Thursday, February 23, 2017

it's all white

i’m not shy about speaking up on things that matter to me. much of my life working as an artist has been a joy, fictionalizing the histories of my own family and people because those real stories are no longer accessible, whether ancestors have already passed on, or those with living memories are unable to tell them. through my work i often learn that what i imagine i am filling in with fiction is in fact information my ancestors are giving me - this, when i am treating my life well and remaining open to receiving. for this, my gratitude is boundless.

in this way, telling our stories is a way for us to thrive after having our survival under pressure for several generations. frankly put - we write as an act of declaring our existence. it is a matter of life and death.

i speak up because i believe in the power of story. i speak up because i understand what it means to sit in a darkened theatre and see a face that reminds you of family, telling stories. i know how it was to watch tv as a teenager in small town alberta and marvel at the work of michelle st. john and jennifer podemski, woman i hadn't then met. “those are mixies, like me!” the power of story is that when we see ourselves in them, they allow us to imagine ourselves into new situations or circumstances. we understand that our voices matter.

many times on social media i have stated that it would be useful for theatre companies to address their diversity and lack thereof, stated plainly. stated plainly - take a page from my own rhetoric, sheesh! - if your production or your entire season is all white, say so.

this is public information once you’ve announced it. it’s not a secret. it does, however, save those of us who are NOT all white the time it takes to google artists we don’t know, in hopes there is some diversity and/or Indigeneity somewhere among the rabble.

recently andy and i spoke with a friend who was dismayed by the whiteness of some of his  upcoming program -  programming that is not curated, but chosen at random. he theorized he’d have to create a special application pool to draw from, for diverse and Indigenous artists, to ensure they’d be among the others.

andy suggested the “special pool” be named all white rather than diverse and Indigenous. ‘cause it’s time. because we’ve been relegated to the Other for so fucking long. so, choose the diverse and Indigenous first and THEN head over to the pool of white options. how else can we ever balance what has been?

why, also, does it always land on diverse and Indigenous artists to point out that a production, season or series of programming is all white? it’s like the sky is falling, but only on us! take on some of the work, people. c’mon.

so, my colleagues.
if your production or your season or your programming is all white, we invite you to say so. you can’t hide it. so speak it. own it.
if you need help finding artists who are not white, as sad as i feel about that for you, i will help you! lots of us will! so, be forthright about it or fucking change it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

dear settler friends,

settler friends. you from england, france, hong kong, india and more. whether you've been on Turtle Island for ten years or a couple hundred years, you are new to this place. i love many of you and would not wish anyone ill. i respect we all have different journeys and values. this is merely a reminder of sorts.
imagine you live on the land your ancestors have always inhabited - the land to which you are Indigenous. imagine in the recent centuries that land got populated through various ways by various settlers. imagine, in spite of imperialist government efforts to eradicate your people, and all Indigenous peoples, your people survive. imagine, then, that after all the torment your ancestors were forced to endure, including legislation forbidding them to speak their languages and practice their arts, you get to work as a theatrical storyteller. you work voicing stories of the bloodlines of which you are so proud. you get to know colleagues who have had similar experiences, ancestors coming through attempted genocide, and your colleagues now working as storytellers in service of that reality.

now it’s 2015. imagine a major venue holding theatre company, led by a settler, deciding to stage a work written by someone from your broader community- someone who is also from survivors and original peoples of this land. Indigenous. the work is inspired by yet another peoples of the land, though northwest of here. imagine the settler theatre company leader decides to cast, in roles identifiably Indigenous - roles that we touted by said theatre as Indigenous - two actors from the settler population. imagine the leader publicly opining that there were no Indigenous actors who could fill those roles. imagine the hurt from your friends - Indigenous artist/storytellers greatly suited to those roles, who were never approached to do so. veteran Indigenous theatre artists made invisible on home soil.

imagine those strong women from your community having the courage to speak up about this public slight, at risk of losing good favour from colleagues and possibly future employment. imagine them asking for an apology, and offering dialogue and teachings. now see the offending settler theatre company leader refusing to address the offense. see her, continuing to ignore the injury she caused.

