Will Tammy Lynne Light the Seventh Fire?

By Malcolm VanDelst

Tammy Lynne does not always look like a filmmaker. The first time I meet her, she keeps her eyes on the floor and speaks quietly. Her clothing is kind of trashy and she looks like she would be more comfortable begging change than writing, directing and producing not one, but three feature films.

The next time I meet her, she is more “filmmaker-ish.” She wears a beautiful native design inspired necklace and a long black dress. She looks me in the eye; she seems to be filled with an otherworldly energy. When she is quiet, there is nothing particularly striking about her; you would not look twice if you saw her at a bus stop – or begging change; yet, when she speaks about her film, Eagle Feather, or about the politics and social issues that drive it, her plain, too pale face becomes infused with a life force and beauty. I notice her cheekbones, her Cupid’s bow lips, her dark, tumbling curls.

When she laughs, I laugh, and I find myself listening not only to what she is saying, but to what she isn’t saying. The connections she makes by juxtaposing disparate ideas, images and stories “because I have ADHD,” she laughingly tells me, says a lot more than the ideas, images or stories on their own – and they are already loaded ideas, images and stories.

Tammy Lynne tells me about the Aboriginal prophecies and the film she had been writing when social issues pressed in and demanded attention and a film of their own. In this film (the one she had been writing), an Aboriginal girl loses her history. When she goes back to the reservation to find it, she discovers that she carries the key to lighting the 7th fire.

I can’t help but wonder how close to this character Tammy Lynne feels. Prophecies, like myths and legends, have their roots in the ordinary. As well as being a filmmaker, Tammy Lynne is an actor, stunt performer and activist. I get the impression that she has read a lot, particularly in Native history and myth. And she is busy. She has a seven-year-old and a twelve-year-old, whom she continued to raise through her six years of business and theatre studies, at John Abbott college in Montreal, then Capilano and UBC here in Vancouver.

It’s who you know
She seems to know everybody, not only in Aboriginal film, but in Canadian media and politics, both of which she is actively involved in. She does her homework. She made the NFB take out a clause saying that they would have first right of refusal on Eagle Feather, when they helped fund the project.

“Research” is a word that comes up again and again when she is talking about her film – from how to depict the drama segments to who to interview for the documentary parts to what special effects company to use and where to go for funding. Tammy Lynne herself, lives in the past, present and future simultaneously, it seems, just like the jumbled but connected and sensical montage that will become Eagle Feather.

“Does she know something the rest of us don’t know?” I can’t help but think when talking to her. So much information, infused with her particular energy and viewpoint, is crammed into our short discussion. She talks quickly, as if to make sure she gets everything in, everything she needs to tell me so that I can tell you, before our time together is through. She may be talking about the past, in the present, but her mind is in the future.

She talks a lot about connections, and unity, and food sovereignity, which to her mind, is the one thing people can all agree on and work together for.

“(Eagle Feather will start) from the beginning of human life when most of us were hunters and gatherers. The way to earn respect at that time was to be able to provide for the people. So if you hunted and gathered really well one day, you would bring that back and you would share that with the community and they would honour and respect you,” she says.

“I think if you can sit there and eat a bowl of food while some is starved right beside you, that you are anti-productive in this world, and that, I think, is the one thing people can agree on.

“It creates war; it creates all kinds of things, right? …People get desperate and things like that…Our communities aren’t strong anymore… So it’s the rebuilding of these communities and bringing people together that’s important.”

I’ve never thought of filmmaking as a political, or activist tool, but Tammy Lynne wields her storytelling ability like an army. This reminds me of something I read about the three seats of power: military, communications and law. The communications seat is about talking people into believing what you want them to believe – usually, that they should follow your orders.

Legends, stories, artistic depictions, music and songs can all instill in a populace beliefs about who they are, collectively, and what their lives should entail. When the white men put Native children in residential schools, forbidding them to speak their native language and forcing them to accept the white men’s stories, religion and history as their own, they were practicing this communications seat of power to the max – propping it amply, of course, with military and legal seats.

Eagle Feather, Tammy tells me, is “an Aboriginal historical documentation of unheard contemporary and historical accounts aimed to encourage the rising and healing of our people – rippling on to reach us all. It starts from the beginning of human life on through today, and will carry a visual representation of the hope and beauty that lies in the future.

“It is inspired by the recent rise in aboriginal children being taken into the care of the government and the need for our First Nation’s people’s stories to be told.

“From 1999 to 2003, there has been an increase of 1000 aboriginal children taken into the care of the government however there’s been a decrease of 2000 non-aboriginal children,” Tammy Lynne tells me.

“Through my research – I talked to Libby Davies; I talked to Jenny Kwan… I found that the decrease in total, can be attributed to the cuts to child apprehension (overall) but what they’ve done is cut to all the services that support families, then take the kids.”

An advocacy worker who was helping Tammy get Social Assistance (after she finished her scholarship at UBC) pointed out this trend to the filmmaker. They both agreed that this story needed to be told, that Aboriginal people had forgotten how to love each other, hear and support each other, and that their stories, however painful, needed to be told.

For Eagle Feather, Tammy will interview women who have lost their children recently and survivors of the residential school systems. She has already interviewed protesters from the Woodwards movement and will also include dialogues with David Suzuki, a big supporter of Native philosophy, and lawyers such as Rob Gibbens who is working to see “victims of residential schools acknowledged as citizens under the Canadian Constitution or Prisoners of War under the Geneva Convention, which distinctly allow for compensation.”

These interviews, combined with an overview of civilization – from the Native perspective – myths, legends and stories from Native culture, all filtered and connected through Tammy’s unique, powerful vision, will infuse identity, pride and power in all who view it, Tammy tells me.

With generous help from sources such as the Aboriginal Employment Centre (who provided a $15,000 grant for the film’s development, in exchange for instruction to Aboriginal youth in filmmaking), the Canada Council and the CBC, and the collaboration of such Aboriginal talent as mentor/executive producer Ryan Black, best known as an actor from projects such as Dance Me Outside, The Rez and North of 60; Midcan, a Native production company based in Winnipeg, and Meaches, a Native owned special effects company, also in Winnipeg, Eagle Feather will be completed by late 2005.

This spring, a preview of the project will be viewable on CBC’s Rough Cuts, with the money made through this broadcast being directed to the final production.

Will Tammy Lynne light the 7th fire? With Eagle Feather, the process has already begun.