Indigenous producer creating innovative TV series for kids about Science

Loretta Todd, producer of the APTN children’s series Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the TV & Film industry across Canada ground to a halt however one producer found some innovative solutions to keep cameras rolling remotely. 

Loretta Todd, producer of the APTN children’s series Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show, was shooting season three when the pandemic hit and it became clear production would have to be delayed.  She said she couldn’t afford that and filming resumed. 

Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show is an adventures-in-science series that encourages youth to explore the fascinating world of science – from an Indigenous perspective. Explore and find out more alongside our Science Questors who learn how cool science is as they observe, ask questions, and learn from Indigenous scientists and other role models. This is a fun scientific investigation that brings the beautiful and complex universe alive. With humour and curiosity, viewers dive into sky, water, dirt and cosmos with brilliant Indigenous role models as guides.  

Lorretta is a descendant of Cree and Metis peoples. Her credits include award-winning documentaries, such as Forgotten WarriorsThe People Go On and Hands of History. She created, produced and directed Tansi! Nehiyawetan, a Cree children’s series on APTN, and created My Cree, a Cree language learning app – and which has over 20,000 downloads. Currently she is in production with Season 3 of Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science

This fall, Lorretta is releasing Monkey Beach, her first feature film based on the iconic Canadian novel by Eden Robinson. She created Fierce Girls, a webseries and transmedia project for Indigenous girls about Indigenous girl superheroes. She is also in development with a new animated children’s series called  Nitanis & Skylar. 

In demand as a writer and lecturer on arts and media, Ms. Todd spoke at the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations, as well as other prestigious institutions as the Museum of Modern Art.  

Todd also initiated organizational change within cultural practice in Canada by helping to develop media training programs, reviewing policy through various committees and creating the IM4 Lab – a VR/AR Lab in collaboration with Emily Carr University of Art and Design. 

I recently caught up with Lorretta and discussed Coyote Science. 

As a “science geek” what inspired you to produce a TV series on science geared towards children and youth? 

“I’ve always liked learning and finding out about things – like stars and rocks – even as a kid. And I’ve always been inspired by my relatives because of how innovative and inventive they are – being able to make something out of nothing, or fix an engine or build a house. And I was aware how they could read the land and the animals and all our relations. I mean, how did they know about this plant and that plant? And how did they know about how animals lived? How did they know about currents in rivers and lakes? How did they know to make a canoe? Because they observed and listened – like scientists everywhere. All people have science. The word science flows from ancient words in the English language and basically means knowledge. Our people have knowledge and I also believe we are natural scientists, because we learn through observation and through our own form of experimentation – based on experience and knowledge. Later, I met many learned knowledge holders, like Dr. Leroy Little Bear and Amethyst First Rider and Dr. Lorna Williams who have advocated for many years for Indigenous science to be recognized and taught in schools. But also, for our knowledge to influence how science is understood and practiced, so we could build a better world. Coyote Science celebrates the continuum of that knowledge and knowledge holders. And because science is learned from place and through story and experiential learning, I build a template to reflect our systems of learning. And I incorporate imagination because even the most brilliant scientists – like Einstein – imagination is critical to science. 

Plus it was important to me for our children and youth to see themselves in the media and to themselves practicing Indigenous science. I am hoping to inspire more of our young people to become scientists, engineers, architects, builders, mathematicians, astronomers, geologists – really all the areas of STEM and in the many ways they can work in those fields – especially to serve their communities and help make a better world. 

What can you  share with our readers about the highlights on season 2? 

This season we learn from place. Indigenous science teaches us that the universe is always in a state of flux and change and in season one Coyote – the trickster – embodied that idea. In season we learn from places, like the ocean, or underground, or volcanoes. We learn about where water came from on Earth and how much water there is in the oceans and how much pollution. And how we have to honour water – even as scientists. And we learn about types of volcanoes and tectonic plates – even going to Iceland to learn about how they live with 30 active volcanoes. And we get to know about how John Herrington prepared to go to space, including using Virtual Reality – in our episode about VR. And we introduce coding and we talk to an Indigenous electrical engineer, a biologist, a physicist, fishermen, canoe maker – even someone – Corey Gray – who worked as the team that won a Nobel Prize for detecting gravitational waves from space, when two black holes collide. For Corey, that reinforced Indigenous science – that we are all connected. And we learn about Buffalo science and restoring the Buffalo to the plains. And our usual amazing animation and celebrities. And we have a skateboarding episode, featuring Indigenous pro-skateboarder Rosie Archie – with Mob Bounce sharing an amazing song. And lots of hip-hop and fun to do experiments

 With COVID 19, you decided the show must go on, how did you continue filming for season 3? 

Because I have been hiring Indigenous directors and crew since the beginning of my productions, we have developed a great team of Indigenous directors and camera people who have children at home who can become questers or are already questers. Since Coyote Science is designed in segments, I can get segments filmed in people’s “bubbles” so we don’t have to send in crews. In this way, our team can film from their homes or in the land around where they live – yet still be sure they are safe. At Coyote Science, I am very concerned about protecting our Elders, Knowledge Holders, children, youth, parents, families and communities. My entire career I have been careful about protocols, protecting peoples’ spaces and respecting culture and territory. At the same time, we have a duty to assist the Indigenous media industry so it can keep moving forward, working within all the parameters of COVID 19. We can practice social distancing and still make cutting-edge Indigenous media. 

What has the response been so far to the series? 

Right from the beginning we got good response from the community – people watching with their kids on APTN, teachers using the episodes in their classrooms, Indigenuos cool people (like some of the celebrities we feature in the series) watching with their friends because it is such a hip, fun, uplifting series where people can learn something every episode. We’ve won awards, I was invited to speak at Kidscreen – in an international children’s media conference, we were invited to MIPCOMJR – which is an even bigger international children’s media conference. And we were recently bought by CBC GEM, and we’ve been bought by Indigenous TV in Australia and the US. And we are shown in the Telus Science World here in Vancouver. That is just a small list of the accomplishments of the amazing team. 

For you personally, what is the biggest story in science you have been inspired by either an event, or a discovery? 

I think that science has opened up to the idea that we are all connected, that every atom is connected, that we as humans and everything on earth is made up of stardust. I like the way the more science tries to find a perfect answer, they realize that there are even more mysteries and to me that is ok. I think because quantum physics relates closely to Indigenous science and philosophy, that would be the most exciting field or biggest story that has led to so many other observations – and to quote, I like quantum physics because it “describes how the Universe works at a scale smaller than atoms” and that the “birth of quantum physics in the early 1900s made it clear that light is made of tiny, indivisible units, or quanta, of energy, which we call photons.” 

Tell me a little about where you grew up, and did you know that one day you’d be producing a TV series based on science? 

My family has a few origins/connections. We are from the St. Paul des Metis, the Red River Settlement, White Fish Lake FN in Alberta and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, in North Dakota. We grew up in Edmonton. Our dad was a heavy equipment operator, so we went to places where he could work and then moved to the city. We would spend time in the summer in the bush, but because those were times he also worked, we didn’t get to experience that as much I wish we had. I never even thought I would be alive sometime, let alone making films and producing television. But I learned from many great teachers to always give back, especially to the children and youth and Elders and to always acknowledge young people. And though our dad struggled, when he was being his true self, he was kind and that is a value that I think underlies all that I do. And I like creating images, I like working with tech and I like telling stories – so creating television, film and digital media all fits together.