Meet Carr Sappier

As part of a series of posts to honour National Indigenous History Month, we've reach out to the one-and-only Carr Sappier, who's not only an SCA alumnus, but also the hard-working co-founder (with Grace Mathisen) of the Skoden Indigenous Film Festival. We're very grateful for their responses to our questions, and the time and work they've shared with us.

Please read on ~

Please reintroduce yourself for our readers.

Kwey, greetings, my name is Carr Sappier and I am a Wolastoqey and Two-Spirit filmmaker from Neqotkuk, Tobique First Nation, located in so-called New Brunswick, Canada. I am a 2019 graduate of the film program at SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts, and a co-founder and co-curator of the Skoden Indigenous Film Festival at SFU.

What was your area of study at the SCA and how did you find your time as a student?

I was a pre-film student at SFU in my first year, taking intro courses to prepare me for the film program, as well as First Nations Studies and Communication courses. Once I was selected to take the film program through an interview, I continued taking FNST courses and other CA classes. I had a really hard time with math, and I needed to take the FAL (Foundations of Academic Literacy) and FAN (Foundations of Analytical and Quantitative Reasoning) courses before moving onto 3rd year. The math course was not designed for me, so I took a semester off SFU and attended an adult education class for high school math and passed with a B+, then I was allowed back into the film program. My film cohort and instructors supported me through that transition, and I was able to continue with my cohort moving forward.

It was hard being an Indigenous student that was new to the area and away from my family. However, throughout the years I was able to build connections with the film cohort and we became our own little family. I tried my best to get involved with the Indigenous Student Centre, but it was tough when all my classes were mostly downtown. But they were very supportive if I ever needed anything and pointed me in the right direction.  

Any particularly memorable faculty or classes?

One of the most memorable classes I attended were Noé Rodriguez's script writing courses, as well as our production courses where we worked on our end-of-year films or grad film. I admired Noé's passion for film and his resources. He gave us a book list for our script writing class and I read Monkey Beach (Eden Robinson), and I felt like it spoke to me and gave me a sense of freedom when creating. That book was so poetic and unlike anything I've ever read, and became one of my favorite books (I have since read all her books!). I just respect the way Noé taught and I enjoyed all his classes. He equipped us with knowledge that was beyond film, and opened my eyes to all its possibilities.  

Please tell us about the Skoden Indigenous Film Festival, the history of its foundation, and your vision for it in the future.

SIFF was born out of the need for SFU to practice true and proactive reconciliation (reconcili-ACTION). One of my dearest friends, who was also in my film cohort, approached me and asked how the SCA could do better. I told her it goes way beyond a land acknowledgement, and that we needed to DO something, such as inviting elders and other Indigenous community members into these walls. I suggested a film festival – an event that celebrates Indigenous creatives (established and emerging), and welcomes them into a space that respects their craft, and where they can meet each other.

After finishing our 5th year of SIFF, it's safe to say we're growing. The festival has been organized by SFU students of all academic backgrounds for the last 4 years. I've been trusting the process and being as patient as I can to allow SIFF to grow in a smart and nurturing way. With the help of some faculty members, they have been able to get this festival off the ground and support it and the students every step of the way.

I hope in the future that our festival gets more attention from other departments throughout SFU, as it is supported through SCA and Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology, but we can use more people in our corner. SIFF is amazing and still growing, but without more support, we're going to run out of resources. I'd like to see more SFU faculty and students attending and supporting local Indigenous artists by filling up the theater and engaging with them. I'd like to bear witness to more opportunities for Indigenous artists, such as from dance and the visual arts, and workshop presentations offered during the festival. However, for these priceless moments to come to fruition, we need more funding.

As an alumnus and instructor, how is SFU doing with its Reconciliation, Decolonization, and Indigenization commitments?  

I can only speak of reconciliation, decolonization, and Indigenization from a perspective of what I experienced first-hand while attending SFU and co-curarting SIFF. All I can say is, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Speaking as the only Indigenous student in most of my classes, and as part of a small handful of Indigenous students in the SCA, that shows you that SFU has a long way to go. You cannot reconcile, decolonize, or Indigenize spaces or curriculums without Indigenous students and faculty walking and speaking within SFU's walls.  

I do what I can when I talk to the students in the SIFF course, I point them into the direction they need to follow to learn more about the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, and about our past, present, and future. 95% of the time, these students are learning about Indian Residential Schools, the 60's Scoop, the Indian Act, MMIWG2S+, pan-Indigeneity, and so many other topics, for the FIRST time. These are university students in all years of their academic journey. They were so eager to learn and respected these teachings. I'm grateful for all the years I have been able to share with them, and I feel good knowing that they have been equipped with this knowledge now going forth into the world. But SFU needs to be more proactive about creating space for Indigenous students, faculty, and community.  

What are you working on now? / What are your future plans?

Since graduating from SFU in 2019, I've been back home in my Wolastoqey territory, surrounded by my land, my family, and my teachings. I've been busy planning my wedding, as well as working on a lot of films, and building space for LGBTQ2S+ folx in my community. More recently, I have been co-directing an Indigenous mental wellness series with my mentors at Raynemaker Productions, and working on community led and organized projects, such as awareness campaigns on racism, stigmatization, and MMIWG2S+. I'm also learning my language. I just finished my first year and have one more year to go of my program, I'm on the path of a lifelong learner! I never thought I would be so happy living and working on my rez before I left for Vancouver. The old saying is true: you don't appreciate it until you leave it. I love working for my community and serving my people with a craft I can hone.

Any advice for incoming SCA students?

To incoming Indigenous SCA students: take up space, and speak your truth, no matter how loud. You deserve to be there, and tell the stories that you want to tell, and tell them the way you want. School is hard, but all of us were raised to be resilient in one way or another. Create a family away from home, meet people with shared interests, don't shut yourself out. Remember, there are always people who want to support you, especially at the SCA.  

To incoming non-Indigenous SCA students: take the time to educate yourself about the injustices that have happened and continue to happen to Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. It's not only up to the Indigenous student in your class to take the burden to explain it to anyone. A little research goes a long way.

To all SCA incoming students: have fun! The program goes by so fast! Collaborate, celebrate, and learn from your peers. Go to all the shows – film, dance, theater, visual arts, music – whatever you can, because it's refreshing and inspiring to watch something that is not your major!

Great advice! Thank you, Carr.

June 08, 2023