Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society brings the powerful story of Holy Bear Woman to the stage with Okotoks

The recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been adopted into a number of different areas of Canadian life. In more and more contexts and situations, we are reminded that here in Calgary we are living in Treaty 7 territory, but how many of us who live here know what that means? Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society’s mandate is to examine the Treaty and its implications. The Society produces art that tells the stories of historic events with the hope to inspire new relationships across cultures and generations.

To that end, the Society’s newest piece, Okotoks, the story of Holy Bear Woman, promises to be particularly powerful. As a girl, Holy Bear Woman was one of the few children who survived the Baker Massacre where more than 300 Blackfoot elders, women and children were killed.

Okotoks is a story that is close to Justin Many Fingers, founding member and artistic director of Making Treaty 7, as his production tells the story of his grandmother. It’s not just a family story, it’s more the story of a people, their resilience and their will to continue and to thrive.

“As I create work, I am always trying to work with the Blackfoot paradigm of the culture and always breaking down the story, the dance, and the song. I believe that in the Blackfoot culture every story has a dance, every dance has a song and that every song tells a story,” says Many Fingers.

It’s that intertwining of history and Indigenous cultural norms that makes Okotoks so powerful. As the piece was coming together, Many Fingers notes, “In my culture there is always an exchange or an offering, for prayers, guidance, ceremonies, cultural goods. When we would receive the story from the elder I would then guide the performers through an exercise of explorations as a way to offer back a dance, vocal, or words. That exchange made its way back to the studio and welcomed the spirit of the stories we received.”

(Photo courtesy Jessica Wittman/Banff Centre.)

Okotoks runs Feb. 26 and 27 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

Gaëlle Eizlini started her adult life with a degree in Fine Arts and got sidetracked with a career in communications and engagement. She’s an aspiring Renaissance Woman and rocks her (naturally) curly hair.