Quest Theatre’s hugely successful production of We Are All Treaty People continues to tour throughout schools in Alberta, and will be performed for the public this weekend at cSPACE King Edward. Artistic director Nikki Loach and co-director Troy Emery Twigg tell us a bit about the history and the importance of this production.
Q: How many years have you been touring We Are All Treaty People, and how did the co-production with the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society come about?
A: (NL) It is astonishing to me and my co-director Troy Emery Twigg, that Quest, and the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society have been touring We Are All Treaty People to the Alberta School system for our third season. It’s beginnings, however go much farther back than that.
(TET) The show has an impressive history beginning with an idea of Michael Green’s to create a legacy project as part of Calgary 2012 when Calgary was named the Cultural Capitol of Canada. Michael wanted to illuminate the story of the history of Southern Alberta from the First Nations perspective. Permission from the Elders dictated that the story be authentic, true, and consultative. So that’s what Michael set out to do.
I was one of the first people Michael connected with and I connected him to Narcisse Blood, and together they brought Elders from all Treaty 7 Tribes together in a legendary gathering at Heritage Park to share their accounts of the oral history of the signing of the treaty. This was the first gathering of this scale of the Treaty 7 Nations since the signing of the treaty. Artists then gathered at The Banff Centre with Elders, historians and community members and interpreted the material that led to the first incarnation of the adult production, Making Treaty 7. The production using over 30 artists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous from Southern Alberta, inspired a continued vision for the authentic, true and consultative stories of the land and a place we all call home. The piece had its world premiere in 2014 at the Chataqua Tent at Heritage Park in Calgary.
(NL) In the midst of the creation process for this adult theatrical production, Michael emailed me at Quest indicating that he thought I should be interested in what he was doing. He believed, rightly so, that the implications for the education system were exciting. He envisioned alongside the 30-artist local version, a touring version that went around the world, an online library of resources, a full re-enactment at Heritage Park with horses and cannons, and a theatre for young audience piece. He asked Quest if we would take on a re-imagining of the piece, that would be age appropriate for elementary students in the Alberta school system.
Michael and Narcisse tragically died in a car crash and neither of them ever saw We Are All Treaty People, but Troy and I are eternally grateful that we have had the opportunity to uphold part of the legacy they envisioned.
Q: Can you briefly describe what the show is about?
A: (NL) Two girls, one Indigenous and the other non-indigenous, notice their differences and wonder if they can be friends. A wise Trickster, Napi from the Blackfoot Nation, poses the question of whether friendship can exist between two girls who don’t understand the shared history between their cultures. A journey of discovery takes them through time; outlining events, uncovering truths, meeting historical characters, and giving a voice to the First Nations perspective of the history of Southern Alberta. The production illustrates how we can all work together towards a collective understanding of the history of the place we all call home.
Q: What is the reaction of the school kids that see the show when Quest tours it through the schools? Do you tour it just in Calgary or go elsewhere in Alberta?
A: (NL) Our previous tours over the last two seasons went all over Alberta. In our current season we had enough people on the waiting list to satisfy an entirely Calgary tour for eight weeks. In addition to that, we were invited to play for two weeks at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto.
On tour, we spend a whole day in a school. We have a play for Division II students: We Are All Treaty People, and a second more age-appropriate version, As Long as the Sun Shines, for Division I students. We sing songs, we have a substantial question-and-answer period, and we conduct a round dance at the end of the day with live music for the whole school. When we play at the cSPACE we will just be presenting We Are All Treaty People.
My favorite response is a question often asked by Division I students after the performance: “Are there any First Nations people left?” This points to the disconnect between history and present day. Indigenous people live among us. They are still here. This history is really not that long ago. It is so great, especially for Indigenous students, to see our extraordinary Indigenous performers answer “Yes. We are right here and there are lot of Indigenous people all around, descendants from this true story, leading productive and prosperous lives in Southern Alberta and in the world.”
Students, and teachers as well, appreciate the foundational knowledge of this history. We know it creates cycles of inquiry, understanding, empathy and action. One school wrote back to us saying they hadn’t got their feedback forms into us, because the students still wanted to talk about it. Colleagues and parents suggest to us that their knowledge of this content is thin, and the play does touch upon some of the sad and more difficult challenges of Canada’s history with the First Nations. The play ends with the two cultures coming together with intentions of a shared future. Our experience is that the majority of students believe this can happen.
Q: Do you find that the multi-disciplinary aspect of the show, involving songs, prayers, movement, puppetry, helps to engage the younger audiences more? Or even audiences in general?
A: (NL) Absolutely! The text provides lots of history, information and historical quotes, but the way the story is told with fabric, music, songs, suggestive costume bits, indigenous language, audience interaction, poetry, tons of props, pictures of historical characters, use of historical artifacts, poetic movement to portray animals and sacred moments, makes the story come to life in a vivid, memorable way. I think, for me, the fact that we have two musicians in the show that play a fusion of traditional Indigenous music and folk music (written by Kris Demeanor, and Anders Hunter who originated the musicians’ roles) with flute, guitar, and drums really brings a modern, authentic Indigenous tone to the show.
(I don’t want to talk too much about As Long as the Sun Shines, but we tell that story entirely on an overhead projector with light and shadow puppets.)
Q: Considering the important message of this production, do you think it’s a show that Quest will continue to perform and tour for years to come?
A: (NL) Currently, we cannot satisfy our waiting list for this show. Schools are calling to re-book the show that has extended our plans to produce it until 2021. There is a real appetite to understand our local Indigenous history in Canada. In conversations with schools, because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations and Alberta Education’s mandate, educators really want to provide authentic Indigenous perspectives and experiences for their students. I think we have been successful at providing, in a tidy one-hour format, a foundational primer of the historical context, through the First Nations perspective, that presents the Truth (in an age appropriate way) and works towards Reconciliation for future generations. We are very, very honoured to work alongside Making Treaty 7 Society to help tell and disseminate their story.
(Photo: Marshall Vielle in We Are All Treaty People courtesy Quest Theatre.)
We Are All Treaty People runs at cSPACE King Edward April 13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and continues to work within the Calgary arts & culture scene to promote the city’s numerous and varied events. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.