Coming In Stories Two Spirit in Saskatchewan Documentary by Marjorie Beaucage

Marjorie Beaucage, Rainbow Warrior, and Art-ivist

By Dr. Michelle S. A. McGeough

“Sometimes my camera is a witness; sometimes my camera is a mirror.”

– Majorie Beaucage

At the age of 40, needing to nourish her spirit, Marjorie Beaucage ran away from home to attend film school. In the thirty-five years she has been making films, what is most evident in Marjorie’s work is her deep love for the people. Her films defy clichés; at times, they are experimental and playful, while others examine complex issues such as grief, the justice system, environmental justice, HIV, and AIDS. Through her lens, we witness Indigenous people’s responses to some of the most challenging issues in our communities.

While Beaucage eschews the term career, she has made over 33 films. “It’s not really a career for me, I don’t even consider it a career; it’s just my way of adding to the voice of the people.” She relates that filmmaking is another tool in her arsenal and speaks of her films as collaborative ventures. For Beaucage, it is about making connections and nurturing the relationships needed to bring about change and social justice for Indigenous people.

Advocacy is a central theme that permeates every facet of Beaucage’s being. At the forefront of any project she undertakes, it seems that the guiding principle is, how does it contribute to meeting the needs of the Indigenous people? Her advocacy is not confined to making films. She recounts that in the early days of Indigenous film, there was “No distribution, no production, no control over our voice or how we represented ourselves.”

In the early 1990s, she became the Aboriginal Film & Video Art Alliance (AFFVA) coordinator at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Under her guidance, the AFFVA advocated for Indigenous control over programs and resources within Canada’s cultural institutions while also developing an Indigenous media language. During her tenure, the AFFVA forged alliances and partnerships with the Banff Center, Canada Council, and V-tape. It wasn’t easy, Beaucage relates, as there was a lot of racism in those early days. She describes her position as a Cultural ambassador between the Indigenous film community and the institutions, “opening doors or kicking them open, whatever needed to happen.” This same resolve is evident in the actions of the AFFVA’s advocacy for Indigenous control over the stories being told about Indigenous people. In 1992, she programmed the first Aboriginal Film Festival in Toronto; Reel Aboriginal, the forerunner of what is now known as the internationally acclaimed ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival.

With all the organizing Beaucage has been involved in, it is incredible that she found time to make films. It isn’t very often that a filmmaker will state that one of the first films she created is one she continues to reflect on with great pride. Ntapueu… i am telling the truth (1997) depicts the environmental impact of Voisey Bay Nickel Mine on Innu People of Labrador. Their intimate knowledge of the territories plays across the screen. Narrated in Innu, the English subtitles inform the viewer of the changes that have occurred in the community with the introduction of Christianity and southern encroachment. The film is visionary not only for its use of the Innu language; here we witness the connection of the people to their homelands reinforced through the telling of their oral traditions and images that record their daily lives.

Beaucage relates that when she was first approached to make the film, she turned it down, “It wasn’t my story to tell.” Instead, Beaucage countered with the offer, “I will give you the tools, and I will help you.” For a year, she worked alongside the Innu, teaching them the craft of filmmaking and empowering them to tell their stories, a defining feature of Beaucage’s filmmaking process.

Sharing the tools of creation with people to tell their stories was also the motivation behind the collaborative film project Proz Anthology (2000). The film grew out of the Take Part in Art program in Regina. Beaucage worked with former sex trade workers to create a video trilogy she describes as a “dramatization, a visual poem, and a self-portrait.” Two of the vignettes, Prairie Passions and Self-Portrait, speak of the hypocrisy of those who judge them for being sex workers. Prairie Passions sets the record straight and upends the stereotypic portrayal of sex workers in the media. These are educated women who do not always come from tragic circumstances. They revel in the sisterhood, a bond forged by belonging to a community of women who fully embrace their choices. Self-Portrait is a gritter glimpse into the world of Evening Star, a sex trade worker. The handheld camera streams images of her apartment, her make-up table, the artwork she has painted, and the shrine that sits upon her T.V. Special effects and self-deprecating humour mitigate her vulnerability. Beneath the smile and coy head toss is a rejection of victimry when she pointedly asks, what is the difference between her and a woman who never sees the man she encountered after a one-night stand? The final vignette in this series, Death’s Alley is a haunting visual poem. The spoken word provides a context for what is seen on the screen, the reality of life on the streets; many do not survive. It is a sobering reminder of a reality absent in the other two films.

While documentary films are her mainstay, her more experimental films are delightfully playful yet poignant. I’ll do Anything for you dear, a film Beaucage made in while a student, explores the relationship between Mothers and daughters. The film, shot in black and white, opens with scenes of seemingly mundane daily activities and interactions between a young girl and her Mother. The film then documents a friend’s trip home, to visit elders and the matriarchs of her family. While we don’t hear their conversations, the viewer recognizes the familiar scenes around kitchen tables, the laughter and playful exchanges that are shared in these moments. It concludes with scenes of her Mother’s visit to Toronto to attend the debut of Beaucage’s film Bingo. While turning the camera on her relationship with her Mother, Beaucage touches upon the vulnerabilities and complexities of this relationship between women. What makes this film so delightful and rich is the dubbed soundtrack. Viewing the film, we hear a child’s voice singing the lyrics from “I will do anything for you” and “Skinny Marinky Dinky Dink,” a popular children’s song. Beaucage reminds us of the unconditional love and spontaneity we have as children. These declarations of love sung by a child paired with the images of Mothers and daughters underscore the importance of this bond. We immediately recall our relationships with our Mothers with all their joys and complications.

