Devery Jacobs & Michelle Chubb | 2021 MAKERS Conference Finale

Devery Jacobs, actor and filmmaker, is interviewed by Michelle Chubb, content creator and Indigenous activist, about Indigenous representation in Hollywood and beyond.

Video Transcript

MICHELLE CHUBB: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. Hello, my name is Michelle Chubb. Welcome to MAKERS. I have the honor of interviewing actor and activist, and Devery Jacobs, from "Reservation Dogs."

So you are Mohawk and from a reservation outside of Montreal. And as we know, it's different from reserve to reserve. I love to know about your experience growing up on your reserve.


My name is Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs. I am Mohawk. I am from Kahnawake Mohawk territory, but now I'm living in the city now known as Toronto. And the clip we just saw was like, I guess, one of the more serious quiet moments of "Reservation Dogs" in a otherwise really funny and fast-paced-- fast-paced series. And yes, I did grow up in-- in Kahnawake, as you were saying. And it does vary from-- from reservation to reserve depending on where we are.

And growing up in my community was an experience very unlike Elora Danan's in "Reservation Dogs," where Elora is someone who like, wants to leave the res, and is fighting and raising money and trying to organize getting out of it for the entire season. I had a little bit of difficulty getting into that role and that character, because I grew up in a community that I loved and embraced so much. I grew up in the legacy of the 1990 Oka Crisis, which was a huge moment in Canadian history, where there was a 78-day standoff between the Mohawks of Kanesatake and also, Kahnawake, and also, the Canadian army.

And so in-- in the legacy of that, there was such a huge resurgence and pride for being Mohawk. And I grew up surrounded by like, language and culture, and my [NON-ENGLISH TERM] my grandmother was principal of the Mohawk Immersion school when I grew up on the dead end of a dirt road in the middle of the bush. But then if I drove for 20 minutes, I'd also be downtown Montreal. So like, I grew up with access to my community and culture, but also to the outside world and-- and the things that come with it. So it was a really great childhood and-- and really rooted me and who I am and my perspective in the world as a Mohawk woman.

MICHELLE CHUBB: Wow. That's-- that's pretty awesome. What is it like growing up queer on your reserve?

DEVERY JACOBS: Growing up on my reserve as a queer person, I think I have had a little bit of a different experience than-- than a lot of queer folks and queer indigenous folks or two-spirit folks, because I-- I would say I was like, already grown when I realized and stepped into my queerness. I wasn't someone who grew up and automatically knew my identity or who I was. And I was very much shaped by the perspective of my community.

And Kahnawake was originally formed as a Catholic reservation or reserve. And while we kept our-- our ceremonies and culture underground, and we've been able to hold on to it, now, we've reverted to-- to being back to a much more traditional versus-- versus Catholic. But some of those effects from the church have bled into our culture. And because of that, queerness wasn't really accepted on-- on my res. And it wasn't really something that-- that I had grown up knowing about myself or really seeing around me. Most people were closeted.

But now more than ever, as people are-- are veering towards being more traditional to our cultures, and-- and also decolonizing, and also, conversations at large about queerness and gender queerness are-- are moving forward, and are reaching not only big cities, but now small towns across North America that there are conversations that are being more accepting towards our-- our two-spirit and indigi-queer relatives. But yeah, I guess like, growing up in Kahnawake, I took on the like, heteronormative native Mohawk identity. And when I left, and I realized I'm like, oh my god, this is actually a huge part of who I am.

And I only realized that once I left my reserve, that I felt for a long time-- and I had explained this when I had defended the novel, "Johnny Appleseed" by Joshua Whitehead on a program called Canada Reads, which I actually won. And in there, there's like, a passage from his book, Joshua's book, that says like, on the res, I played straight in order to be Indian. And here in the city, I played white in order to be queer.

And that was something that resonated so deeply with me. I thought that-- that my queerness and me being [NON-ENGLISH TERM] were-- were separate. Were not something that-- were things that crossed over within me. And I didn't believe that it was something that I could go back to my community and live as my full self as a queer Mohawk person.

And it was through defending that novel, through conversations with my family, and also through like, a lot of therapy that I was able to-- to bring those different parts of myself together and live as-- as my whole self. So I didn't necessarily grow up knowing that I was queer, but I was very much a baby queer on the res. And-- and now I'm so excited to see that there are conversations about having a pride in Kahnawake, in my community. And more people coming out than ever before, and family members, cousins, kin. And it's been so great to see in such a necessary conversation within our communities for us to be having.

MICHELLE CHUBB: Yeah, I know. That's the case for like, almost every reservation due to colonization. And I'm like super proud of the future now. And I'm more excited for the future of indigenous people. The past year has been incredibly challenging for all-- all of us. What inspires you to keep going?

DEVERY JACOBS: It has been an incredibly challenging year. And I think it's especially been hard for our communities where, as indigenous peoples from Turtle Island, that we have survived 500 years of genocide and colonization by leaning on each other, and by forming that sense of community. And I'm convinced it's through that and through humor that we've been able to survive and thrive. And being in the midst of a global pandemic has been incredibly difficult for so many of us. It's not in our nature to be socially distanced, to live apart from each other.

Part of being [NON-ENGLISH TERM], or part of being [NON-ENGLISH TERM], part of being Mohawk is who I am in relation to my community, to my people, to my clan, who I'm-- who I'm amongst. When we introduce ourselves, like, I say, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. Like, I'm from Kahnawake. Like, this is who I belong to. And so to be-- to be separated from everybody has been such an incredibly difficult year. Fortunately, we were also some of the first people to be provided with vaccinations. And I made sure to protect my [NON-ENGLISH TERM], to protect my cousins and family members, that-- that was something that I think is really important for-- for us to be vaccinated to protect ourselves and each other and our cultures.

And then as far as-- as far as I go to-- to keep going in the midst of all of this while we're still working, while we're still trying to make livelihoods, but also uplift our stories and our communities-- what I do to keep going is I had mentioned earlier that I'm-- I'm in therapy, but I'm also a huge advocate for mental health. And-- and so that's been something that's been able to keep me going-- is making sure that I'm checking in with myself, with my therapist. Making sure that I'm staying connected to my community, to ceremonies where I can in whatever form they're looking like right now in the state of the world. But yeah, I think those are specific things that I do to-- to keep going in the midst of-- of all of this wildness.

MICHELLE CHUBB: Well, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It was really-- it was really fun and like, eye-opening for you to share your experience and your life story. I thought it was interesting. So thank you very much.

DEVERY JACOBS: Yeah, [NON-ENGLISH TERM]. Thank you so much.