Two-Spirited and Multifaceted
By Shauna Lewis
Aboriginal singer, dancer, storyteller, filmmaker, government official, activist and humanitarian Duane Ghastant’Aucoin, creator of independent films including Children of the Rainbow (2003) and Chez D’s (2004), is the quintessential 21st century Renaissance man.
Aucoin, who currently shares a basement suite in Vancouver’s east side with roommates and fellow actors, friend Lorne and Chi-Chi the cat, is a rising star in both the Aboriginal and gay community. With many arts achievement awards under his belt, and a cameo role in a commercial on APTN announcing next week’s Vancouver Aboriginal film festival, of which the Yukon born filmmaker will be exhibiting his works, Aucoin is refreshingly down-to-earth for someone in the spotlight.
Being a Leo, Aucoin is the first to justify his inherent love of the limelight, however, the Tlingit filmmaker knows when people are in the profession for the wrong reasons, and asserts that simply “making a difference” is his biggest reward.
Born in Whitehorse, to a Tlingit mother and French Acadian father, Aucoin is no stranger to diversity.
“I always knew I was physically different. As a child I would avoid going out in the sun so I wouldn’t tan as much,” confessed the now self-assured artist who admits that such bi-racially induced embarrassment was a residual result of his mother’s time in residential school.
Today, rather than shame, Duane shows empathy for his people. “To be ashamed of who you are, and having no control over what your ethnic background is…My god! No wonder there is so much dysfunction in the Aboriginal community right now.”
Not growing up on the reservation, and admitting that he was far removed from any early cultural affiliation, Aucoin’s life transformed dramatically when his parents separated and he moved back to his mother’s community of Teslin. Through exposure to various cultural celebrations and festivities, Aucoin consequently forged a connection to his culture.
“The drums woke up the Tlingit spirit in me,” Aucoin confessed, “and it hasn’t gone to sleep since.”
What initially set out to be a temporary move for Aucoin, turned into an eight-year relocation – one that he would later call a personal and cultural ‘rebirth.’ During another brief stint in Whitehorse before finally relocating to Vancouver with his two young cousins, Aucoin joined a First Nations theater production group and began his career in the entertainment industry.
Influenced by his mother’s strength, Prince’s sexuality, and the purity of love shared with his partner Rob, Aucoin is grateful to all those who has touched his life. While there are many individuals who have helped Duane’s along his journey, it was his contemporary and friend Alex Archie, who passed away from HIV/AIDS in 2003, which gave him the tools to illuminate and celebrate the two-spirited world.
Take a hearty dose of camp humor, a sprinkling of jest, a tidbit of resentment, and a generous heaping of cultural reverence, and you have a recipe for artistry that is both forthright and unapologetic. With titles like ‘Queer as Chief’, ‘Bobby the Social Worker Slayer,’ and ‘Sex & the Rez,’ one can’t help but want to know more about Aucoin and his work.
Rather than attack ignorance with ignorance, Aucoin plays on the typical Aboriginal stereotypes and homosexual stigmas in an attempt to shock and consequently deconstruct set social constructs. Combining film with live stage performance, Aucoin is the first to admit that his storyline can get a bit emotional at times.
“I like taking the audience down,” Aucoin confesses, “but I don’t like leaving them there…I’m not that cruel.”
A self-professed activist who “stands up to any form of ‘isms,’ Aucoin is all about fundamental freedom and equality. With films that ultimately force individuals to loosen the proverbial noose of westernized conformity and question the rationality of the ultra-conservative world, it’s safe to say that the 21st century Renaissance man is Postmodern after all.