Beaucage is not one to shy away from difficult topics, even when her own experience is the subject. Her film Good Grief is an intimate portrait of her family dealing with the sudden loss of a younger brother. The film, shot a year after his death, shares how family members navigate their grief. Beaucage’s camera captures the paradox of grieving. While we may grieve the loss of a love one with others, how we come to terms with death is a singular experience.

For the last ten years, Beaucage’s projects have focused on working with the two-spirit/Indigiqueer community. The intent of this work, she states, is to help two Spirit/Indigiqueer youth gain access to their cultural inheritance and to bring awareness to the impact of homophobia on the lives of Two-spirit/Indigiqueer youth. Coming In Stories, Taking Our Place, Two Spirit In Saskatchewan introduces the viewer to Alex Wilson’s Cree teaching’s regarding gender. Recounting these teachings of Wesakaychak, the trickster, Wilson explains that one of the fundamental truths embodied in these teachings is that “every living creature and everything that acts in and on this world is spiritually meaningful.” However, because of the lingering homophobia, many two-spirit/Indigiqueer youth experience rejection from their families, and as a result, they often experience homelessness, substance abuse, violence, and victimization. The testimonies of Two Spirit youth included in the film share the very real consequences of homophobia. These are often cited as the reason for the high rates of suicide among Two-spirit/Indigiqueer youth. Beaucage’s film reintroduces Cree teachings about love and respect for all beings.

These teachings of love and respect define Beaucage’s thirty-five years of filmmaking. Her compassion and vision bring stories to light that perhaps would not have been told. Where others may see the risks in her process. It is evident that she sees no other way of being a filmmaker. “I mean when you share stories with each other, there’s a connection that’s made. It’s a human-to-human connection, ’cause we all have stories.”

1 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

2 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

3 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

4 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

5 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

6 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

7 Beaucage, Marjorie. Proz Anthology. Accessed September 08, 2022.

8 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

9 Alex Wilson, “N’tacimowin inna nah’; Our Coming In Stories.” Canadian Women Studies (2008), Volume 26. Number 3,4; pp.194.

10 One of the difficulties in collecting data is that investigations into suicides do not record the gender identity of the deceased. Although there has been no research on the suicide rates or the suicide risk of Two-spirit youth in Canada, a recent in the United States called the Trevor Project took place in 2020. The findings report that Native American LGBBTQ+youth were 2.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-Indigenous peers. Those Indigenous youth who also experienced victimization were three times more likely to attempt suicide. The risk of suicide was reduced by 60 percent for Indigenous LBGTQ+ youth if they had family support and an affirming education environment.

11 Beaucage interview June 27, 2022

Marjorie Beaucage is a Two-Spirit Métis Auntie, filmmaker, art-ivist, and educator, a land protector and a water protector. Born in Vassar, Manitoba, to a large Métis family, Marjorie’s life’s work has been about creating social change, working to give people the tools for creating possibilities and right relations. Whether in the classroom, community, campsite or the arts, Marjorie’s goal has been to pass on the stories, knowledge, and skills that will make a difference for the future. For Marjorie, the story is medicine.

As a Two-Spirit Métis Elder, Marjorie takes on the tough topics that need to be discussed. Her work is focused on giving voice to and creating safe cultural spaces for, traditionally silenced or excluded groups. Marjorie is known on the local, regional, and national levels as an Elder who speaks truth to power, and who holds space for difference. She has been a Grandmother for Walking With Our Sisters; the Elder for OUT Saskatoon and the youth-led Chokecherry Studios. She has also been called on for national research initiatives that focus on Indigenous women living with HIV, Indigenous Harm Reduction, Indigenous youth who experience sexual and gender-based violence, and post-traumatic stress.

She has created over 35 community-based videos, including her recent harm reduction video portraits on reducing the harms of colonialism. In all of these, Marjorie returns to story as medicine, to art as medicine. Marjorie says of her work, “Creation is a powerful thing; whether you’re making a baby or a loaf of bread or a movie, it comes from the same place. To get people to tap into that energy, that creates possibilities, so they don’t get stuck in this craziness that we’re in is transformative.” Her recent book, Leave Some For The Birds – movements for justice is also part of her legacy for the future.

Dr. Michelle S. A. McGeough (Cree Métis/Settler) completed her PhD in Indigenous art history at the University of New Mexico. Prior to returning to school for her advanced degree, she taught Museum Studies at the Institute of American Indian Art and was the Assistant curator at the Wheelwright Museum of the Native American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dr. McGeough has a Master’s degree from Carleton University as well as a BFA from Emily Carr and an undergraduate degree from the Institute of American Indian Art. She also has a B.Ed. degree from the University of Alberta. Dr. McGeough currently teaches at Concordia University in the Art History department.

Dr. McGeough’s research interests have focused on the indigenous two-spirit identity. She is a board member of Daphne, the first Indigenous artist-run centre in Tiohtià:ke. She is a co-applicant in the SSCHR Thinking Through the Museum Partnership grant, Queer Operatives, and The Morrisseau Project. Her essays have appeared in C-space, Union Docs, and an upcoming volume entitled Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer, and LGBTTQ* Interventions into Museums, Archives, and Curation. Other areas of her research include the application of Indigenous research methodologies and the incorporation of these ways of knowing into the development of curriculum and the curation of contemporary and historic Indigenous art. Currently, Dr. McGeough teaches Indigenous art histories in Concordia University’s Art History department. She is also an independent curator and has curated exhibitions for Daphne, the I.D.E.A. at Colorado College, the Indigenous Art Center in Ottawa, and the Museum of Contemporary Native American Art in Santa Fe New, Mexico.