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North of 60 an accurate portrayal


D.B. Smith, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Bragg Creek Alberta







Page 15

Tom Jackson is in the foothills of southern Alberta pretending to be in the Northwest Territories.

Standing just off to the side of an airstrip too short for a real plane to land on, he munches a sandwich in front of a camera while waiting for the director's cue.

Except for the length of the airfield, the scenery resembles any number of tiny Native communities north of the 60th parallel. A small airplane sits next to a run-down Quonset hut. Little buildings, some no more than shacks, dot the area. Two big, pink fuel tanks marked "aviation kerosene" squat near a satellite dish pointed upwards and south.

The sandwich disappears, somebody yells "action," and Jackson slips momentarily north and into the life of Dene Band Chief Peter Kenidi.

"Then we shouldn't be spending $1,200 a day on a front-end loader," he shouts at an empty space off-camera. Pretending to be in the NWT doesn't look too easy on a warm winter day when the mercury has peaked well over the freezing mark and set crew are slowly stripping off layers of jackets and sweaters to keep from overheating.

"We shouldn't be spending a penny until the tender is approved," someone replies.

"The tender is a formality. We cannot afford to lose the winter...."

Somebody yells cut. Shooting this brief scene has taken the better part of the noon-hour and is dragging on too long into the afternoon. The light is changing, quickly and the snow won't melt on cue.

After three more takes, Jackson retires to his dressing room. It was one of the few long breaks the Winnipeg-based actor gets. But he doesn't mind hard work, particularly when it's this honest.

"My belief, based on the feedback that I've gotten from people, particularly in the North..is that the show is true to form," he said. "Their lives are being exposed and I say that in a friendly fashion. It is not a criticism, it was a compliment from the people that watch the show."

Set in a small Dene village in the southwest corner of the NWT, North of 60 reflects two world views, where north meets south and the Native and non-Native worlds constantly clash.

Breathing life into the Lynx River chiefs character that Jackson enjoys. Having "dined with the prince and the pauper," it's easy to find the energy to create a realistic character.

"I find his morals are very admirable qualities. It's sort of like getting to play a heroic character. I don't find that to be the toughest thing in the world. I think probably if I were to play a villain, it might be a tougher thing, personally, for me to do. Technically, as an actor, I think Peter is a pretty interesting guy."

Now in its second season, North of 60 offers Jackson more of a chance to explore Kenidi and his role in the community than last year, when the show revolved around new RCMP Constable Eric Olssen (John Oliver) and his struggle to fit in.

And Lynx River takes an effort to fit into, North of 60 producers and co-creator Barbara Samuels said. There are people there who cannot stop drinking, who have died or tried to commit suicide.

"We wanted people to be able to see something of themselves that hadn't been shown on television before," she said. "We wanted people who had never seen that aspect of Aboriginal communities to see it and realize there were different things going on."

That particular vision of the North - of a troubled community re-shaping itself - has been criticized by some reviewers as too bleak for television audiences. But many northern Natives say they see a lot of themselves and their communities in each episode.

"Teaching how to live or how things should be is not our intention here," she said. "It's just to explore what happens when you throw a bunch of characters together in a small town."

North of 60 may not be a forum for advancing Native rights in Canada, but it has brought Jackson, and consequently Native issues, into the mainstream media. A string of popular television movie roles and a recurring part on PBSs childrens' show ining Time Station have also helped put the 45-year-old from the One Arrow Reserve near Batoche, Sask., into the limelight.

But he takes little credit for the new insurgency of Native issues in the entertainment industry.

"I don't think I'm the leader of the pack although in some small, minute way, I accept the possibility that I have that responsibility of a role model."