Build connections between communities, and support indigenous voices and culture.
One of DNEG’s EDI commitments is to create a safe and inclusive workplace where we invest in continuous improvement and allyship. We’ve already presented on our blog a few of our employee resource groups (ERGs) such as Proud, DNEG Black Voices Group and Thrive – all working together with our EDI Task Group and our crew towards one goal: to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging globally.
August 9 being the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we sat down with Emma Roumanas, HR Administrator in Vancouver and Jackie Tarascio, Animation Supervisor in New York, active members of our DNEG Indigenous Voices group to hear about their mission.
Hi Jackie & Emma, thank you for being with us today! As active members of the DNEG Indigenous Voices group, can you tell us a bit about yourselves, your backgrounds, and what made you want to start or join the group?
Jackie – Hello, and thank you for reaching out. I am a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. We moved around a lot as I grew up but the biggest chunk of my childhood was in Golden, B.C., surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. We then spent a few years up by the Arctic Circle in Yellowknife N.W.T before arriving in beautiful Vancouver B.C., where I graduated and entered art school. I was studying to be a graphic designer, but in my 4th year I jumped across the pond to learn animation. It took some perseverance and a few months living in my sister’s basement to make a demo reel… but eventually I landed my first job in the industry working as an animator for Mainframe Entertainment. Five years later, I moved to the USA under the Jay Treaty. The Treaty gives the right for Canadian-born Indigenous people to live or work on either side of the border. I joined Blue Sky Studios and worked there for 15 years until the studio closed down early 2021. I then hopped over to Illumination Mac Guff to help them out on a film, before arriving at DNEG. Currently I am working on Nimona as Animation Supervisor.
Emma – Growing up I was told that my great grandmother was a Mi’kmaw woman- I didn’t grow up within the Indigenous culture so I never questioned it. However, 13 years ago, I met my current partner and his family who are part of the Dene Nation. His mother, Cheryl, was a person who had a huge impact on me. She welcomed me into her family completely. Being a mother, a Dene woman and a social worker, she often spoke of her culture but also of Indigenous experiences throughout Canada and welcomed me to do the same. Through these years I’ve become much more entrenched in the community and passionate to understand more about my family. In my journey, which I am still on, I’ve become motivated to create space for Indigenous peoples to have their voices heard. In this time I’ve also begun to learn the lack of connection I’ve had with my culture, is in itself part of the effects of colonisation.
Can you talk about the group’s mission/purpose, and your vision for it?
Emma – I think we are still working as a group to define this, as we are still so new. But, so far our main goals we’ve begun working on are: creating a safe space for Indigenous peoples at DNEG, providing education for our team on Indigenous experiences and engaging with Indigenous peoples outside of DNEG to action reconciliation as a company, provide opportunities for Indigenous peoples interested in our industry and celebrate Indigenous culture.
Jackie – Our group is fairly new, but it is packed with great initiatives and ideas. For me, our vision includes raising cultural awareness to as broad an audience as we can reach. We have an endless amount of stories we can tell. Our group is also eager to begin building connections for Indigenous community outreach and engagement.
Why is it important to have a group like DNEG Indigenous Voices within our studio?
Jackie – The first impact DNEG Indigenous Voices had on me was community connection. Getting to know my fellow Indigenous DNEG crew was a great experience and I’m excited to build our friendship and membership. Following at a close second is the feeling of welcome and consciousness that I felt from DNEG not only in the creation of this group, but even from day one. On my first day at DNEG, in my very first Zoom meeting, part of the welcoming was to acknowledge the traditional territories of the Squamish Nation. Hearing this acknowledgement for the first time from an employer was a poignant moment, and I immediately felt I’d found something special by joining DNEG. That feeling has not proved wrong and I continue to be both impressed and energized by the people I’m lucky enough to work with every day.
Emma – We all must be aware that we are on Indigenous land. All the work we do at DNEG in North America is on the unceded land of people who are underrepresented in our industry. Let’s not shy away from that. We cannot work toward reconciliation without including Indigenous peoples in that visioning. It is our responsibility to ensure there are safe spaces for Indigenous people on our team and that we empower the group to educate others, influence policy and create a clear path for DNEG towards reconciliation.
What is it like to be a part of the Indigenous community while also working in the VFX industry? Do you feel that the community is supported by the industry as a whole?
Emma – I think in order to move forward we must face the truth. This is that Indigenous peoples are underrepresented, their experiences are not understood and most workplaces are not typically focused on reconciliation or providing equitable opportunities to Indigenous communities. But, I think the focus should be that we CAN move forward.
Jackie – What is it like? It’s like being a part of two strong, passionate and creative powerhouse groups: Indigenous people, and the film and VFX industry. Do I feel the community is supported by the industry? There is always room for growth. The more the industry can model learning and inclusion the better. Not just for our Indigenous people of North America, but all people… and our colourful spectrum of culture across the globe.
What is your vision for the future of the VFX industry’s Indigenous community?
Jackie – My vision for the future would have active engagement and collaboration. Indigenous people are storytellers, and so is the film and VFX industry. Let’s go!
Emma – I hope to see DNEG as a place that welcomes Indigenous peoples. Where people in the community can know they can be heard, be successful and thrive here. I also hope to see DNEG take more action towards reconciliation in the communities we do business in.
As an art form, do you feel that film and television has a particular power or role when it comes to supporting the Indigenous community? Do you have any recommendations?
Emma – Representation matters. I do think there is an enormous misrepresentation and often lack of representation of Indigenous peoples in film and television. Of course, there are many Indigenous peoples making incredible projects and thriving in this industry. Let’s not take away from their incredible work! However, we can always do better. To begin to solve this, we must include Indigenous peoples in the creation of film and television. Indigenous communities have cultures rich in story-telling traditions. By adding those diversity of experiences and perspectives, we can make the media we engage in more dynamic and inclusive!
Jackie – I would challenge that film and TV can not only support the global Indigenous community, but include us in your brainstorms, stories, and productions. If your production includes Indigenous people, that’s wonderful! Be accountable and dig deep, challenge yourself to paint as broad a picture as you can and remember, Indigenous people traditionally are verbal story tellers. Important details may not be written down.
How would you suggest people celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples?
Emma – Start learning. Go to native-land.ca and see who’s land you are on and learn about the community. Take time to engage with Indigenous culture. There are vast resources of exciting and beautiful art, books, movies and television.
Jackie – Enjoy it! Indigenous communities are vast and very diverse across the globe. I would encourage people to learn, engage and celebrate!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Emma – Thank you!
Jackie – Thank you very much for asking these thought provoking questions and for your support of our global Indigenous family.
FIND OUT MORE
Emma will be at SIGGRAPH this week to moderate the panel “Creating a Culture of Belonging at DNEG Through Employee Resource Groups” – check out our programme here.
To learn about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at DNEG, our employee-led groups, programmes and partners, click here.
You can also take a look at our interview of Asia Youngman, award-winning Indigenous director of n’x̌ax̌aitkʷ, screenwriter and DNEG Greenlight Alum from Vancouver, Canada.
And if you are interested in joining our team and building your career at DNEG, check out our open positions.