Mediaplanet sat down with Shauna Baker, actress and social media influencer, to speak about her experience as a First Nations woman in the entertainment industry.
As a member of the Dakelh Stellat’en First Nation, what would you say was the biggest challenge adapting to life after moving from the reservation to Los Angeles to pursue your acting career?
My biggest challenge has always been being away from my family. Most of my family still lives on my reservation including my grandmother who I’m really close to. I miss them every day and try to go back as often as I can, although during the pandemic my time back home has been more limited. I also really miss the seasonal traditions that I grew up doing like hunting, fishing, and picking berries. The longer I live away from home, the more disconnected I feel from my culture. If my job allowed me to live back on my reservation, I would still be living in Stellaquo.
Where do you think the gaps are in the representation of Indigenous peoples and their stories in media?
The gatekeepers in media aren’t letting Indigenous peoples share our own stories or let us be our own storytellers. It’s easier to hire and cast non-natives and self-identifying natives in our places. I’m not talking about reconnecting natives, Métis natives, and neither am I talking about our native brothers and sisters that don’t have brown skin. It’s important to know that there’s a difference between natives trying to connect with their community versus self-identifying natives who have no interest in connecting. The ones pretending to be native only because being native serves their ambitions or it’s an easier way to get their foot in the door. Being native is more than getting employment or gaining a large social media following. It’s about kinship, our culture, our history, our elders, and our teachings and it’s not about what a DNA test tells you. The reason why we keep seeing negative stereotypes or incorrect storytelling in film and television is that there are people pretending to be natives that don’t have the responsibility of being accountable to a community that will question them on their work.
What’s something that the audience should consider when learning about Indigenous history and culture that is often overlooked?
Our trauma isn’t just in the history books and neither is our history just in the past. We’re still having our women going missing and murdered every day, children’s bodies are still being found at residential schools, our women are still getting forced sterilized in hospitals without their consent, and people that survived residential schools are still reliving their trauma. The last residential school closed down only in 1998. Along with learning about our history in the past, please learn about the genocide that’s still happening today.
How do you get past gatekeepers and make sure native stories are being properly represented?
So many natives are making our own spaces by sharing our own stories on social media. Many of us including myself share our stories through humour. I have a TikTok channel @ShaunaBakerOfficial and on my Instagram page @ShaunaBaker, I’ve created skits while spreading education and knowledge about native people. There are now shows out there like Rutherford Falls where native showrunner Sierra Teller Ornellas is one of the creators of the show. The show has mostly native writers and a large native cast including casting Jana Schmieding and Michael Greyeyes in leading roles. You can also watch me in the second season. Changes like this only allow space for more positive representation and opportunities. Native people are really funny and it’s about time we’re seeing modern stories rather than television shows only showcasing us as stoic natives living before the 1900s.