now it’s 2016. finally, imagine that very theatre company, that very same leader, announcing a new slate of programming. she proclaims that the season is reflective of "everything we have strived for in recent years at Factory."
the slate of programming excludes Indigenous stories altogether.

i believe in diversity. i celebrate the works of my settler colleagues, especially when they are of communities who have been marginalized in this white-dominant constitutional monarchy.
i believe we can disagree with leaders and that conversations should ensue.
when leaders can't face contradiction and therefore avoid conversation, they freeze out the unwanted.
to me, that is what imperialism looks like.

i disagree with the exclusion of peoples Indigenous to this land.
there are many nations in this colonized land and all stories should be given a platform.
as for Indigenous peoples... we are very much here, no matter how much we are uninvited.

we are here.
we are Indigenous. we are resilient.
we are not surprised when settlers try to disappear us and our history. we also don’t sit down in silence and take it.
we will not be disappeared, and we are not going anywhere.
we will do our work, speaking up for justice and working in a way that honours our ancestors and people yet to come. i invite you to join us.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Plagium," root of "plagiarism," is the Latin word for kidnapping

Giacomo Gastaldi's 1556 map of "Canada," Library and Archives Canada, NMC 52408
If it can’t be owned, it can’t be stolen. This is a belief that reflects the values system many Indigenous peoples live in. The thing about this belief is that it can only be enacted if all parties hold it to be true. If land can’t be owned, how is it the colonizing forces believed they purchased so much of this country from First Nations? Differing values systems create gaps in communication that seem, at times, impossible to bridge.

With such vastly differing world views, the Indigenous peoples and the colonizers could hardly see one another for looking. Settlers brought with them a cognitive imperialism that disallowed them, in many cases, to adapt before death struck. They saw an unmanageable wilderness where peoples such as the Abenaki and the Haudenosaunee had highly sustainable agricultural systems in place. Those peoples who did not plant cultivated and hunted, working with the land and waters, not seeking to “improve” them for commerce, as was the European way.

As Olive Dickason cites in her The Myth of the Savage, these ways of living were equated with uncivilized practices. “They do not believe that land belongs to individuals, any more than does the light of the sun. They only labour and cultivate enough to provide for sustenance…” (Antoine de Montchrestien, Traicté) This, written as a criticism. Dickason goes on to note that Montchrestien believes Indigenous peoples have hope at becoming decent humans if they were to learn to live more like Europeans.

West coast nations have intricate systems of story keeping. I’m not of a West coast nation, but I know this to be true. It is believed stories belong to certain clans and/or families, to be told only in certain ways and by certain people at particular times of year and in specific locations. Many Indigenous peoples have protocol around storytelling. Words have power. Some are not even spoken off-season, out of respect for the power they have.

If it can’t be copyrighted, it can’t be plagiarized. I know this to be a fact, yet the burnt dry ache I feel in my spirit tells me this isn’t right.

I live in awe of many colleagues and their gifts with stories. Cliff Cardinal wields energy through words in a completely surprising and provocative way. Donna Michelle St. Bernard can stop me cold with the briefest of phrases. Judith Thompson conjures souls straight off the page because of the magic in her telling. MacIvor can break your heart with a sharp self-cruelty disguised as a witticism. I count myself lucky to be in the same field as such living greats. In spite of this admiration, I would never deliberately take story from anyone.

Yes, people and our interactions inspire. History inspires. Other works of art inspire. “Inspire” also means to inhale, and art is the breath of life for so many of us. Dickason’s work also taught me that the Amassalik Inuit root word for “to breathe” is the same as that used for “make poetry.” (Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times.) Those of us who knew the late great Zaccheus Jackson heard him say “poetry saved my life.” He meant this literally. For me, my writing is my return to my ancestors, my own declaration of survival and promises to those yet to come.

There was a time when our arts were disallowed. We Indigenous peoples of “Canada” were banned from practicing our dances, storytelling and ceremonies. We kept right on doing them. Many evolved due to secret practice. Some were lost. How can we measure the impact of that loss? We can’t. We honour it by carrying on with creation.

For all of these truths I write this now, to ask all who partake in or facilitate creation groups of any kind - playwriting units, collective creation projects, reading committees for any given decision making process - to look one another in the eye and acknowledge that it is not a good or kind thing to take from somebody else’s labour and twist it into something you possess.

