'Moccasin Flats:' Canadian network picks up new series

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REGINA, Saskatchewan - As the major American networks announce their usual suspects of sitcoms and reality shows for their fall schedules, north of the border, Canada's Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) - the world's first indigenous nationally televised station - marks a milestone in North American television. When "Moccasin Flats" airs on APTN this fall it will be the first dramatic TV series in Canada or the United States to be produced, written, and starring Native people.

"'Moccasin Flats' gives voice to a largely unheard population," said Laura Milliken (Chippewa), co-executive producer and partner of Big Soul Productions, the show's production company. "There has never been a dramatic series about Aboriginal Canadians made by Aboriginal Canadians. It's also a venue for the mainstream audience to see what we're capable of doing and to give Aboriginal people artistic and technical opportunities in television."

Told from the perspective of inner city Native youth, "Moccasin Flats" takes a gritty, realistic look at the lives and stories inside a "Native ghetto" in the Canadian prairie town of Regina, Saskatchewan.

The fast-moving half-hour drama focuses on the story of Justin, played by newcomer Justin Toto (Saulteaux) and the summer before he attends university. Featuring a mix of characters both supportive and dangerous, Justin's summer offers challenges physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

Big Soul Productions, a Native-owned and operated production company, aims for an honest approach to reflect the realities of a particular population of urban Native youth where hip hop is the music of choice and gang allegiances are often a necessity. In keeping with this mission, Big Soul consulted Native youth, law enforcement officers and elders in scripting the series to ensure its accuracy.

"'Moccasin Flats' is a microcosm in which endless stories exist," Milliken said. It is a place on the precipice of change. "These stories are common to many inner-city communities throughout the world. But for the youth in 'Moccasin Flats', their culture and identity or lack thereof, is what makes their stories their own and worth being told."

An added weight of realism permeates the series which takes it name from the real life Moccasin Flats, the name given to an economically depressed area of Regina with a large Native population. The majority of the actors are themselves actual residents of this so-called "Native ghetto." The stories are derived from their experiences. In the first episode, we meet the cast of characters that will impact Justin's quest to earn enough money to attend university.

"In Canada, very often you see the same Native actors in television and film," said Jennifer Podemski (Saulteaux), a well-known Canadian actor as well as the show's co-executive producer and Milliken's partner at Big Soul. "It's wonderful to see these talented young people emerge as the next generation of Native actors."

The pilot episode, directed by Randy Redroad, Cherokee, made its debut at the Native Forum at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Best known for his award-winning debut film, "The Doe Boy," Redroad applauds the show's particular brand of realism. "There is not one dishonest moment in the whole series. It reflects a particular life in a particular place," says Redroad, who, incidentally, is working on his next project, the clever sounding "Blue Suede Indian," about a Native American Elvis impersonator born with one blue eye.

APTN is only available in Canada. For more information about "Moccasin Flats" please visit Big Soul Productions at www.bigsoul.net.