Katarina Ziervogel on being part of both deaf and Indigenous communities

‘We weren’t hired’ says actor in Marvel mini-series.

It’s often a cause for celebration when an actor lands their breakout role in a television show or movie.

The personal feat reaffirms their talents and capabilities as a performer.

But landing the role as Taloa in the Marvel mini-series, Echo wasn’t just a big deal for Katarina Ziervogel as a deaf actor.

She says the show, which focuses on a deaf and Indigenous superhero played by Alaqua Cox, is opening the door for other Deaf actors to enter the entertainment industry as well.

“It’s going to be very impactful because it’s increasing the opportunities for deaf, disabled actors,” says the 27-year-old from Winnipeg.

“We weren’t hired,” says Ziervogel of the past, “Deaf people were kind of pushed aside, disabled characters were not really included until now and finally they’re coming out to the mainstream.”

Ziervogel is an Ojibwe-Mohawk actor and writer, and a registered member of Sagkeeng Anicinabe Nation in Manitoba.

She says she was 15 years old when she decided she wanted to be a writer, and that acting came later.

A fan and writer of science fiction, she says she has ideas for how Indigenous perspectives can change the genre – one which was historically dominated by white authors and themes of colonization.

“I don’t think it would be more like colonization,” says Ziervogel, “I think it would be more trade-based, and I think that interaction would be different, or maybe a sharing of resources or even creating a new way to communicate or languages.”

Ziervogel released her first co-written feature film, Finality of Dusk, last year and is working on a documentary about Indigenous sign languages.

“Our ancestors, whether they were deaf or not, often used sign languages or signs,” says Ziervogel.

She says the practice started to fade like other Indigenous languages during colonization.

While the Indigenous community focuses on language reclamation, she says she hopes Indigenous sign languages will be reclaimed alongside the spoken languages.

Ziervogel on being both Deaf and Indigenous

Ziervogel says reconnecting with her Indigenous culture has been difficult.

It’s important to her as the child of a Sixties Scoop survivor – but as a Deaf person, she says ceremony and cultural spaces aren’t always made accessible.

“I wouldn’t say it’s quite there yet,” says Ziervogel, “I’m hoping that as time goes on these issues of accessibility will come to the forefront – where [deaf people] can be given a chance to kind of reconnect with the cultures.”

She says she identifies as being part of both Indigenous and deaf cultures.

“When I think about that, and having both of those cultures within myself, I really started wondering how that impacted my identity,” says Ziervogel, “What does that mean to me as a person having both of those cultures and how [do I] fit into both of those communities?”

She says there are similarities between the two cultures.

“In the past, deaf people weren’t really allowed to use their sign languages. They were taken from their families [to go] to other schools as well,” says Ziervogel, “And that’s a similar experience to Indigenous culture, where the Indigenous groups were not allowed to kind of be with each other as well.”

Ziervogel says she didn’t see herself represented on screen growing up.

Now, she and Cox, who’s also deaf, are changing that for the future generation.

“… To have two [Deaf and Indigenous actors] in the same series is just not something that happens.”

She says she felt relieved entering the set of Echo with Cox at her side since they shared those identities, and that she did not feel tokenized.

“I was so grateful to have her presence, her experience, and also to share the industry with her,” says Ziervogel, “Sometimes you feel like you’re going to be the only person, eyes all on you. But it wasn’t like that with Alaqua on set.”

She has a message for other deaf people wanting to be part of the entertainment industry.

“if you have a dream, whatever that dream may be or any passion or hunger for something, pursue it,” says Ziervogel, “Whether access is in place or not, try to figure out how to make it accessible.”

She says to do whatever you can to make your dreams happen.

“Find the people or create the space where the barriers can be broken down so that [others] know you also have a right to be in this space and that you’re not afraid to fight for the things that you want to achieve.”

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