NFB adds director of Indigenous relations

J'net Ayayqwayaksheelth will be part of the NFB's executive committee and report to the Commissioner.

The National Film Board of Canada has announced J’net Ayayqwayaksheelth has joined the organization as its director, Indigenous relations and community engagement.

The role is new for the organization and will see Ayayqwayaksheelth working with the NFB Indigenous Advisory Committee to provide leadership and organizational direction towards implementing organizational change and transformation at all levels.

Ayayqwayaksheelth will be key in organizing and directing activities related to the NFB’s Indigenous Action Plan, which was announced in 2017 to respond to the work and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and increasing the number of Indigenous-led projects at the NFB to at least 15%. A 2019 update noted that the production target had been reached.

Her role and the soon-to-be-named director of diversity, equity and inclusion are part of the NFB’s early 2021 pledge to create a pair of inclusion-focused managerial positions as it undertakes an internal overhaul to build a more “egalitarian, open and diverse organization.”

The NFB said that by March 31, 2023 it will have a staff that “fully reflect[s] Canadian society.” It said it will do this by ensuring at least half of its new hires are Indigenous, Black, racialized, LGBTQ2+ or people with disabilities. In the managerial ranks the NFB has said two out of three hires will be from underrepresented groups, with those changes being made as positions become available.

An award-winning arts leader and digital educator committed to raising the positive profile of Indigenous Peoples, Ayayqwayaksheelth most recently worked as the Indigenous outreach and learning coordinator with the Royal Ontario Museum’s learning department. She has also held roles with Centennial College and the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts. Ayayqwayaksheelth has received honours including a 2020 John Hobday Award in Arts Management from the Canada Council for the Arts as well as the Banff Centre’s Indigenous Woman’s Achievement in Community Leadership Award in 2019.

“For an outspoken Indigenous arts leader like myself, this opportunity represents a turning of the page in authentic Indigenous storytelling in Canadian filmmaking,”  said Ayayqwayaksheelth in a release on her appointment. “We are overdue to have these difficult conversations. By introducing this senior-level position, it signals that the NFB is ready and willing to do the work of remembering and acknowledging ongoing Indigenous excellence and innovation. I am honoured to be taking up this important role.”

Ayayqwayaksheelth will be part of the organization’s executive committee and report to Claude Joli-Coeur, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson.