North of 60 Interview: Wilma Pelly

If any one person can be said to represent the heart and soul of Lynx River, it would arguably be
Elsie Tsa Che. This strong-willed elder has unerring instincts for the good of the community and the
people in it. Over six seasons and three movies, Calgary actress Wilma Pelly has made Elsie one of
the most beloved characters on "North of 60."

Unfortunately, I only had a short amount of time to interview Ms. Pelly, because she was getting ready
to leave the set for the day. But I hope you enjoy this brief glimpse into the person behind Elsie Tsa Che.

PW: Back when Teevee had a big chip on his shoulder about the whole world, the only person he ever showed any respect for was his grandmother Elsie. I don't think it was just because she was older than he was, because there were plenty of adults he didn't treat that well. Why did he pay attention to Elsie when he wouldn't listen to anyone else?

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WP: Because I raised him.

PW: Ah, where was Lois?

WP: I guess she must have been around, but he was always with me, right from the beginning.

PW: So even though his mother was around, Elsie was in charge. But there must have been more to it than that.

WP: She loves him a lot. She loves her grandchildren.

PW: But he doesn't always seem to recognize that.

WP: No, none of them do. Not even my own! [laughs]

PW: I guess underneath everything, he does sense that love and respond to it. It's one of the most rewarding relationships in the series. Did you enjoy watching Teevee grow up over the years?

WP: Yeah, from a bad boy to a good, upstanding citizen.

PW: When you started the show, what did they tell you about Elsie to help you create the character?

WP: That she was a well respected elder, I believe a medicine woman--and medicine women in native communities are very well respected. So I played the role of a very well respected lady. [laughs]

PW: Where are you originally from yourself?

WP: I am from Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. I was born in the Fort Qu'Appelle Indian Hospital. I belong to the Muscowpetung Reserve, but I was never raised on it. I was actually raised on the Standing Buffalo Reserve in Saskatchewan, which is Sioux.

PW: How did you happen to go there?

WP: My mother married a Sioux man after she left my dad.

PW: Do you live in Alberta now?

WP: Yes, I've lived here since 1955.

PW: Of course, you've had roles in other productions besides "North of 60." One that I saw was a show called "The Beat," which starred Daryl Shuttleworth, better known to North of 60 fans as Albert Golo's lawyer Arthur Curtis. That was a pilot for a series, right?

WP: It was a pilot, but it never materialized into a series. Maybe they're still thinking about it.

PW: I hope so. I thought just in that one hour they set up some interesting characters. I remember there was a scene between you and Mr. Shuttleworth in a coffee shop.

WP: Yeah, it was in the coffee shop. But the one I enjoyed most on there was the scene with the buffalo.

PW: Oh, right, the one that had escaped from the zoo!

WP: Yeah, yeah. I got to feed the buffalo!

PW: People keep reporting seeing a buffalo, and the police say there are no buffalo around because they're in--I think it was Edmonton, right?

WP: Yes, it was filmed in Edmonton, in a community in Edmonton. The scene with the buffalo was right in behind a house.

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PW: I know you need to leave soon, but I wanted to quickly ask you about one more piece you've done. There's a public service announcement that you and Tom Jackson and Gordon Tootoosis are in for the Northwest Territories Seniors' Society. It's just hilarious, because it has Peter Kenidi and Albert Golo arguing over the future of Lynx River, as usual, and then Elsie comes in to ask for help getting her pension check and Peter flips her a quarter for the phone. Was that created by someone on the North of 60 staff?

WP: It was done by Vicki Swan. She's from the Northwest Territories and she produced that. I don't know whether she wrote it or not. Willene [Tootoosis] and Lori Lea [Okemaw] and I went up to Fort Simpson, and she called me before the trip and asked if I was interested in doing a commercial for her. So she met me when we were changing planes in Yellowknife, and we had the agreement there that she would call me when she was ready to do it.

PW: But they obviously filmed it here, because it takes place in the Lynx River band council hall.

WP: Yeah, it was filmed here.

PW: And obviously somebody familiar with the characters wrote the spot, because Albert wants to develop something and Peter is arguing that the development might hurt the town. So it's the standard Peter/Albert argument! It's very funny.

WP: It is good.

PW: It looked like the three of you were having fun with it.

WP: Yeah, yeah.

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Text and photos (c) 2001 Patricia F. Winter, except as noted.

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