By Lindy Kinoshameg, YPT Community Engagement Facilitator
First off, I would like to say that theatre production is a wonderful world. It has allowed me the opportunity to tour places I would never have gone on my own — places within Canada, the US, and New Zealand. One thing I’ve noticed in all the theatres I have been to– from every backstage crew member to every production manager – is that everyone knows how a traditional show is supposed to run, but anything outside of that gets treated as extraneous. My experience on the road let me see the gaps of missing Indigenous awareness and knowledge, and they echo loudly in my memory:
“What is this smudging thing you want to do?”
“You want to burn something inside the theatre!?”
“I knew this one Indian guy from Vancouver – John. Do you know Indian John from Vancouver?”
“I thought all the Natives were dead?”
“You’re not one of those Aboriginal protestors, are you?”
“Take it easy, Chief!”
These are actual quotes that I have heard again and again.
For the longest time I thought to myself, somebody should work to educate (these) people. After all, I have to work with them every day in the arts. Someone out there needs to focus on all the areas that involve Indigenous audiences, artists and workers in this sector: from the language used in promos and websites to the email exchange for advancing shows; from the awareness that affects policies that better serve Indigenous peoples to the front line faces of ushers and crew, and the rarely seen production managers and producers. I asked myself: How does one person even begin this process? Perhaps go around to each person…but that might eat up my patience…and what youth I have left! Childhood is a good place to start – but I will save that for a different blog! Besides, some of these jaded arts workers are too far gone to learn new tricks, or even care if it’s not part of their job. (Oh no, am I becoming one of them!?)
Looking back, it’s not all (y)our fault. As kids we were being influenced by ‘the man’ or ‘the system’ to accept a biased re-telling of a shared past, while these same power structures kept trying to oppress and destroy a people and their culture to this day. But we are still here. I had the same educational books as every other Canadian kid, where the Indigenous section of the curriculum was half of a page in a textbook about how good ole’ Christopher Columbus was looking for India, and “discovered” the new world and yadda yadda yadda – Canada began. The rest is HIStory as they (colonizers) like to say. It is, however (y)our fault if we choose to not learn and not participate as equal nations in a shared process for the future.
Where are the stories of the resilience of Indigenous peoples? Where is the acknowledgement of the land-based knowledge that allowed millions of people to flourish for thousands of years in harmony with mother earth? This knowledge was within my people and my language, which surrounded me. I was learning about it even when I didn’t think I was learning.
In recent years there has been a surge of interest in working with and learning from Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has 94 calls to action. Land Acknowledgements are being done in schools and at events every day. Indigenous role models are popping up in every field. So what I’m trying to say is there are definitely a lot of positives, but there is still a lot of room to grow.
When you spend time looking everywhere for an answer, it is funny how sometimes it pops up right in front of you! I had this great job at a not-for-profit Theatre for Young Audiences, also known by many as the best place to work, also known as YPT. I had a boss that loved my work and was totally an ally for Indigenous rights, and my bosses’ boss who was even hungrier for Indigenous knowledge and change. And at the heart of this organization, a motto: Learning is at the centre of everything we do! So I asked the question, “Can I INDIGENizeUS?”
During YPT’s 2017/18 Season, the entire staff participated in INDIGENizeUS workshops created by Lindy Kinoshameg and Leslie McCue that focused on Indigenous relations, raising cultural awareness, and exploring individual reconciliation. Learning began around the seven sacred teachings of Respect, Bravery, Humility, Love, Honesty, Wisdom, and Truth. The intention behind the workshop series is to hear stories from Indigenous artists/elders and participate in traditions first-hand. It is our hope that programs such as this will begin building a bridge between nations and help take the first steps toward reconciliation.
About Lindy Kinoshameg:
A proud Odawa from the Pike clan, Lindy was raised in Wiikwemkoong Unceeded First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Lindy has spent the last 10 years in Toronto, focusing his energy on Indigenous cultural awareness and breaking stereotypes through the arts. Always striving to practice new art-forms, this has led to a multitude of experiences: Visual arts projects, Healthy Living Program Coordinator, and Indigenous Radio Program Host, working his way up to Production Tour Manager and Event Coordinator, Indigenous Dance and cultural workshop facilitation. Lindy is now involved with Young People’s Theatre as Community Engagement Facilitator, in part to his strong belief and push towards incorporating Indigenous values and teachings into his practice, and sharing his knowledge with others.