This is happening to me right now. A former friend and colleague, who I once cared for and have always supported, is taking a story from me and grinding it into a thing they will claim. I don’t want to identify the person, and so I choose “they” for their anonymity. This person might argue that my play is inspired by real history, and so it is fair game. This person said, with many witnesses present, that they had never heard of this history prior to reading my play, almost ten years ago. This person has stated that their project’s description might seem similar to mine, but it is nothing like it. I have been told by several people now that they have seen, heard of or read the actual text and that they were alarmed by its extreme similarity.

This hardship is unresolvable. I’ve done what I can to try to have a conversation of accountability with this person. They have soundly declined. I don’t have the resources this person has to try to fight, legally, for what I have invested love and labour in. I suspect the law wouldn’t be on my side anyway, not that I consider the law any viable measure for ethical practice. I simply know this act of taking is low.

I expect there is a lesson in it that the world has tried to teach me more gently, but because it bypassed me at the time, it’s back and it is snarling. For now, the good that can come of it is consideration by you, gentle reader, to take a simple moment to acknowledge one another when we are in that vulnerable place - the place where a title is followed by “a work in progress by…” Let’s promise each other that we won’t take the heart of a work from someone who is still cradling it in her hands, working to breathe as much of her life into it as she can spare. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

“The bear gets confused.”

Eventful day in Dawson City. I met a new friend. A visual artist who moved to the Yukon after fifteen years in Toronto. She couldn’t stand the ubiquity of  “economically minded” art anymore. Only fifteen years up north, and she’s noticed a change in the winters. January used to be reliably below 55 degrees celsius in the first week, minimum. One year it tapered off. More and more, each ensuing.

Peculiar night in Dawson City. In an effort to keep my creative energies separate from my administrative work, I ventured into town, away from Berton House. The first thing I learn from the lovely server is that there is a boil water advisory for the town - makes me wonder at what sort of shit belies the warning, and how anybody had planned to let me know. The Downtown Hotel has a little bar that is well lit enough to work in, and with a stereo system low enough to focus on the task at hand. Tonight the lower volume of the all 80s hits served up an auditory intrusion at a table not far away.

A group of men, all with white or salt and pepper beards, playing euchre, talking mining and trucking, hunting and trapping. As I made notes for my overdue grant reports, I also made notes of the little gems that floated into my orbit from theirs.

“He went down in a plane, and survived. Then he tried to pull people outta there. Ran back into the plane, and he just never come out. To Stan!” - cheers all around for Stan Rogers. At this, I considered buying them a round.

“In Jamaica I got a blow job for two bucks. But that was a long time ago.” Apparently some remember the 60s in rosy, ethnocentric tones. Decided to keep to myself at this.

“We are all Viking bastards. I told an Eskimo that the one time and he said you know, you’re not too far from the truth on that.” and a brief lecture about the Inuit, lactose intolerance and Charlemagne.

Then, with a grin. “By the way, how’s your sister Irene? We were together for six weeks, there. I went through six thousand bucks, and she went to jail.” Huge laughter.

Two or three of the men lay down their cards and make their way elsewhere - one citing family obligations is called a “fairy.” The table switches to French and laughter continues. Back in English, one man asks the loudest why he’s due in court tomorrow. Loudpants speaks of hunting rights and what fucking bullshit it all is. He tells a tale, which features - in slightly hushed tones, three times - “And then I threatened ‘im, eh?” And once “But I didn’t say i WILL kill you, i said i SHOULD kill you.”

This inspires other hunting stories. “Last year I got fucked for nothin’- well, for caribou.” and “I did ninety days and paid three thousand dollars to feed my fuckin’ family.”

From this, Loudpants unleashes a rant about “Indians.” It seems he blames us for hunting and trapping laws that inconvenience him. Somehow he has come to believe that the first peoples of this land decided to create regulations that are at times kind of stupid, and at times necessary. Either this, or he believes the laws are to control our behaviour, though it was settlers who nearly murdered all of the bison. He opines he is sick of these laws that keep only serve to keep  “Indians from being fucking idiots” because they are unfair to people like him.

