Health Canada apologizes after Cree artist flags offensive term in casting call

Industry jargon “casting sauvage” has pejorative undertones for Indigenous people, Daybi says

A Cree performer based in Montreal is calling out a local production company for using an offensive term while trying to sign him to an all-Indigenous, government-led project.

Daybi – a hip-hop artist, songwriter and outreach worker – says he turned down an opportunity after noticing the working contract was titled “casting sauvage,” or in English, “savage casting.”

While the word has multiple meanings in French, it’s perceived as pejorative – even racist – when used in an Indigenous context.

“To French people it may be ‘wild,’ and maybe this is a normal term, but we’re dealing with Indigenous people,” Daybi explained. “And French people – regardless of how they use it and what context, they should know that that word should not be associated in any way with Indigenous people.”

Daybi says the COVID-19 pandemic changed his daily workflow and put a hold on his performance-based gigs.

“I essentially have been staying home. I have Type 2 diabetes, which puts me at a higher risk. I’ve been able to work from home somewhat. But not as much as I would’ve liked to,” he told APTN News.

While the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has been steadily releasing pandemic tools and awareness content in Indigenous languages, a proposed new campaign featuring only First Nations or Inuit participants was conceptualized to “ensure that COVID-19 communications continue to represent the diversity of the Canadian population.”

Daybi sent headshots and measurements after receiving the open call notice, and was quickly cast.

After mulling it over, Daybi contacted the company to withdraw from production, saying he couldn’t “comfortably participate” because of the language used.

“It was just a bad reminder of constantly having to put my feelings aside in order to survive,” he added.

According to the production company, “casting sauvage” is a common French term used to describe the casting of non-unionized, or unsigned, talent.

After Daybi turned down the offer, a representative of the company texted to apologize for the way the term was “misinterpreted.”

In a statement to APTN, PHAC said the term used was “offensive and inappropriate.”

“We were not aware of this situation and are grateful that this has been brought to our attention,” spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau wrote in an email.

“In the future, we will instruct any agency we work with to use the term—and to require their subcontractors to use the term — ‘open casting’ or ‘audition publique’ for any call outs related to our contracts.”

Cossette, the marketing company working directly under the federal government, said they “sincerely apologize” to Daybi and to anyone else offended by the language.

“Although the term used by L’Eloi, our external production partner, is a common French term in our industry, it can take on a new meaning when used in the context of a casting call for Indigenous people.”

APTN contacted L’Eloi who deferred to Cossette for comment.

Dominique Dufour, head of production at Cossette, called it “a far-reaching issue,” adding that the company has since eliminated the term from all materials and from company vocabulary.

She says Cossette is now working with external production partners to audit the language used on a day-to-day basis “to ensure it fosters respect and inclusivity towards Indigenous people.”

“We are taking this situation seriously and, as allies, we will work to affect positive change going forward,” she added.

Although he missed out on possible career exposure and a considerable stipend, Daybi says he felt it was important to speak out and issue a reminder about commonplace words and expressions that are no longer acceptable in the current context.

“I find that the Quebecois understanding of Indigenous people – especially the urban population – is very, very behind, and it’s offensive at times,” Daybi explained.

“I don’t go out of my way to complain. I don’t go out of my way to cause problems. It didn’t sit well with me.”

Reporter / Montreal

Lindsay was born and raised on the unceded territory of Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), and joined APTN News as a Quebec correspondent in 2019. While in university, she collaborated on a multiplatform project about the revitalization of the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language to commemorate the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Before APTN Lindsay worked at the Eastern Door, CTV Montreal and the Montreal Gazette.