In Conversation With . . . Blackstone, Part I

Blackstone is a Gemini award-winning Canadian television series based on a fictitious Canadian First Nations reserve. It airs on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) and hosts a shining roster of some of the best aboriginal actors in North America. The second season premiered on Wednesday night, revealing to fans the cause and outcome of the cliffhanger at the end of Season 1.

Blackstone is part of the recent trend to portray the realities of reserve life and the heroic struggles of First Nations peoples to overcome personal demons and the after-effects of colonialism. New cast member Georgina Lightning is an accomplished writer, director, and actress as well as a committed advocate for native North Americans. Recently she took the time to answer some of Wanda Waterman’s questions about the show, her personal struggles, and her Blackstone character Tracey Bull, a woman of intense passion and formidable inner strength.

?Blackstone gets under your skin; it makes you think, feel and want more.?

Ron E. Scott, Executive Producer, Writer and Director of Blackstone

Georgina Lightning: On Playing Tracey Bull

In the last scene of the final episode of Blackstone‘s first season, a couple is doing the dirty in a strip club dressing room. A door opens and closes. We hear a gunshot. The end.

Sex and violence are no big surprises here, considering that most of the first season addressed a struggle to survive in a system which, if not commanding corruption, at least habituated people to it to the point where they came to accept it as the norm. And so the community of Blackstone is home to alcoholism, domestic abuse, contaminated water, gambling casinos, crooked band leaders, lies, manipulation, intimidation, and intrigue.

A far cry from the serenely wise hippy eco-utopia portrayals by non-natives in film and television since the dawn of reels, Blackstone is unfortunately representative of life on many reserves now. At the same time it manifests a kind of microcosm of the universal dynamics of power and control.

?It’s just presenting the reality, which is very, very harsh,? says Georgina Lightning. ?Ron E. Scott?he’s Native American, he’s part of our community?wrote Blackstone and directed it, taking his own experience, what he knows, and putting it down on paper and on the screen. In the past we weren’t empowered to do that. Non-natives told our stories and interpreted them; now we’re taking ownership of our own identity.?

Asked if she identifies with Tracey, Georgina says with assurance, ?Yes, I do. I had many problems growing up. And I married my father.? She smiles sardonically.

?The role of Tracey has been my most rewarding as an actress . . . because of the levels in which Tracy goes, the emotional reality. There’s a lot of range in there. In some places they want you to play a stoic Indian. They tell you where to stand and what to do and when to turn your head, and It’s like being a puppet. But Ron just kept the camera rolling and allowed me to express myself. It’s going to be really interesting to see what choices he made in my performances to manufacture the character.?

Her father’s suicide when she was just 18 catapulted Georgina into a journey that was to be self-destructive before it could become redemptive. Eventually a crisis counsellor convinced her she needed support to end the abuse in her life, but it was a long time before she could admit even to herself the extent of the damage that had been done to her.

?I never thought I would go, but I’d had a really severe beating with coat hangers and I couldn’t move. That word had been planted in my head?abuse. I called the counsellor up and joined the support group.?

?Like me, they all had bruises and stuff like that,? says Georgina of the other women in the group, ?but I was still so stuck in denial I was like, I don’t know what You’re talking about. It’s not me?I’m not an abused woman. It took about five visits with all the women talking about their stories before I even actually said a word.?

What was the catalyst that led her to seek healing? A rather rude wake-up call: ?I was taking courses. One day I went to school and the business instructor completely called me up. She said no one would ever take me seriously with a black eye and a fat lip?people just don’t respect that. They won’t take you seriously as a businesswoman.?

?I was so humiliated! I was like, How dare you! But that was what got me started. Once I opened my mouth and said something about the abuse, I never stopped. I got addicted to healing. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to go every single day. You just feel lighter and lighter as you continue to get all of this stuff out of you. So I really thank my business instructor for humiliating me that day. It really saved my life.?

This story of abuse, denial, awakening, and healing is a common one among First Nations peoples and may in fact be the impetus behind the First Nations cultural renaissance of which Blackstone forms a part. The decision to make the leap that leads to health and wholeness seems to engage the creative process like nothing else.

Georgina has passed this love of artistic achievement to her three children, who are actors too. Her daughter is also starting to record. ?My kids are creative,? Georgina says. ?Definitely. All three of them are artists in many different ways.?

The pain of the past might also be why for women like Georgina, art is not separate from social consciousness.

?I never set out to be a social activist. I wanted to be an actress. But as an actress I created a platform from which I could speak my mind, and the questions that were imposed on me were issues in our community. It wasn’t my intention?it just happened.?

(To be continued.)