Entertainment

‘I’m queer, a menopausal woman. I’m Mi’kmaq': Candy Palmater aims to shake up Canadian radio

Former lawyer talks about her new show on CBC Radio One

‘I’m queer, a menopausal woman. I’m Mi’kmaq. There are so many things about me that make my perspective different than what you’re used to hearing on national radio,’ says Candy Palmater.

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‘I’m queer, a menopausal woman. I’m Mi’kmaq. There are so many things about me that make my perspective different than what you’re used to hearing on national radio,’ says Candy Palmater.

Toronto-based Candy Palmater is a bit of an overachiever: the youngest of six, she graduated law school at the top of the class and was the first Mi’kmaq to land a job at a Halifax law firm.

But that wasn’t quite the right fit for Palmater, so she quit her job and ventured into comedy, taking the stage across the country. This led to a four-season TV show on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and now she’s joined the ranks of CBC hosts, lending her voice to the radio waves with a new two-hour daily series. Metro caught up with Palmater to hear more about what brought her to this point.

In previous interviews, you’ve said you’ve struggled not to be put into specific boxes…
It’s been my lifelong quest.

I’ve always been somebody who colours outside the lines. It’s the whole reason I stopped being a lawyer — I never felt further away from myself than when I was a lawyer.

What prompted you to get into law in the first place?
I’ve always had the urge to give voice to people who don’t have a voice. At 25, I couldn’t think of another way to do that than becoming a lawyer. I always had the notion that’s where advocacy lived. When I got to law school, there was a lot of talk that no Mi’kmaq person had ever been hired at a firm. So I drank the Kool-Aid and thought, “I have to get hired at a firm.” And I was.

(But) suddenly I woke up as a lawyer and (thinking) what have I done?

How does being an entertainer help you be an advocate?
For two hours a day on the radio, my perspective will be so different than the perspective you normally hear on the radio. I’m queer, a menopausal woman. I’m Mi’kmaq. There are so many things about me that make my perspective different than what you’re used to hearing on national radio.

Why is it important to have that voice?
The country is made up of such a diverse group of people — particularly for the public broadcaster. People have to hear themselves reflected. There needs to be an opportunity for people to say “here’s where I belong.”
If your experience is never reflected to you — in movies, in books, in TV — it’s very isolating.

Has anyone told you about when you inspired them?
I was at a big event (doing a) comedy show and I talked about how I met my wife. Later, I got an email from a kid who was in the audience.

He said “I was bummed about going to this (show): it was going to be all native kids, and I’m gay.”

In the First Nations community we’re still not embracing and open to queer culture. So he said, “I’ll have to be someone else. But there you were at 8 a.m. talking about your big, gay self and everybody loved you.”

He went home that night and asked his parents if they knew who Candy Palmater is, and they said yes, they knew me personally.

He asked if they knew I was gay, and they said yes. So he came out to his parents because he thought if they were OK with me being gay, they’d probably be okay with him being gay. And they were.

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