How ‘Wolf Joe’ teaches children Anishinaabe values

TVO.org speaks with Chuck Clément, one of the producers behind the Indigenous animated series airing on TVOKids, about bringing lessons from the Seven Sacred Teachings to the screen
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Jun 18, 2021
From left to right: Kookum, Buddy, Nina, and Joe from 'Wolf Joe.' (Amberwood Productions and MRV)

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This weekend, in honour of the summer Solstice, TVO is airing a special episode of a program that gives Indigenous children a chance to see themselves reflected on screen.

Wolf Joe is a series that uses the Seven Sacred Teachings from Anishinaabe culture to impart Indigenous values. Joe, along with his friends Nina and Buddy, use their super-powers to solve problems in the northern Indigenous community of Turtle Bay.

A special 22-minute episode of the program will air Sunday at 7:05 a.m. It will also air at 8:27 a.m. on Monday in honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

In the episode “Team Supreme,” Joe enters a sports competition and learns about teamwork.

The program is the result of a collaboration between several companies across Canada, including Ottawa-based Amberwood Entertainment, Oakville’s Milkcow Media, and Winnipeg-based Media RendezVous, a Métis-owned production company. “The more we can exchange in terms of culture and language, and to see people who look different, and whose shapes and sizes and colors are different, the better it is,” says Chuck Clément, owner of Media RendezVous. “It should be the goal for any show, period, to try and explore and celebrate diversity.”

A man filming in The Agenda studio

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TVO.org speaks with Clément about Wolf Joe, and the challenge of getting Indigenous programs on air.

TVO.org: Wolf Joe deals with the Seven Sacred Teachings from Anishinaabe culture. How does the program explore those teachings?

Chuck Clément: These are everyday First Nations kids in a First Nations community who are encountering many of the same challenges and problem-solving opportunities that kids anywhere around the world would face in their day-to-day lives. And those challenges are overcome through trial and error and being grounded in the teaching that their grandparents impart to them, based on any one of those Seven Sacred Teachings. So it's a very accessible show, in that any kid from any background, anywhere on the planet, could relate to the challenges they're trying to overcome, and that there are different tools that you can use to overcome them.

TVO.org: When portraying a culture that isn’t often seen on television or in film, there can be a lot of pressure to “get it right.” How did you try to ensure that with Wolf Joe?

Clément: What we did right away, once we got involved here in Manitoba, was to approach a very esteemed elder by the name of Dave Courchene. He’s the spiritual leader of a lodge called the Turtle Lodge, which is in Sagkeeng First Nation, which is about an hour and 15 minutes northeast of Winnipeg. Courchene is someone we've collaborated with in the past, and he became the key spiritual adviser and consultant at the heart of this from the ideas, to the scripts, to the storyboards, to the animations.

TVO.org: How challenging is it to sell people in the media industry today on a program centred around Indigenous characters?

Clément: It's getting easier and easier. It was really hard 10 years ago. It was hard five years ago. It was less hard three years ago, when Wolf Joe finally got all the traction it needed with our wonderful partners at TVO, Knowledge, Radio Canada, and TFO. I wouldn't say it's easy, but I would say it's less hard than it was.

TVO.org: Why do think it’s becoming easier?

Clément: The content is interesting; it is of high quality. The storytellers are super-talented. And I think the non-Indigenous population in Canada has had its eyes and its spirits progressively become more and more open to those beautiful stories from terrific storytellers that come from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities. They've always been there, those stories and those people, but I think people just didn't have a chance to discover them.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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