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We Are Awake: Kevin Loring On Indigenous Theatre At The National Arts Centre

We Are Awake: Kevin Loring on Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre

The following is a transcript of Kevin Loring’s speech upon accepting the position of Artistic Director of Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre on June 15, 2017. PACT is grateful to Kevin for his permission to publish the speech here on our blog as we approach this year’s World Theatre Day celebrations.

Inyadict stwen’win, Good Morning.

I am honoured to be here today on the unceded lands of the Algonquin people.

First I want to thank Peter Herrndorf and the staff and senior management of the National Arts Centre, especially Jillian Keiley and Sarah Garton Stanley for all their work over these many years towards this initiative. I want to thank the other candidates for their contribution to our industry, our culture, and our art. There are many trailblazers who have led the charge for many decades in this battle to be heard, to be seen, and to be taken seriously, on our stages across this country and around the boardrooms where the decisions are made. Without your sacrifices and battle scars we would not be here today.

Kwookstumx.

I also want to thank my family, my partner Jody-Kay for her patience, love and support, and my guests Terry and his wife Christine, and my Mom Freda who have flown all the way out here from BC to celebrate this day with me on such short notice.

Kwookstumx.

Louis Riel said:

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

These words from Riel the prophet are true. We are awake and we are ready to reclaim what is ours.

In 1969 when the NAC opened the studio theatre with the production of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, it was said that a new age of Canadian Theatre was born; that, “Canada had asserted its identity through theatre, by telling a truly Canadian story”. And what was this first truly Canadian story about? Written by George Ryga, a settler of Ukrainian heritage, it was story of a young Indigenous woman and her Indigenous boyfriend caught in the poverty trap of inner city Canada. Rolling between the judicial system and the bureaucracies that ensnare them until eventually she is raped and they are both murdered at the hands of a group of white men, her body left on the stage, in the lap of Canada. This is our seminal Canadian English-language play. What does this say about our relationship? What does this say about our history and our legacy of colonialism?

Forty-eight years after Rita Joe debuted here at the NAC I stand here before you in acceptance of the great responsibility of being the first ever Artistic Director of Indigenous Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre. The first Indigenous Theatre Department of a National Theatre in the world.

We have been telling our stories on these lands since time immemorial.

I am asked all the time, what is Indigenous Theatre? Indigenous Theatre is simply this: they are our stories told and performed through the lens of Indigenous people. We have been telling our stories on these lands since time immemorial. Our traditions are rooted in oration, song, dance and the celebration of creation. Our stories are rooted in the land. Though we may have appropriated (and I do use that word intentionally) the methodologies of our settler contemporaries, at the core of our stories is the Indigenous perspective – the Indigenous experience which is inherently different than the settler world view of this land.

Tonight I will be onstage in Corey Payette’s beautiful and powerful play, Children of God, about the residential school experience. During our talkbacks, I have said many times that before we can have meaningful Reconciliation we must first have Reparation. That the things that were broken must be fixed. I believe that the creation of this new Indigenous Theatre department at the NAC is a small but important step along the path to reparation.

In the 150 years of confederation, and the 525 years of colonization that Indigenous people have endured, our languages have been brought to the edge of extinction, our dances forbidden, and our ceremonies outlawed. Our traditional songs and stories that remain have survived by going underground. Some Indigenous people went to the extremes of hiding their children. A few special children were hidden so that they could have the language, traditional knowledge and culture downloaded into them by the remaining knowledge keepers of their people. Away from the horrors of residential school.

I take this position as a sacred trust to the Indigenous storytellers across this land.

I have had the honour and the privilege of working with one such elder. The last time I saw N’lakap’amux elder Jimmy Toodlican he attended a presentation of Battle of the Birds, a SPetakwl or Creation Story about how the Bald Eagle got their White Heads. It’s a story about domestic violence that I had adapted into a play, with a chorus of N’lakap’amux community members. The first time I heard him orate this story he did so in our language, N’lakap’amux’stn. He explained to us our story protocols. The way in which we tell our stories. After the show, he shook my hand and said to me that now I am the storyteller for our people, that it was my job now to tell our stories in my own way. I take that as a sacred trust. As I take this position as a sacred trust to the Indigenous storytellers across this land. From Coast to Coast to Coast.

It is my hope that the creation of the Indigenous Theatre department here at the NAC will act as a beacon to young artists across the country. That it will inspire them to imagine their stories on our stages. I hope that it will inspire a new generation of Indigenous designers to help realize our visions, administrators to keep us on track and on budget. Indigenous stage managers to maintain the container for our art to flourish.

Our stories are medicine. They can help to heal the wounds history leaves on us.

An Indigenous Theatre department at the NAC is meaningless without our storytellers. We need you. I am here to support your work. I am here to make the circle strong. It is my job to help raise you up as best I can. I will fight for your place on our stages, and support your voice in the chorus of this country; even when you are screaming at it to stop, even when you are reminding it of its crimes, even when you interrogate its very existence, and celebrate yours, on our stages.

Our stories are medicine. They can help to heal the wounds history leaves on us. So that we can all truly move forward in a good way. Our work as Indigenous artists often challenges the assumptions of Canada. This challenge we offer is healthy. Necessary. It is a declaration and a celebration of OUR continued existence as Peoples, Nations, and distinct Cultures. We are the land. We are still here. And we are awake.

Kwookstayp.

All my relations.

Thank you.

About Kevin Loring

Kevin Loring is an accomplished Canadian playwright, actor and teacher, and was the winner of the Governor General’s Award for English Language Drama for his outstanding play Where the Blood Mixes in 2009. The play explores the intergenerational effects of the residential school system. It toured nationally and was presented at the National Arts Centre in 2010, when Loring was serving as the NAC’s Playwright in Residence.

A Nlaka’pamux from the Lytton First Nation in British Columbia, Loring created the Songs of the Land project in 2012 in partnership with five separate organizations in his home community. The project explores 100-year-old audio recordings of songs and stories of the N’lakap’amux People. Loring has written two new plays based on his work with the community including Battle of the Birds, about domestic violence and power abuse, and The Boy Who Was Abandoned, about youth and elder neglect.

A versatile artist and leader, Loring has served as the co-curator of the Talking Stick Festival, as Artist in Residence at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, as Artistic Director of the Savage Society in Vancouver, as a Documentary Producer of Canyon War: The Untold Story, and as the Project Leader/Creator, and Director of the Songs of the Land project in his home community of Lytton First Nation.

PACT is honoured that Kevin Loring with be the keynote guest at PACTcon2018 – The Future of Storytelling.

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