Indigenous Storytelling at the NAC

As the New Year begins, the National Arts Centre is getting ready to showcase Indigenous storytelling and reconciliation on all its stages. In the context of recent news events – from the recent publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report, to the Government of Canada’s renewed focus on Indigenous issues – the NAC will be presenting a series of multidisciplinary events that will inspire, entertain and inform audiences.

The story of Indigenous People in Canada is the longest, most dramatic saga in our history, and it continues today. In fact, the NAC has been sharing this story with audiences since it opened in 1969. The iconic The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga was the very first play ever presented by NAC’s English Theatre and one of the first works to address issues relating to First Nations in this country. Later on, former English Theatre Artistic Director Peter Hinton was an ardent champion of Indigenous theatre, ensuring its presence in six successful seasons with works such as Copper Thunderbird by Marie Clements (2007), the remounted version of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (2009), and Night by Human Cargo (2010), English Theatre’s first-ever co-production in Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

This tradition has been carried forward by English Theatre Artistic Director Jillian Keiley and Associate Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley, who have also facilitated an important conversation on Indigenous theatre in Canada through The Summit, The Study and The Repast (collectively known as The Cycle Initiative) – major gatherings of Indigenous and non- Indigenous artists from across Canada.

The NAC has also done meaningful work with Indigenous artists in our other disciplines. For example, our Music Education department has been working closely with Indigenous communities in Western and Northern Canada through the Music Alive Program, and the Scene festivals have showcased Indigenous artists from every region of the country.

This season, the work of another Rita Joe – not the fictional character from Ryga’s play, but the real-life Mi’kmaw elder and poet who lived in Nova Scotia from 1932 to 2007– will be performed by the NAC Orchestra in an immersive, multidisciplinary stage creation based on Joe’s poem as part of a world premiere concert event called I Lost my Talk. The poem is inspired by the time the author spent at Shubenacadie Indian Residential School when she feared she would lose her culture.

The presentation of this new work is one of several important Indigenous-themed events taking place at the NAC at the beginning of 2016– such as English Theatre’s presentation of Jack Charles V The Crown and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, the eye-opening exhibition 100 Years of Loss in the NAC foyer and a performance by Indigenous singer-songwriter Florent Vollant as part of NAC Presents.

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Carl Martin

Senior Advisor, Communication / Conseiller principal, Communications