Interview with Actress Roseanne Supernault

by Patricia Yaker Ekall

DSC_8225IGBehind a name as powerful as Supernault is a woman who embodies all the energy and beauty the name could hold. Roseanne Supernault is a Canadian actress from the East Prairie Metis Settlement- a woman proud of her Cree/Metis heritage. Discovered at 13, she has been performing for years, eventually graduated from the Victoria School of Arts in Alberta. She is best known for her roles in the 2013 drama Maïna and more recently the Netflix crime-political drama Blackstone. She is a driven activist, running workshops that work with indigenous young people in Canada and is actively involved in the Idle No More, a protest movement in support of the rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. 

Teacher, producer, writer and infinite talent, her first short film The Nod premiered at the American Indian Film Festival, where she has won awards in the past, and received a nomination for Best Live Short. Roseanne’s voice is just as strong and compelling off-screen as it is on and we were excited she agreed to lend it to ThandieKay.

What first drew you to acting as a form of expression?
I came into acting by happy accident. I had done drama classes throughout junior high school, but the “acting bug” hadn’t bit me until I was 13. There was an open casting call at my school for a feature film. I’m glad I went, because it lead me to an acting agent and starting art school the next year.

I can still remember the first time I performed on stage in front of a huge crowd. I had done it before that with dancing and singing, but nothing quite like this… There were hundreds of people there. Our theatre sat over 600 at school. We were learning “Clowning” in drama – and my partner and I sure had fun. I’ll never forget the thrill of it!

Your latest film The Northlander has seven nominations from the Alberta Motion Picture Award. How does that feel?

I think it’s wonderful for the AMPIAs to be so supportive of projects in Alberta. That’s my original circle. That’s where I found my bearings as a young actress so it’s nice to see them give that nod to The Northlander.

I was also quite surprised because it felt so early on in the game! We hadn’t even done our film festival tour yet. I think it just goes to show how hardworking and dedicated writer/director Benjamin Ross Hayden is.

Clearly your work with young people is very important to you. Which topics, in your opinion, resonate the most with them?

There are many topics that resonate with them, but I think the most important thing is being honest. Being real with them. You have to talk to young people about sexuality, politics, alcohol, drugs, gangs, suicide, mental health, wellness, etc, because if we don’t, the TV is going to tell them and Hollywood is going to tell them, and those aren’t always the best examples.  And I think it is so important for these young people to have someone talk to them about what they’re really going through. Social programming for young people is vital! They are our future.

Culturally speaking, there is still a lot of ignorance regarding the presence of first nations people. In your opinion, is it better to educate through positivity, or through hard-hitting honesty? (Why?)

There is no one sure answer on how to educate. I feel that education can happen inside and outside of institutions. It has to happen outside of formal institutions, because not everyone has access to formal institutions. That is a privilege.

As for spreading messages that can educate…

If you profile Idle No More, you will see some very effective ways that indigenous people woke up Turtle Island. There was a woman named Theresa Spence who patiently fasted in prayer on Parliament Hill for 6 weeks (drinking lemon water, medicine tea, and fish broth), asking for the Canadian Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Affairs to sit down and talk about Canada’s treaty relationship with First Nations People. Because up until that point, it was getting really bad.

Idle No More Protest in Toronto

Idle No More Protest in Toronto

Many of us remember when the swine flu was spreading fear across our nation. In Canada, almost all cities and towns were equipped with immunization and were giving out flu shots in droves – what did the Canadian Government do for First Nations People? Send body bags to First Nations Reserves. In 2009…I cannot make this up… Health Canada sent body bags, hand sanitizer, and face-masks to First Nations Reserves – instead of medicine.

And that’s just one foul instance of ill treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. That in addition to hundreds of year of Colonization, Residential Schools, the 60s Scoop….

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Idle No More is a peaceful protest movement founded in 2012 by 4 women. It aims to protect the sovereignty of First Nations People, Metis, Inuits and all aboriginal Canadian people.

The list goes on. And I’m sure you can see why Theresa Spence felt it necessary to go on a hunger strike, and why thousands of people rose up to say something about the injustices made against First Nations.

If you do not think this is important, also take into account the deep seeded relationship Indigenous People have to Mother Earth in the age of climate change. When it comes to environmentalism, we First Nations People take our land stewardship very seriously. Here’s looking at you, Standing Rock.

You grew up in the East Prairie Metis Settlement. From your personal experience, what are the biggest differences between reservations and Canadian residences?

On a day to day basis, it’s not so different. The indigenous experience is a spectrum in Canada, whether you live on or off reserve.

