Last Sunday afternoon was a sunny, extraordinary Vancouver day. But, I and a large gathering of people spent it in a dark theatre witnessing the play “Children of God”, produced by Urban Ink Productions, with the York Theatre-The Cultch. My goosebumps burst at the introductory primal drum and the First Nations’ presence that lead us into the tragic story of the residential schools in Canada. This tightly knitted show culminated with an audience bonding and a talk back. The conversational finale helped to give more meaning to the depths of feelings I was experiencing.
“I don’t want to look like an Indian today” “Good luck with that!” This exchange between grown son, Tom, played by Herbie Barnes, and his wise mother, Rita, played by Cathy Elliott, as Tom dresses for a job interview, summarized the back bone of this coming to light historical story.
Last week I worked on a TV series doing background costuming and connected with a wonderful First Nations woman. She and I quietly chatted in the dressing tent as we waited to go to set and she revealed some of her story. She was taken away from her mother to be put in a residential school. It was the first time I had met someone who had experienced this. Or, it was the first time someone had talked to me about it. I asked questions. I felt so sad that “my people” felt they needed to “take the Indian out of the child”. I pondered the idea of how anyone could rip a child from their safest place, their home and mother. And, that it was “good” for them.
It was appropriate that days later I was given the opportunity to see “Children of God”.
Director, writer, lyricist, musician Cory Payette undertook the significant job of illuminating the concealed traumatic story of Canada’s residential schools. Payette chose the musical format to recount the whitening of the rich culture of our First Nations. Our Aboriginal. Our Indians.
The set design, costumes and lighting were simple, powerful and efficient. The musicians and actors (nine skilled performers) were intelligent, honest, and true to the piece. I cannot imagine having to experience the journey they go on show after show, AND do a talk back.
As I write, I struggle with saying the correct ideas, and expressing myself when my thoughts are somewhat naïve. The talk back brought up my ignorance and re-ignited my anger at my young education. I was never told about this historical issue. Why wasn’t I? Why was I allowed to graduate and not know about our history? Oh yes, I was told about the Mic Mac Indians in PEI but it was more about how they lived. And, in Banff, we celebrated “Indian Days” and I was excited to receive a beaded choker gift from my visiting Granddad. And, I loved my moccasins.
During the talk back, the eloquent leader and actress, Kim Harvey reminded us to look inside and do a personal investigation to see what stories we contain regarding First Nations People, our attitudes, and also our lack of knowledge. I did that. I was uncomfortable. I’m one of those people who “didn’t know”.
But. I’m here. And, I’m looking. I’m reading. I’m watching. I’m listening. And, now, I’m communicating. And, reconciliation is now in my vocabulary.
Thank you for the tough afternoon journey. Thank you for making a piece of entertaining theatre that opens wounds, so they can bleed and heal.
Reconciliation Kitchen Table Dialogue Guide
Reconciliation Calls to Action
Pope Residential School Apology
Vive le Théâtre!
One thought on “Children of God….”
This is a deep and long-winded issue and I’m totally sympathetic. But looking back objectively, would any other solution have worked any better?
“Why did the schools think they had to take the Indian out of the child?” We’re looking back. Attitudes have done a 360-degree turn. Hindsight is 20/20. Those officials were looking at their “present reality.” They saw no place for the nomadic native peoples in a civilized setting.
So their official objective was to get natives off the reserves and integrated into mainstream society. This lofty aim didn’t take into account the fact that a racially prejudiced mainstream society would never accept them. Whenever natives took the initiative and got something going on their own, the whites took it over, sure they could do a better job. Really, the whole white/native clash was a no-win situation for the native people.
The abuse part is another issue—one not at all unique to native people. We knew a French Canadian who’d been put in the Christian Brothers orphanage north of Montreal at age 5. He told us about the abuse he and fellow residents suffered at the hands of the priest. You just have to read Oliver Twist or read a bio of the explorer, Stanley. that boy, an orphan, was turned over to an orphanage with a headmaster know as “the slasher” for all the beatings he gave. CS Lewis writes about one teacher like that in his boarding school years. It did seem the mindset of the times more than being directed at any particular ethnic group.
The native people see it as a part of the residential school experience, so can attribute blame to that particular institution. Other children during those times grew up with this abuse, too, but can only say, “This was life.”