When Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers accepted the role as Niska in Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders, she knew it was an opportunity to tell a story of a lifetime. Niska is a mother who joins an underground band of vigilantes to try to rescue her daughter (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart from a state-run institution. I spoke with the actress about her relationship with the director, her chemistry with Letexier-Hart, how the film came from a place of empathy, and indigenous representation in media.
“Working with Danis Goulet is really what intrigued me and drew me into the project because she’s been a friend and mentor for many years,” Tailfeathers said, “I really admire her work. So working with Danis is what drew me in, and then I read the script, and it was like nothing I’ve ever read before.” The actress shares many intense moments with her younger co-star crediting their chemistry to her precocious nature. “Brooklyn herself is just such a bright young woman,” she explained. “She’s so smart, talented, and so politically aware of the story and the themes in the film. Working with her was just a wonderful experience. Danis built some time into working together before we went to camera to build our relationship and build our sense of comfort understanding one another. It was just a wonderful experience. She has a very bright future ahead of her, and it was an honor to work with her as her on-screen mother.”
While the story at its core is science fiction, much of what happens is very much a reality to Tailfeather’s own life. “The story itself is, despite being set in a dystopian future is very much close to home and reality for me,” she said. “Both of my grandparents went to Indian residential schools here in Canada, and my father went to Sámi Boarding School in Norway. So the reality of the impact of those institutions is very close to home for me. I incorporated that personal lived experience. This is also representative of a lot of indigenous women that I know, and I wanted to honor their stories and experiences on screen through stories. So I guess every day I just really committed myself to honoring those stories and to the staying committed to the central theme of love between a mother and her daughter.”
Tailfeather credits Goulet for evoking certain historical events through the film. “There are so many things in the film that speak to the truth of the indigenous experience in Canada and also the United States,” she said. “Danis did a really great job of just reflecting truth through this alternate sort of reality in this futuristic lens. So I mean, there was so much like the Standing Rock story. I don’t know more in Canada, just witnessing indigenous resistance movements and then seeing them on screen as the ‘Night Raiders.’ That was definitely an influence and an inspiration. Then there are just the countless stories that I’ve heard to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Canada, as well as to my family and community stories.”
While inroads have been made to show better representation for POC, newer signature works allow audiences to normalize indigenous peoples. “I think there’s been a great deal of change that’s happened in the last little while, and it’s so cool to be able to witness that,” Tailfeathers said. “It’s incredible that [FX’s] ‘Reservation Dogs’ and [Peacock’s] ‘Rutherford Falls’ are on screen in the United States. We’re also witnessing this really incredible wave of indigenous films, feature films. I think there is change, and I think it has everything to do with all of the advocacy and activism that happened and continues to happen behind the scenes. I do think there is still a long way to go, but things are certainly better than they were was just a few years ago. So I hope that what happens in the future is that funding bodies, producers, networks, streaming platforms recognize that there is an audience for indigenous stories and indigenous films. We’re seeing that through the success of ‘Reservation Dogs,’ ‘Rutherford Falls’ and ‘Night Riders’ and other independent indigenous films because there is a desire and an appetite for audiences to see our stories that we need to be able to tell those stories. So I hope we only continue to see positive change in this direction.”
Executive produced by Taika Waititi, Night Raiders from Samuel Goldwyn Films also stars Gail Maurice, Amanda Plummer, Alex Tarrant, Violet Nelson, Shaun Sipos, and Suzanne Cyr. The film comes to theaters on theaters, digital, and on-demand on November 12.