Nakuset is one of the most visible Aboriginal figures in Montreal for two reasons: she’s involved in a multitude of important projects, and she’s always willing to talk about them. In late November, the Montreal Council of Women chose to name her their Woman of the Year in recognition of her many contributions to the community, which she serves as the executive director of the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter (MNWS), co-president of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, and host of the community TV show Indigenous Power.
There’s a good answer to those questions, however: Nakuset is always ready to speak about issues affecting Montreal’s Indigenous communities, whether it’s at civic events, to news reporters, or on committees.
“Really, of all the people in Montreal? You’re asking me?” she laughed, channelling her disbelief that she’s so frequently asked to make speeches. “But I always rise to the challenge. If I’m going to speak to the people, I pick something that’s representative of the people and the truth. This is what I know. I know what’s going on in Montreal – I know the projects that I’m involved with.”
This year has been a huge one for Nakuset and many of the initiatives she’s been involved in. The beginning of December marks the first anniversary of an agreement between the MNWS and Batshaw Youth and Family Services to improve the connections between the youth protection agency and Aboriginal communities. Since that time, Nakuset has overseen the acclaimed Inspirational Aboriginal Women photo exhibition (of women who received help from the MNWS and have overcome hardship), which ran in September and October at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and has launched her own TV show.
That show, Indigenous Power, is becoming her next big project, even though she only has time to work on it when she’s on vacation.
“The reason why I have a TV show is that I’m often on the news,” she said. Following the signing of the agreement with Batshaw last year, news organizations invited Nakuset as well as officials from other Montreal Indigenous organizations to talk about how Aboriginal people should be represented in media.
“I kind of monopolized it,” she said, “saying they needed to do this and that. I came prepared with documents and talked about the initiatives we’re doing. Also, I told them, ‘You need to put Aboriginal Day on the news. I always see St. Jean Baptiste, but I never see Aboriginal Day. I have First Nations children and they need to know this is a holiday.’ So guess who was on the news this year for Aboriginal Day?”
As they were finishing up their Aboriginal Day broadcast, producers mentioned that Bell Media owns the local CTV affiliate, CFCF, and that they were starting a community television show to cover Indigenous issues.
“I joked that they should hire me, because I could be the Indian Oprah. Everybody laughed, but then I got a call the next day saying, ‘You’re on.’”
So began Nakuset’s new career as what she calls the “Make-It-Happener” of the show Indigenous Power, about Aboriginal people in Montreal, which she hosts and organizes. Episodes so far have featured interviews with musicians, filmmakers and actors, including Mohawk guitarist Corey Diabo of the band Jonas and Mohawk actor Kaniehtiio Horn. Future episodes will profile Inuit culture and discuss the issue of urban Aboriginal homelessness.
“The TV show is something I love to do,” she said. “I don’t get paid for it – it’s community television. I took time off work, but when I take my vacation time it’s to do my TV show. The shelter and the network are my job, and I have three children, and I’m a single mom. So it takes a backburner. Putting the shows on the air is my hobby.”
In the future, if she has the time, she wants to approach the Aboriginal People’s Television Network to sell them the show. But for the time being, she’s simply too busy – and she’s happy to have the show beaming out a positive message to TV audiences in both Montreal and Toronto.
“I see Aboriginal people as amazing, hopeful and dynamic. Do not feel sorry for our people! We are fantastic, and you’re going to want to be one!”