Alumni Profile: Tracey Deer '95 (Pre-U '96)
Producer, Writer, Director
Determination alone is what drove Tracey Deer to go after what she wanted. Convinced at the age of 12 that she wanted to work in the film industry, Ms. Deer faced significant challenges. “It was an uphill battle because many people didn’t expect much of me,” she says. “The message I received from Canadian society, and from many in my Mohawk community, was that Aboriginal people just don’t do that.” And so, she set out to prove them wrong.
“Within my own community, I know that attitude came from misguided love because they wanted to protect me from disappointment,” she says. On the other hand, Ms. Deer’s mother served as her guiding light, reinforcing a very different kind of message. She told Ms. Deer that she should follow her dreams, that she could do whatever she wanted to do, and that education was key. “If my mom said that I could do it, then I knew I could,” Ms. Deer says. “She gave me the strength to forge ahead.”
Today, Ms. Deer is a film producer, writer and director, and has written and directed several award-winning projects for the Aboriginal-run film and television production company Rezolution Pictures, as well as the CBC, the NFB, and many other independent production companies across Canada. Most recently, the dramatic comedy series, Mohawk Girls, which Ms. Deer co-created, co-executive produces and directs, was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards: best comedy series, as well as best writing, best direction, and best performance by an actress in a comedy series.
Ms. Deer says that the one year she spent in grade 12 at LCC was instrumental in shaping her career. While at Queen of Angels Academy, she had already decided that she wanted to go to film school in the US, which made the LCC Pre-University program very attractive. “The high caliber of the academics at LCC pushed me to be the best student that I could be,” she says. “The teachers were so invested in our success that whenever I did struggle, I got the extra attention and help that I needed to succeed.”
Most notably, Ms. Deer says that the school’s then university advisor, Kevin Callahan, served as her coach for building her future. “I had big dreams of going to an Ivy League school and had my sights set on Dartmouth College. Since I had spent so much of life trying to prove that I was someone, I half expected him to laugh at me,” Ms. Deer says. “But no. My goal became his mission and he helped me get there.”
Ms. Deer is honoured to be able to tell stories about her own people, but it does come with its challenges. “Everything I produce is for an Aboriginal audience but also for the Canadian public at large. As a community, we are aware of our own issues and realities but there are Canadians who do not have this understanding. Creating content that entertains, and ideally impacts, both of those audiences is a delicate balancing act.”
For good reason, Ms. Deer takes a great deal of pride in all that she has created and the positive response. “When someone takes time to watch something that I have made, or the industry recognizes something that I have done, it makes me feel happy for that 12-year-old girl who had a dream and made it happen.”