A friend of his at the table quietly says something that feels a bit more sound. Loudpants (LP)  says “Ya, I know, but you know what I mean? You don’t even trap. Around here, all the Indians are like halfbreed or quarter breed. I don’t want some one-thirty-second fucker telling me what I can’t do.”

The third man at the table tells a story about a Cree man in Quebec who is very much in favour of changing hunting and trapping laws. Said Cree fellow mentions a word in Cree - so the story goes - that speaks to how unjust the laws are. Loudpants interjects “Ya, that’s the kind of Indian I like. Real Indians. Who speak their language. Fucking breeds around here don’t even fuckin’ speak French.”

And I decide to leave my dinner and hardly touched second glass of wine. As I pay my tab, the server asks if I want my dinner to go. I explain I don’t want to waste it, but I’ve lost my appetite due to the man behind me. She apologizes and whispers “That happens a lot around him.” She quickly packages my food, which I appreciate. As she does so, Loudpants speaks of someone who was trying to speak with him about over-fishing salmon. This is my breaking point.

On my way out, I nearly leave because I am embarrassed that I am close to tears. Instead, I muster my courage, fix a firm jaw and walk up to the table where Loudpants sits.

“Hi, men.”

Loudpants - “Hello, sweetheart. Pull up a stump!” 

“No, thank you. I just had to say… I’ve appreciated a lot of the camaraderie here at this table tonight, and I thank you for that. I also, however, want to let YOU know that I am a halfbreed. And we are everywhere.”

LP - “Wull. Good for you.”

“I want you to consider something if you will.”

His friend - “Sure, honey.”
LP - “Sit down!”

“No, thank you. Half of your DNA comes from a woman. Does that make you any less of a man?”

Loudpants “Huh?”

Even though he may never be aware that it’s not his mother’s genetic contribution that makes him ineligible to be a man, I’m glad I put it out there. On my way out, I see a mixie-looking fella at the bar smiling at me, and hear LP shout “Hey, come sit down, sweetheart!” and I’m so happy I spoke up.

Earlier today my new artist friend spoke of her concern over climate change. “It gets too warm too soon. We used to have ice fog. I haven’t seen it in years. It effects everything. The birds. The squirrels have their young a week earlier, I hear. And the bears. It’s so warm, the bears wake up early. In February. And it’s still winter. The bear gets confused.” And we grew silent.

Growing, silent. Something Loudpants may never do.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

first four days

owen, luca and dd post sulphur mountain.
we were delayed. the kids were extremely understanding and touchingly patient when i let them know that my love, andy, and his son luca were wanting some one on one time during the holiday. the twosome had been in vancouver for a spell, but had much warm company throughout. i dreaded letting the kids know - bear in mind they’ve been planning for banff this year since we came here last year. what it meant for them was that we’d be headed to banff a day later. they listened with big eyes and understood completely. not at all what i expected. incredible how flexible the young can be.

as we got here, it was to the pool and then the buffet at three ravens. awesome. we followed that up with the gondola, which was where we started losing things. the first was my good sense. andy, luca and our owen decided luca and owen could walk down sulphur mountain as a duo. luca is sixteen, but raised in toronto. he can figure out the TTC, but hiking? eep. owen just turned ten and he’s shy of his mega growth spurt. his brains and braun are mighty, but it’s all packed into a compact beauty brown boy. andy’s enthusiasm had me going along with this madness, though it was already nine p.m. so, off the boys went as darkness descended. we took the gondola back down with dd, our niece. she had a great time making the same joke for every ascending gondola car passing us “That one’s empty. They fell out!” she had new deliveries each time. we closed down the gift shop, and then waited outside for the mountain descenders as dd wrote her mom a postcard.

