Ask Tracey Deer if much has changed since her debut documentary Mohawk Girls was released 13 years ago and she'll have two answers.
Yes, things are different for Indigenous women in this country. Yes, things are different for teenagers. But then, she's still exploring the same themes she set out to back then because some things haven't changed at all.
"One of the big goals (of the film) was to shine a light on the difficulties teenagers face," Deer says. "There's a great divide between adults and teenagers. As we get older and have our bills to pay and jobs and this and that, I felt then—and feel now too—grown ups forget how hard it is to be a teenager. We need to be there for them, help them through that difficult time."
The documentary was first released in 2005. It follows three teenage girls from the Kahnawake Native reserve near Montreal—where Deer grew up—over a two-year period. Interspersed with the deeply personal stories of Amy, Lauren and Felicia is Deer's own coming-of-age tale, chronicled on her first video camera.
"We're from a small town, so I know roughly where they're all at," she says. "We're not in touch regularly at all, but with social media I'm able to see what they're up to. It's so interesting to watch the film from 13 years ago. Some of them were only just over 13 years old when I started filming them, so it's doubling their lifetime. They're women and living their lives and following their dreams. Some of them have children of their own now. I'm super proud of them."
Deer—who has gone on to become an award-winning fiction and documentary filmmaker, executive producer and writer—has been revisiting the film as part of a National Film Board (NFB) initiative in which the organization is touring Indigenous films around Canada.
Communities were invited to choose Indigenous films from a catalogue and Whistler chose Deer's. Mohawk Girls will be screening at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) for free on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. Deer will also be in attendance to take part in a Q&A after.
"It's so crazy to go back there; I hadn't seen (the film) in years," she adds. "I think it still holds up all these years later and that's wonderful."
One of the projects Deer went on to create was a fictional TV series, also called Mohawk Girls, but with a completely different premise, which airs on APTN. Focusing on women in their 20s, it's akin to Sex and the City, with an Indigenous twist.
"We just loved the title, so that's why it's the same," she says. "It's girls in their late 20s, so the age is different, but...those questions about being a modern Indigenous woman remain. Unfortunately I still don't have the answers at 40."
Watch the free screening of Mohawk Girls at the SLCC on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. Boxed In, directed by Shane Belcourt, will also play.