a pageant. The Canadian makers ofRadisson, Hudson’s Bay, Forest Rangers,andAdventures in Rainbow Country(1957–71) would have seen...

    • FIVE Radisson: The Baseline Set in the 1950s
      (pp. 85-109)

      This is the only chapter that does not deal with programs I could view and then analyse. All of the anglophone episodes ofRadissonhave disappeared, and while the francophone versions may survive somewhere, I haven’t found them. Neither the French nor the English episodes are in the National Archives Sound and Moving Image Collection (now the Library and Archives of Canada). Nevertheless, as the first series featuring First Nations characters, this series deserves attention.Radissonwas a major effort, made only four years after the CBC began television broadcasts, and framed by reams of publicity.¹Radissonwas broadcast over...

    • SIX Other Early Children’s Series: The Context of the 1960s to 1980s
      (pp. 110-134)

      Why do the early series for families and children matter? I think that Ms McIntyre spoke for many on 16 March 1999 when she took the trouble to intervene at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s public consultation on the CBC /SRC. Her remarks are edited from the transcript of proceedings:¹

      And when there were such shows on television, on CBC, “[Adventures in] Rainbow Country” was one of the first TV shows that I saw that had First Nations actors not white guys painted to look native like Victor Mature, but First Nations actors. “The Beachcombers” was the next one,...

    • SEVEN The Beachcombers: Jesse Jim Matures as a Family Role Model
      (pp. 135-155)

      The Beachcombersappears in my bookTurn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama Since 1952(1987) at some length,¹ and another of my books,Rewind and Search(1996), contains interviews with Philip Keatley, the first executive producer, who gave the series many of its basic elements, and Don S. Williams, one of the subsequent executive producers. Both men had worked with sensitive aboriginal material before working onThe Beachcombers. When the show was cancelled, after its run from 1972 to 1990, the CBC did a retrospective of the series. According to a CBC broadcast in 2002, it had appeared in...

    • EIGHT Spirit Bay: An “All Indian” Series for Children
      (pp. 156-175)

      The BeachcombersandSpirit Bayoverlapped, butSpirit Baywas a very different series, with seven weekly episodes from 26 April 1986 to 7 June 1986 and then six weekly episodes from 7 December 1986 to 11 January 1987.² It was probably sold abroad. LikeThe Forest RangersandAdventures in Rainbow Country,it was made specifically for children and young teens. All thirteen episodes were about children who lived on the fictional Ojibway reserve of Spirit Bay.

      Up to that time, there had never been a series for adults or children that had an almost all aboriginal cast (one...

    • NINE The Rez: A Sitcom/Dramedy for 1990s Youth
      (pp. 176-206)

      The Rezis a very different series fromSpirit Bay.Made in the later 1990s for late-teen and young adult viewers, it is a “dramedy” offering few obvious lessons and defining Anishnabe values largely by inference. It has no honoured elders – “Mad Etta” is a highly ambivalent figure – few visible parents, and a much more adult range of topics. It is also one of a kind to date for prime time on a major network.

      Brian Maracle of the Onkewhone (Mohawk) comes from the Six Nations Grand River Territory, one of the oldest reserves in the country. InBack on...

    • TEN Fans and Genres and How They Intersect
      (pp. 207-226)

      Why do fans and genres belong together in one chapter? Because no one knows the rules of any particular genre format as well as an adult fan does, and any major inflection of the formula must persuade viewers who love the usual format that value has been added to the program. Such innovations often occur when a series is already established, more rarely early in its lifetime. Examples would include the episode ofM*A*S*Hthat was shot from a mute wounded soldier’s point of view and the less successful “it was all a dream” framing of a whole season of...


    • ELEVEN Set-up, or How North of 60 Was Framed
      (pp. 229-248)

      Patty Winter, list mom and maker of a superbNorth of 60website, wrote to me in a private email, 20 March 2002 (quoted with permission), about what she thought the appeal of the series was: “I think its primary appeal is to people who prefer character-driven rather than plot-driven series. Every character in the show was so realistic that a compelling storyline could easily be developed around any of them at any time. And there were always cultural conflicts between the Native and white residents (or visitors) that could be explored. As well, I suspect that the mystique of...

    • TWELVE Looking at Setting and Character in North of 60
      (pp. 249-280)

      Television has always been a collective art, even though it is produced by a hierarchy of people, both on set and off. Series television uses an even wider collective of people to work on a particular show over the years. The producers and executive producers look after logistics, cast the main roles, keep track of the series, and have the final say in the sound mix and the edit. The story editors, head writers, and writing team discuss with the producers, before, during, and after the season, where the basic narrative arcs are going. A bible for new and old...

    • THIRTEEN Focusing on a Selection of North of 60 Episodes
      (pp. 281-324)

      As we have seen, various kinds of stories are a vital element of First Nation cultures. Although Lynx River is portrayed as a village with strong traditional roots, storytelling and allusions to stories are a rather thin thread in the weave of life there – compared toSpirit Bay,for example. Storytelling does appear in Thomas King’s episodes and occasionally in Jordan Wheeler’s but rarely elsewhere. A television series cannot provide the texture of stories told by mothers to children, hunters to young men, elders to the community. But television tells its own stories. The episodes below were chosen because they...

    • FOURTEEN Exploring Issues and Themes in North of 60
      (pp. 325-364)

      Characters are the key elements that bring viewers back week after week in a series likeNorth of 60.Motifs enrich the episodes and tie the narrative arcs together, but stories are the backbone of hour-long television series. What often characterizes CBC television drama is its docudrama flavour and texture, reflected in the casting, in the locations, sometimes in the shooting style, and above all in the topical issues that are foregrounded in the stories.North of 60was charged (unfairly, in my view) with being glum. The series does often have a dark tone, thanks in part to the...

    • FIFTEEN Formal and Informal Responses to North of 60
      (pp. 365-392)

      Some of the reasons for the success ofNorth of 60and for the texture and nuance that it affords are to be found in a more general, very useful article on what Charles McGrath, a regular writer for theNew York Times,calls “long-form television.” In “The Triumph of the Prime Time Novel” (22 October 1995), written asNorth of 60entered the midway point, he argues that “TV drama is one of the few remaining art forms to continue the tradition of classic American realism … the painstaking, almost literal examination of middle and working class lives, in...

  4. CONCLUSION: Others Will Continue to Explore
    (pp. 393-406)

    At Expo 67, our celebration of Canada’s centennial year, we represented ourselves to the world architecturally as an inverted pyramid (109 feet tall with nine floors of exhibits) called Katimavik. Jeffrey Stanton says the name was an “Eskimo word for ‘gathering place.’” His site has a wonderful picture of this structure. He recalls, as I do that there were sculptures on the four sloping sides open to the sky.¹ I also remember, as he does, that one represented a Haida transformation mask that opened to reveal its interior face. Perhaps the last sentence of H.V. Nelles’sA Little History of...