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  • Kim Senklip Harvey

Indigenous Power at The 2019 Jessies

On Monday July 15th, Indigenous stories, artists and productions reigned sovereign at the 2019 Jessies held on the thousand year old Musqueam and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh traditional summer village Sen̓áḵw or what colonizers call "Vanier Park" as a part of their illegal occupation.

I wrote a post earlier this year speaking about the complexity and relational importance of being acknowledged as creators in the ecology of theatre, specifically where canadian and Indigenous theatre intersects. So if you haven't had the time to read that post I encourage you to do that before reading this.

So far, almost all the media headlines on the Jessie's perpetuate and uphold white supremacy with narratives supporting ideas that settler companies are "leading" the way. Calculations done solely by these metrics on the number of Jessies each company won is problematic because it doesn't acknowledge the inequitable advantage of how euro-hegemonic companies have historically and are continually being resourced enormously more than Indigenous practitioners.

From my understanding there are no Indigenous Theatre companies producing plays on an annual basis on the Coast Salish that are currently receiving operating funding. So the dominant appraisal of quantity in it's inception, practically disqualifies all Indigenous creators the opportunity to be amplified in media coverage - which is supporting and celebrating white supremacy.

And if the media outlets aren't reinforcing white supremacy, in most cases, they aren't reporting the Indigenous narrative at all. This racially positions Indigenous peoples working in theatre to have to fight for living wages, equitable support and to be seen, heard and respected and acknowledged.

Which is why I was elated to wake up to Colin Thomas Fresh Sheet that honoured the "Indigenous Theatre Rising" happening in this community. I sent Thomas a message saying - he got it - he truly understood the major shift and innovation that is happening in this community. The powerful and exciting Indigenous storytelling that separates us from any work happening in North America.

Thomas starts off his coverage with this powerfully astute statement:

"Counting up what companies and productions won the most prizes at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards...misses the real trend. Yes, Bard on the Beach snagged five, Théâtre La Seizième four, and the Arts Club a meagre two. But the real story is that Indigenous artists and shows with significant Indigenous content tallied up ten wins, including a lot of the big ones."

This is THE story here and I strongly recommend you subscribe to Thomas' weekly newsletter and read the rest of his coverage here. I shared it with a number of Indigenous creators who responded with relief and rapture that a non-Indigenous community member witnessed the truth and power of what happened on Monday night and the season of Indigenous creation.

Thomas' potent summary, which is the embodied work of an Indigenous accomplice, gives me the space to dig deeper into other areas of just how exciting the turn of events on Monday was.

I'm still in the workshop for Skyborn and it's been giving me some time to work and reflect on how I can be even more explicit with what we're doing here with Indigenous Theatre, in process, the method and creative practice. The Jessies became this really useful and celebratory tool and gathering for me to understand what the non-Indigenous community clearly received from Kamloopa.

I was disappointed that Sam McCue did not receive an acknowledgement for her work as the costume and regalia designer for Kamloopa. She designed over 30 pieces from pop culture motifs, to urban contemporary Matriarchy looks, as well as innovating a new form of traditionally Salish regalia in a contemporary form, with the final capes and transformer animals.

I feel personal responsible for not clearly illuminating to the community the deep and nuanced complexity of her designs. She is almost single handedly carving and innovating in her artistic discipline of Indigenous Nation-centric regalia. Sam's research, method and work is also remarkably co-existing and supporting artistic ceremony which only a handful of designers are capable of executing. She is trailblazing on an multi-inter-Indigenous level and I was grossly disappointed that she was not acknowledged.

So now on Skyborn, I'm thinking how can we share the dimension bending multi-Indigenous National innovations artists and designers are generating, just like McCue did on Kamloopa. How do we share with the white dominated euro-centric ontological community members the amplitude to which Indigenous artists are creating so we're able to see the depths of the innovations occurring in Indigenous Theatre.

But Kim, these are colonial spaces, with euro-centric metrics, occupied predominantly with people embodying imperial essentialism.

For sure - but as I've communicated time and time again - we're all here now, nobody's getting on ships back to europe nor are peoples going to totally abandon eurocentric ideologies so we've got to forge the new relations.

I think it takes a certain level of privilege to write things off without a thorough investigation - so I'm here to do just that, tackle them and dismantle if necessary or illuminate the complications and or white oppressive nature of them while also seeing opportunities to leverage equity.

On Monday, Kamloopa received the Sydney Risk Prize, the Significant Artistic Achievement and Best Production in the large theatre categories. There are so many people to thank for their support. I would say dozens if not over 100 people made Kamloopa happen and remember this work is relational, built on trust - so you know if you helped - you know if you created challenges for us. Give yourself some love if you're in the first part of that company and maybe take some time to think about your positioning of Indigenous womxn if you're in the camp of making this work harder for us.

I want to give more attention and amplification to the Indigenous artists who were acknowledged on Monday:

Quelemia Sparrow who led the whole Indigenous narrative and presencing of the traditional territory in Lysistrata.

Cory Payette for being a work horse out there.

Kamoopa and the Fire Company and producing partners.

Taran Kootenhayoo - we're working to leave a more equitible ecology for you and the next generation

If you we're not able to make the event here are my acceptance speeches from the evening. to which my lovely friend Brendon captured.

With Indigenous pride, love and gratitude,


Jessica Schacht, myself and Kaitlyn Yott celebrating Best Production at the Jessies.

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