Acting was not the career path that Tina Keeper had planned on.
As a child, Keeper wanted to be an artist. Her parents were friends with people like Norval Morrisseau, so it was something she knew was possible.
In the early 1980s she joined an Indigenous theatre group in Winnipeg but by that point had plans of becoming an academic.
Keeper was still in university working on a degree when she was asked to audition for a show called North of 60. She thought, even if she worked on the show for one day, she would earn enough money to pay for the broken gasket on her car.
“From my perspective, I thought Canada is not going to accept a predominantly Native cast, it’s set in an Indigenous community, and this is too foreign for Canadians. I didn’t think it would last more than one season.
“So, we were all really surprised by just how well it did,” says Keeper on the latest episode of Face to Face.
Keeper was cast as RCMP officer Michelle Kenidi. To this day, Keeper says she can’t believe how big the show became.
North of 60 had a run of 90 episodes over five seasons. There were also five made-for-TV movies were also produced.
During its run, Keeper won a Gemini Award for Best Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role.
Keeper says the show touched so many people and changed the Canadian media landscape.
“It was really important in Canada. It humanized, the stories and people understand the stories as being universal. There are so many storylines on North of 60 that resonate to this day. I still have people that come to me or stop me and you know this is 30 years later and they talk about a storyline that was meaningful to them in whatever way,” says Keeper.
While appearing as a guest on Face to Face, Tom Jackson hinted at a North of 60 reunion.
Keeper believes that idea has been put on the back burner.
“It would be fun to do but I think there’s so much more work to do,” says Keeper. “My thinking is, let’s clear the room for something new and exciting. Maybe there’s a level of vanity that I just don’t want to go back and be an elder in Lynx River.”
In recent years, Keeper, who has continued acting, has also been producing through her company Kistikan Pictures Inc.
One of the first big projects she produced was the 2018 feature film, Through Black Spruce, based on the novel by Joseph Boyden.
“The controversy erupted with Joseph Boydon just as we were in early prep for the film,” says Keeper who had already been working on developing the project for five or six years. Keeper says controversy aside, she felt like that was really her film.
“For me, that story was about, in a way, a story about my mom’s family, about my mom’s life and journey. And not that those things happened to her in a particular but that I could bring an homage to her,” says Keeper whose mother was from Treaty 9.
Another more recent project that Keeper is acting in and producing is Acting Good, starring comedian Paul Rabliauskas. It debuted on CTV Comedy in October 2022.
The show is about a young First Nations man returning home to his small community in northern Manitoba. It was met with good numbers, says Keeper who is hoping an announcement is coming soon about a possible second season of the show.
Acting Good will begin airing on APTN in late March.
Part 2 of our interview with Tina Keeper will air on next week’s episode of Face to Face.