Where most of the difference lays is the extreme and adverse effects that colonialism has had on indigenous peoples in general. This plays out in many ways on and off the Reserve. The first step in healing these issues is decolonizing and deconstructing the way we do things right now, and taking a look at empowering ourselves through our cultures which are thousands of years old, and healing along the way. Decolonizing is a personal journey and everyone’s journey is different. Another important step is being respected by and having a healthier relationship with Canada. The Indian Act is inherently racist and needs serious change. Indigenous people must not be treated as subjects of Canada, but as equals to it. And Canada must adhere to it’s promise to follow and support the UN Declaration of Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous people used to live in abundance and have healthy social and political structures in our communities. We had intrinsic cultures that included politics, medicine, friendship, family, language, art, sexuality, hunting, agriculture, nomadic lifestyle, warrior practices, and lineage. Many of those ways were wiped out with colonization with the intention of wiping out the people too. That didn’t work, and instead left us impoverished with our culture broken. So today, when Indigenous People try to rise out of poverty or adversity, sometimes they end up being hurt by other indigenous people because of it.

I think it’s important to choose a healthy lifestyle and surround oneself with healthy people. Education, healing, and culture is key in my opinion.

The roles you play are quite specific (your personas are often depicting a Native woman) and the enthusiasm you have for them is palpable from the way you write about your work. But as an actor, do you worry about being typecast?

Honestly, it’s about knowing the business and it’s about playing the game.
I’ve got this old school and practical kind of behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, I went to theatre school, my range and repertoire grew so much there; but when it comes to show business a lot of people don’t understand that “type cast” – at first – is your foot in the door. It’s a business. Starting with a niche is a fine idea with me.

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Eric Schweig, Roseanne Supernault, Maina.

Also, I believe in creating your own work. I’m not saying there’s an exact formula that is the exact same for every person in order to achieve success. Each journey is different, and who knows, maybe it’s the rule breakers who will change the game irrevocably.

It is a common thing for actors to obsess about acting and only stick to that to succeed.
But you look at Donald Glover, picking up two Golden Globes recently. He’s an actor, rapper, writer, singer, stand-up comic, etc – that to me is a person who knew what they wanted and filled as many creative avenues as possible to move himself and his people forward. Atlanta is a successful TV show with a predominantly black cast that was also created by a black man. And I think that’s amazing.

What has been your most memorable role so far and what type of roles are you looking forward to portraying in the future?

I think in terms of being memorable, you can’t forget your first lead in a feature film. I was very fortunate to be cast in the role of Quilla in the film “Every Emotion Costs” by Darlene Naponse. We filmed it on Whitefish Lake Reserve outside of Sudbury, Ontario for a few weeks and it was exciting.

Also, I would love to play an action hero. I’ve been saying that for years. Comparable to Linda Hamilton in Terminator, Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider.

I’m also very interested in seeing stories about the relationship between African People and Indigenous People after contact. I know the information is out there, I am aware of Black Indians in the US, and I am very interested in exploring that as a writer, producer and actress. I feel like an entire history got wiped out in history books; and that is the story of Indigenous People and Black People helping one another survive colonialism.

Your bio says that your “Metis Cree culture and value system is what keeps [you] balanced in your work and life.” Could you share why/how this has shaped you as an individual and a professional?

I don’t talk about it a lot, but I’m completely sober. I’ve never drank alcohol or done drugs in my entire life. Never ever.

I’ve been sober my whole life because my parents raised me in a traditional Cree/Metis upbringing. We don’t believe in drinking or doing drugs. I was in a sweat lodge since I was a baby. And I am so grateful that I had that. My parents would remind me what true riches are. Instead of partying to deal with my problems, I worked it off hard: in school, in the gym, on the court, on the stage, at my job. And that understanding came from my culture.

2383453_origI was fortunate to learn about the medicine wheel from a young age; how important it is to take care of myself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. To learn what it meant to be a Nehiyaw Iskwew. To learn as much of my language and culture as I could, because it kept me on the straight and narrow. And a subtle but important teaching of our culture: don’t cut corners.

I’ve been very patient, and thankfully it’s paying off because of my hard work, because of my prayer, because of my sobriety. I used to think that only certain experiences in this world were reserved for me (like my life belonged within the confines of a system set up for Indigenous people by the colonial state of Canada), but now I can see myself setting out to accomplish just about anything within ethical reason. And if you’re interested, I’m starting a very exciting project in January that has to do with my culture, and I’d love for you all to follow the journey on my Instagram (@rsupernault)

Acting accomplishments aside, you have spoken out about issues regarding gender, ethnicity and sexuality. What are currently the most pressing issues grabbing your attention?

Everything comes back to environmentalism for me. Everything comes back to our relationship with the earth, our mother. All of these issues we face as human beings are important; but, my gosh, we are in a pressing time when it comes to climate change and environmentalism.

I am so proud of every person from every walk of life who came together to stand for standing rock. Kinanaskamowin, I am grateful to you. So long as there are human beings hell bent on greed and destroying the planet, there will be human beings resisting them on behalf of the earth.


Visit Roseanne’s website and Facebook page. Follow her on Instagram

Follow Patricia Ekall on Instagram

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