York film student lands key role in Dudley George epic

York University film student and actress Pamela Matthews (right) joins a star-studded cast in CTV’s One Dead Indian which premieres tonight at 8pm.

Directed by Tim Southam, the film is based on Peter Edwards’ 2001 book of the same title. It tells the story of the 1995 skirmish between riot police and aboriginal protesters who had taken over Ipperwash Provincial Park, Ont., in which native activist Dudley George was shot. Matthews plays the part of George’s sister, Carolyn, in the movie.

A Cree native of the Sachigo Lake First Nation Clan of Ontario, Matthews has been extensively involved in the Dudley George case from the outset. She has also been a professional actress for 10 years, portraying Suzie Muskrat in the television seriesNorth of 60″, which earned her a Gemini Award nomination.

Matthews’ is currently completing her MFA degree in the Graduate Program in Film at York. Her thesis project, titled “A Shot in the Dark”, is a filmmaker’s journey through Ipperwash and the death of Dudley George.

“I have a long history with the Dudley George case,” said Matthews. “I spent many childhood summers camping at CFB Ipperwash, where my father was the resident doctor for the cadets-in-training. At that time, I had no idea that it was Indian land. We just camped there because it was so beautiful.”

In 1995, Matthews and a friend took a nostalgic drive to Ipperwash Park during the Labour Day long weekend. Although she was aware of the ongoing land dispute situation, she didn’t know the details.

“When we arrived at Ipperwash, the barricades were up,” recalled Matthews. “At first, I was scared to cross them. Then we decided to walk down the beach, where we spotted a group of guys at a picnic table. One of them was Dudley George. We stopped and spoke with him at length. Two days later, he was shot.”

Left: Dudley George

Soon after the shooting, Matthews was hired by the George legal team to assist on the case. In between acting roles, she did clerical work and conducted interviews for the lawyers, while working she gained valuable insight into the issues surrounding Ipperwash which she then put to use when developing the concept for her thesis project. She was in the courtroom the day Ontario Provincial Police Officer Kenneth Deane was found guilty of killing Dudley George.

Drawing on these experiences and her own research, Matthews is writing, producing and directing A Shot in the Dark. The production is a work-in-progress, as the inquiry into the death of Dudley George is ongoing. Matthews’ relentless search for answers has taken her from the shores of Ipperwash Park to the halls of Queen’s Park, and this is reflected in the film footage.

“‘A Shot in the Dark’ is more than just a documentary about Dudley George, who was the first person killed in a land claims dispute in the 20th century,” said Matthews. “Clearly, indigenous culture is not understood and I am tired of this. I want ‘A Shot in the Dark’ to build understanding.”

“Pamela’s personal experience with Ipperwash and her devotion to social justice are converging in her MFA Thesis film, which promises to provide a unique perspective on the death of Dudley George and the wider issue of violence against aboriginal peoples in Canada,” said Michael Zyrd who is the graduate program director in the Department of Film.

Matthews is a director, playwright, actor and filmmaker. In 2002, her film Only the Devil Speaks Cree won Best Live Short at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, and the audience award for Best Short Film at the Native American Film & Television Alliance Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthews’ plays include the one-woman comedy titled The Virgin Sister Brigette Regina Virginia Frigid Explains It All for You, which she performed at the 2000 Riddu Riddu Festival in Norway. She served as director of the 10th annual Festival of New Native Plays and Playwrights, and has also worked as a programmer for the Reel World Film Festival. Her television acting credits include “The Rez” and “North of 60”. She won the 1996 James Buller Award for Female Performer of the Year for her role in “North of 60”.

 This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.