Founded and run by two Indigenous women, Tania Koenig-Gauchier and Shirley McLean, Vancouver-based Wapanatahk Media was launched in partnership with Thunderbird Entertainment’s Great Pacific Media in 2021. The production company’s first series, Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet follows Dr. Savannah Howse-Smith, a Métis veterinarian based in rural Alberta. The docuseries, which bowed on APTN last week, highlights Dr. Savannah’s successes and challenges, as well as her lived experience as an Indigenous woman.
The idea for Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet came to Koenig-Gauchier and McLean, executive producers on the series and CEO and president of Wapanatahk Media, respectively, while brainstorming a few years ago about what they and others most wanted to see on TV, landing on people’s love of their pets. In Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet, in addition to sharing veterinary tales, Wapanatahk is also telling the story of a young Indigenous woman discovering her heritage.
“It’s common for people to feel disconnected from their families or heritage sometimes, and we think a lot of viewers will relate to this journey of self-discovery,” says Koenig-Gauchier. “Our identities are such a big part of who we are and how we see the world, and we are thrilled to highlight distinct Métis culture and heritage through a common lens: a love for animals and the joy they bring to our lives!”
Dr. Savannah “is witty, funny, personable and has such a pure love for animals,” adds Koenig-Gauchier. “We have no doubt that viewers will resonate with her right away. And, as Indigenous storytellers, representation matters so much. It’s incredibly important for young Indigenous people to see themselves positively reflected on-screen, and Dr. Savannah’s journey will allow the next generation of Indigenous youth to see this.”
Centering on Dr. Savannah and telling her personal story, Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet proved an exciting and fitting first docuseries for the women behind Wapanatahk Media, for whom the production company began as a dream in their college days. “‘Wapanatahk’ in Cree means ‘morning star,’ which signifies the dawn of a new day,” says McLean. “It was the perfect name because it’s exactly what we want to do—take amazing Indigenous characters and stories and bring them to mainstream media.”
“Authentic Indigenous representation is at the heart of our mission at Wapanatahk Media,” adds McLean. “Our goal is to provide a platform for new Indigenous voices and highlight uplifting Indigenous stories of communities and people. Our stories don’t always center around trauma; there is so much more. Indigenous people are doing extraordinary things, and we are excited to bring these positive stories to the world.”
Koenig-Gauchier and McLean are proud to be part of the tide turn that is resulting in more Indigenous content that brings underrepresented people and stories to viewers around the world. At Wapanatahk Media, there is also a push to hire and create opportunities for aspiring Indigenous creatives behind the scenes. For Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet’s forthcoming second season, the company has seven Indigenous women—in addition to Koenig-Gauchier and McLean—working in editing, writing and producing roles.
In terms of the industry at large, they’re pleased to see such programs as the Amazon Studios-Indigenous Screen Office Pitch Program and the CFC/Netflix Project Development Accelerator in Canada that are providing opportunities for BIPOC creators.
“We hope this trend continues, and we know it starts with production companies—like ours—that are on a mission to highlight authentic Indigenous stories,” says McLean. “We need to keep doing more as an industry to empower young Indigenous creators by creating opportunities for them to work and create and to keep this momentum going!”
In addition to season two of Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet, which was renewed before its season one premiere, Wapanatahk Media is working on a series with Dr. James Makokis and Anthony Johnson, the first Two-Spirit Indigenous couple to win Amazing Race Canada.