Dallayce Smith was never encouraged to work hard at school, never motivated to do more than the bare minimum or to listen to her teachers.
Despite the hurdles, the 19-year-old member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations recently moved to Toronto to begin her studies at Humber College.
The focus of her first short film – titled Look at Her – examines some of the racism and mistreatment her parents faced when they were going to school, and the impact it had on her upbringing.
On Oct. 15, the two-and-a-half minute film will be screening at the 16th annual imagiNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival, billed as the world’s largest indigenous festival.
Look at Her was shot during a hectic two-day workshop held in Whitehorse in March. Festival organizers visited eight communities across Canada to give budding filmmakers tips and advice on making short films.
The films had to be conceived, shot and edited within 48 hours.
“I struggled with it at first because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Smith said.
“The next day, the facilitator encouraged me to keep going. I started remembering my parents’s stories, stories I’d known for a long time.”
Using an iPad to record, Smith and a friend walked over to the Black Street stairs for a very specific reason.
She wanted to use the steep stairs as a metaphor for the experiences her parents faced at school, she said.
Narrating the film, she recalls how her father, who grew up in Burwash Landing, would fool around while waiting for the bus in the morning.
Arriving at school meant getting the strap from his principal.
After a few years of the same treatment he stopped taking the bus, and stopped going to school altogether.
Smith’s mother went to school in Whitehorse, where there were few indigenous students at the time.
During class one day, her teacher put her on the spot because of her appearance, asking everyone to stare at her and examine her features, especially her eyes, skin and hair.
“My parents never had great experiences at school,” she says in the film.
“It’s a hard habit to break, when you’re told not to try, just to get by. I never thought what happened to them, would happen to me.”
Smith goes on to recall a Grade 7 history class she had on the Beringia land bridge.
Her teacher also asked students to stare at their indigenous classmates, when it came time to explain the theory that people migrated from Siberia to Alaska.
“Look at Dallayce’s eyes, the almond shape of them, look at how full her lips are,” the teacher said.
At this point in the film, Smith is seen standing on the edge of the upper escarpment trail near the Whitehorse airport, overlooking the city.
“It kind of made you feel special at the time,” she said, “but she shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s the 21st century, you should know better.”
Smith said she hadn’t made the connection between her mother’s experience and her own until she made the film.
It’s important not to forget those experiences, she added, but also to learn, heal and move on.
“I’m going to college now and pursuing what I want to do, I didn’t let that stop me,” she said.
Smith is enrolled in Humber College’s art foundation certificate program, which prepares students for related programs such as 3D animation, film and media production, and graphic design.
Toronto was intimidating at first, but she’s settling in now, she said.
She knows she wants to make a career out of filmmaking, whether she decides to pursue that at Humber or elsewhere, such as Vancouver Film School.
“I’ve always been curious, asking questions,” she said.
She said she’s already working on a second film, a full-length feature this time which would focus on an “important Yukoner and the contributions they’ve made to the territory,” although it’s still too early to talk about, she said.
The 12th annual imagiNATIVE Film + Video tour is currently in planning stages and will take place from March to May next year, stopping in Whitehorse on March 7.
Contact Myles Dolphin at