by the time luca and owen found a building, it was pitch dark out, and they had no idea where they were. well, they’d veered off track a little, so we caught up to them at the hot springs… eventually. luca rang his dad’s cell and let us know where they were. andy said we’d come fetch them in the car - my sister’s car. the four remaining gondola staff members were awaiting a shuttle bus that brings them back into town. luckily. we frantically searched ourselves for the keys when one staff fella asked whether we were looking for keys. he let us know they were “at the gondola.” i had visions of keys spotted fallen off the edge of the summit and madly squirreled away by a chipmunk. it turns out we’d set them down at the front desk when we paid. (well, andy set them down and i wasn’t tracking like i normally would.) the fella ran into the building and emerged with our keys. we zipped up to grab the descenders and took a victory photo. we looked at the hot springs, thinking we’d plan a trip for tomorrow. a bird’s eye view revealed pasty tourists lining the perimeter. “Dumpling soup.” we opted out.

the greatest thing i’ve felt from these few days is witnessing the way a child claims his/her/their space. they map out the land, find their brightest places and call it theirs. they share with their brother or sister. they want to show the people they love. they ask questions when something seems askew. these kids love the banff centre pool. they are baffled when an older boy leaps onto the dinghy they are using, immediately looking to see if i’ve witnessed this event. their wide eyes asking me “What the heck?” dd silent gasps and hides a long pointed finger when she sees a nude woman in the change room, utterly unashamed of her body. when the woman leaves, i tell my niece that one day maybe she’ll be the same. she assures me it is “gross” and always will be. she says it like she owns the place and her own mind. and she does. but she’ll share.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


my sister raises her two kids as their sole full-time caregiver. they have grandparents in the same town who do heaps more swimming, hockey and lego than most retirees, and that has saved all of our souls. they also have a very cool family in southern alberta including some awesome cousins and a very loving dad. full-time, though, is fully my sister becky. this summer marks her first ever child-free holiday. she is in scotland with her pipes and drums band, followed by a trip to ireland. fifteen days of freedom, guinness and bliss.

i’m thirty-eight and very much in love with a fella named andy. i’m childless by choice, but devoted to our niece and nephew. andy has a brilliant 16 year old and helped raise his sister, but has been out of little kid land for awhile. andy works with the dynamic Indigenous Dance Residency in Banff, has done for a few years - it’s always 60+ hours/week and completely wonderful. last year we visited him in banff, the kids, my sister and i. loved it. this year i am full time auntie. this blog, for the next eleven days, is the story of how all of us found joy among the tantrums, picky eating, and iPad withdrawal.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

daily deadlines

Plays happen in so many ways. I feel fortunate in that I’ve had some very powerful work (powerful to me and some of my supporters, mystifying or crappy to others at times) beckon and once that call is answered the play arrives, whole. There is rewriting to do, but that initial draft, bleeding out in a matter of days, is an inexplicable high. The nearest equivalent is childhood dreams of flying, in that moment when the work of the “take-off” is over and you simply soar through the world, a perfect part of it. In this work, I feel my grannies and great aunties. Never consciously the male ancestors, though... not often. When young playwrights hit that wall of fear, and come to me for a nudge, I always remind them “You are the culmination of all of your ancestors, gifted with the desire to tell stories. We’re privileged enough that we’re not forbidden to do so anymore. Go Write!” I know it’s easier to speak the poetry of our bloodlines than to sit down with the keyboard, longing. Longing to have it all figured out, or longing to recline on the couch with movies instead. Both very strong urges.

There are plays that take ages to eke out of the world’s many blessings and onto the page. For me, these are often the commissions. It’s difficult to take an impetus from another living person and craft that into something that can really speak to you and your drive to create. There are two such plays that remain unfinished for me. In both cases, the creative teams were brave and invested a lot of faith in me, but ultimately the words didn’t find their rightful life. I will return to them in the coming years and make good of the investment. I have to consider that a play can find me through

Right now, I’m sorting out the math of an existing bleeder play - The Ministry of Grace - as well as researching and writing some new works. With thanks to the OAC’s TCR program, I am at liberty to do this work. I’m also trying to nail down a first draft of a play I began working on in 2010. Interested parties have been very patient and generous. For the first time ever, I am assigning myself a page count per day until a draft of new TYA play Dear Louis Riel is on the outside. I am forcing writing like work-outs or flossing - so rewarding when you get them done.
The Ministry of Grace plays, in workshop production, at Fort York in Toronto in June 2014.

Best of luck to you with your creations, and if you can please wish me the same, I’ll be thanking you.