Before starting a film career, Stevie-Ray Strangling Wolf realized he didn’t have many Indigenous role models on TV to look up to, so he wasn’t sure there was room for him in the film and television industry.
“Something that really hit me hard is growing up and not having any Indigenous role models, there wasn’t a lot in TV, I didn’t know of any that were making movies, and I grew up not thinking that was even possible. So I got a regular nine-to-five job,” Stevie-Ray said, speaking with Tchadas Leo on the Our Native Land podcast.
“And it wasn’t until I was a bit older, and I was like, ‘you know what? So what if there’s none, I can be that role model to someone.'”
After pursuing a degree in psychology, Stevie-Ray was working with vulnerable people in Lethbridge when his brother, Shelby Strangling Wolf, changed his career path.
“My younger brother got into film school [in Vancouver] and convinced me to give up my career and move out here with him and chase the dream,” Stevie-Ray said.
Shelby says he was taking classes at Capilano University that he was enjoying but didn’t feel connected to.
“Looking at film schools, and I realized that Capilano had an Indigenous geared film program called the IDF program,” Shelby said.
“It just seemed like the perfect shot and be surrounded by Native professors and Native alumni and students that have similar thoughts and feelings about the industry and want to shake it up, and so it was an easy pitch for my brother.”
After making their way through the program, the brothers then launched their film production company called Strangling Wolf Brothers.
The first film the brothers made together after graduating was a silent film about what it’s like to be a visible minority in public.
“I’m wearing a monkey costume the whole time, only the people who love me and care about me see me without the monkey costume,” Stevie-Ray said. “To the rest of the world, I see myself as wearing a monkey costume, it’s not something I can take off. So that was just a social commentary on racism.”
The brothers recently were featured in the Blackfoot Film Showcase in Vancouver, where two of their short films had their Vancouver debuts.
The first is MOLD — a horror film highlighting the impact of intergenerational trauma and the importance of looking after yourself both physically and mentally.
The second showcased film is The Roommate Treaty — a comedy about Blackfoot and Cree roommates. Since the two are traditional enemies, the movie explores the roommates making a treaty in order to live together.
When people watch their films, Shelby says he hopes that people see the representation the pair are putting into the stories, but also walk away entertained.
“If we can just entertain people the same way that we love to be entertained by our favourite people, and put a little Indigenous spin on it,” Shelby said. “That’s all I really want is just for people to be entertained by the stuff that we can make.”
The film festival took place in June, which is National Indigenous History Month. The brothers say the month is a chance to start dialogue about Indigenous people in Canada.
“It’s a chance to open up dialogue with random people you haven’t met, it’s a good icebreaker, a good way to just got to jump into that conversation with people because might hear about it on the news, or they might see it,” Stevie-Ray said.
“So I’d say this part of the year is probably when I have the most like enlightening conversations with someone who doesn’t know about Indigenous people…There’s lots to teach, but also lots to learn for myself.”
Shelby says the month is an opportunity to learn from Indigenous people on the lands he now lives on.
“We love to take the opportunity to learn as much as we can from people that were stewards of this land for time immemorial, and it’s an honour to be on their land,” Shelby said.
“It’s great to be able to represent who you are and where you come from, and I feel like that’s really what it’s all about, being able to open up that dialogue and be proud of who you are, and share that history.”
-With files from CHEK’s Tchadas Leo
Watch the full Our Native Land episode below: