NORTH OF 60

Canadian Drama Series

Born of the heightened consciousness of the First Nations in the late 1980s this hour-long CBC series is the first in North America to focus almost exclusively on contemporary First Nations characters and situations. Created by Wayne Grigsby and Barbara Samuels, the series is currently in production for a fourth season. Aboriginal writers like Jordan Wheeler (also a story editor) and novelist and film writer Thomas King have provided some of the scripts. The cast stars Tina Keeper as Michelle Kennedi, a Constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Tom Jackson plays her brother, Chief (later ex-chief)of the Lynx River community. George Tootootsis portrays the bootlegger, Albert Golo, subsequent chief of the community and the Kenidis' constant antagonist. Dakota House is Tee Vee Tenya, the restless teenager, new father and runner for the younger Golos. Other continuing characters include Elsie, Tee Vee's very direct and widely respected grandmother; Joe the self-exiled hunter who camps outside of the settlement; Rosie who is determined to run her own store, and her carpenter husband Leon; Gerry the exploitative owner of the store; and Harris the band manager who changes sides but is genuinely in love with Tee Vee's self-destructive mother, Lois.

In the first two seasons the cast was also headed by John Oliver as Sergeant Eric Olssen, a white, burnt-out RCMP drug cop from Vancouver who has requested this posting as a change of pace. His (usually inadvertent) way of misunderstanding the Cree community of Lynx River provided the early plot lines. As he is educated by the community to the very different values and apparently incomprehensible behavior of the "Indians," so also is the multi-cultural audience "south of 60."

The series has raised many very sensitive issues: the abuses of the residential schools and the many forms of self-hatred and anger which resulted; the decimation of the aboriginal way of life in the wake of animal rights protesters; runaways who head south to Vancouver to become street prostitutes; AIDS; land claims (and anthropologists "working" on those lands); inter-racial marriages. Alcohol abuse, with its effect on the entire community, and unemployment are running motifs. But this is not a series about victims. It is about a community in transition, a community whose core values are threatened, but still so far able to withstand the coming of fax machines and satellite television.

By the third season the series had built up a solid audience outside of the First Nations peoples. There was truth to the complaint that the series in the early seasons was much too serious, lacking the characteristic, often ambivalent, sometimes oblique, and often very earthy humour of many First Nations. The third season, without Olssen, was a little more light hearted. Sarah, the white nurse, in a rich and unexpected plot twist took refuge after a nervous breakdown with, Albert, now the chief. Her non sequiturs, together with a generally more confident cast and group of writers, developed a thread of subtle, often ironic and unexpected humour.

The struggles of Michelle, her attempts to befriend her own people while policing them and her conflicts with her teenaged daughter Hanna, created situations any working parent could relate to. But the series also creates unexpected solutions to the usual domestic problems. Rather than simply relying on an unchanging, winning combination of characters, for example, Thomas King's script gave Peter Kenidi, even with his master's degree, a reason for staying in Lynx River. An unplanned vision quest is derived from too little sleep, extensive work on the history of the local families and the stories told by the elders, and worry about the offer of a well-paying and influential job in Ottawa. Kenidi has visions of a small boy who eventually wounds Peter with the stone from a sling-shot. As he comes to see, the "boy" is his younger self running away from residential school--but the cut on his forehead is "real." This larger sense of reality gives him a reason to become part of the Lynx River community and to try and find his place in it.

These topics, and others like them, explore difficult cultural concerns. Like Cariboo Country in the 1960s and The Beachcombers in the 1970 and 1980s, North of 60 uses sensitivity and humor to address such issues of cross-cultural contact and conflict, specifically that between mainstream and indigenous cultures. In doing so this series and the others have demonstrated the participation of popular television in the complexities of Canadian life and society.

-Mary Jane Miller

 


North of 60
Photo courtesy of CBC

CAST

Corporal Eric Olsen (1992-1994).................... John Oliver Michelle Kenidi........................................... Tina Keeper Peter Kenidi .............................................Tom Jackson Sarah Birkett............................................. Tracey Cook Albert Golo........................................ Gordon Tootoosis Leon Deela............................................. Errol Kinistino Tee Vee Venya .......................................Dakota House

PRODUCERS Wayne Grigsby, Barbara Sears

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBC
November 1992 - March 1993           Thursday 8:00 - 9:00 November 1993 - March 1994          Thursday 9:00 - 10:00 November 1994 - March 1995          Thursday 9:00 - 10:00 November 1995 - March 1996          Thursday 9:00 - 10:00

 

See also Canadian Programming in English