Kelowna animator Harley Knife wants to see more Indigenous representation in the industry

The Yeti Farm Creative employee is on a mission.

The Yeti Farm Creative employee is on a mission

For Harley Knife, figuring out what he wanted to do with his life was the easy part.

That came at a young age, watching Sailor Moon on the couch. Pursuing a career in animation from a Saskatchewan reserve proved to be tougher. At 16, after the death of a relative, Knife decided he would leave for good and went to live with a friend in Vernon.

“I saved up enough money to buy a bus ticket and told my mom I was leaving,” he recalls. “She didn’t talk to me for a week, but the day I left she gave me a big hug and sort of let me take my future into my own hands. The rest is history.”

Indeed it is. Knife went on to study animation at Kelowna’s Centre for Arts and Technology and work for companies like Vancouver’s Atomic Cartoons and Kelowna-based Yeti Farm Creative, where he’s a senior animator.

Now 33, Knife couldn’t help but notice that almost no one he’s met in the industry has looked like him. The data seems to agree: a 2020 report by Vancouver-based HR Tech Group found that Indigenous people account for less than 1 percent of the technology industry’s workforce.

“I make cartoons all day—for every kid growing up watching TV, it’s a dream,” Knife says. “And now that I’m in it, you get these waves of gratefulness when you’re just making coffee before you start work, like, I’m doing this.”

As a veteran animator, he’s set his sights on helping Indigenous people make their way in the business: “I’ve really started taking a step back. Especially being away form the reserve, I feel a bit like this unicorn, and I don’t see that many people like me doing what I’m doing.”

Knife ended up joining forces with the aforementioned HR Tech Group for a documentary as part of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Tech Project.

“I really want to push myself out of my comfort zone to show that this is a viable option for Indigenous youth or anybody that wants to go into the animation industry,” he says. “I’d love to be part of helping that [Indigenous in tech] statistic go up. Now that I have a kid, my resolve to do this is more absolute. I want her to see more Indigenous faces and stories and stuff like that.”

Knife clearly hasn’t forgotten where he came from, and while he has many future plans, his main one involves a return home.

“Eventually, the end goal would be to move back to the reserve, start an animation company and specifically target Indigenous youth to transition them into the industry,” he says. “Right now I don’t feel the confidence is there yet, but I do feel like that’s the goal—to go back at some point.”