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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You didn't explicitly name Nina Lee Aquino. I believe you should have, given that your comments make it clear who she is.

Why ask your readers to "imagine" this scenario when it has in fact occurred? And you have valid opinions about her decisions?

The lack of an Indigenous performance at a theatre devoted to Canadian plays, in the year building to the sesquicentennial is a heartbreaking exclusion.

Colonialism will be at it's peak for the next while, as dominant society cheers on the glorious collective accomplishments of a country built on stolen land. Ms. Aquino wishes to portray herself as a champion of diversity and of independent theatre.

Can Ms. Aquino be a true champion of diversity if she deliberately excludes a key voices that is all too often left out of dominant discourse?

And can a champion of independent theatre be a champion of such, when numerous Indigenous artists either remain unproduced or are forced to self-produce, in order to be heard? Yes, Toronto has an Indigenous theatre. But Native Earth continues to struggle financially, and can't avoid to stage a sufficient number of productions to truly represent the richness of Indigenous theatre in Toronto. Canadian Theatres like Factory need to produce Indigenous theatre too, in order to afford the substantial local Indigenous talent the voice it should have in any theatrical season examining Canadian society?

Ms. Aquino, the champion of independent theatre has turned away from independent Indigenous theatre artists, when the decision to stage an Indigenous show will have the most impact.

I appreciate Ms. Aquino's choice to stage plays from the Black and Asian communities in the upcoming season. Those are necessary voices. But no examination of Canada's current state and it's impact on diverse communities can be complete with staging a production that explicitly addresses the first colonial behaviour exhibited by settlers: the attempted assimilation of Indigenous people.

Perhaps Ms. Aquino interpreted the controversy over The Unplugging as a comment from the Indigenous community that she has no business staging Indigenous theatre, given the errors made in casting that show. When mistakes are made, I prefer that leaders demonstrate that they have learned from them. My hope was that Ms. Aquino would stage another show, this time with Indigenous performers playing Indigenous parts, hopefully from a strong, as yet unheard voice in Indigenous theatre, to help new artists be heard.

Instead, she chose to step away from the Indigenous community, creating invisibility at a time when visibility is crucial.

You were correct to call her out. I feel you should've been far less subtle about it. Why beat around the bush, when Ms. Aquino's artistic choices deserve to be questioned?