The Dramatic Leadership We Need
Sechanalyagh - Association of British Columbia Drama Educators.
Limelet - Coast Salish Peoples.
I’m incredibly grateful to be here, and humbled that I was asked to speak by my one of my high school drama teachers, Gordon Hamilton.
Now Mr. Hamilton - I still find it strange calling him Gord - so Mr. Hamilton told me that Sharon Conrad, my other Drama teacher is here, Sharon are you here - I just wanted to take a minute to honour the work the both of you do and all that you have done for me - thank you.
And to all of you! Who’ve come here so early…. it’s sooooo early. Why are we doing this so early?! I don’t normally art before 1pm, but you’re teachers and this is what you do, you get up and take care of our young people and you do it early. So thank you for not skipping out on first block and for being here this early morning.
Just to give you a bit of a lay of the land - I’m going to read this speech thing and then I’m going to read you 2 scenes from my play Kamloopa and then we’re going to go into a Q and A.
Great - and if you disagreed, we couldn’t change it anyways.
Also, behind me in size 'very big', we’ve got a slideshow of images from shows that I have or am working on, so if you get bored of looking at me, I would love for you to look at all the places I’ve been and see inside some of my work and processes. It's incredibly important for me to utilize every opportunity I have to show images of Indigenous women and peoples in joy, love and big laughter.
My name is Kim Senklip Harvey, I am and artist, activist and advocate. On my Father’s side I come from the Syilx and Ktunaxa Nations. My Grandmother is Susan Harvey and Grandfather Joe Atwood and Great Grandmother Harriet Paul. On my Mother’s side I come from the Tshilqot’in and Dakelh territories and my Grandparents were Emma and Maxine Mack and Great Grandparents were Henry and Edith Petal.
I come from a lineage of land defenders and Indigenous rights activists. I am here today because of the work of my Ancestors and I am humbled I get to continue their work, which is always in service to my people’s.
I work relationally, I believe that if we turn our attention to the bonds that connect us with the cosmic we nourish the Universe, and I believe the antidote to conflict because if you truly look at a connection with someone, and see them, we exchange with one another our humanity and solve any deficit of knowledge that might keep us apart.
We have to see and I want you to see and engulf yourselves in Indigenous storytelling and I hope we can do that here today to know that Indigenous creation, is not hierarchical - it is relational.
So I’ve really been thinking about the teacher, student relationship and I was intrigued by the other party that completes this triad - the parents and guardians.
Now, the parents and guardians are an interesting bunch aren’t they? I bet each and every one of you just loves them, loves all of them for making your lives living hell….ebores - which are “plants of the buttercup family, native to Eurasia.”
Aren’t they all just the buttercup’s of your lives?
Just joking but I was thinking about how strange this whole agreement of “school” is.
I don’t want to make any assumptions….but if I do they will be in service to a joke - and we all know that if you’re a joke you can get away with anything - just look at Donald Trump.
Okay - do we have any parents in the crowd, anyone a parent AND a teacher?
**MOMENT take a look out***
Amazing - congratulations you’ve guaranteed you will never get time off ever.
I’m just kidding, because I know from what I’ve heard that parenting is the greatest most rewarding job in the world. But since I’m not a parent I just want to clarify some things before I move on, so walk me through it - 2 or more people, decide that they would like to grow a human, to bring a person into into this world, and then they share a lot of that process online and in every conversation they enter into, as if it’s never happened before, like none of us came from that exact process - but whatever the case, we know there will be instagrams.
And then they talk about a love, like they’ve never felt before, and that if you’re not a parent you could never feel this kind of love - which I find confusing because certainly they can’t love their child more than they love posting about their child - that’s just not comprehensible to me. Not. Possible.
And then they take this “precious” being, apparently the MOST precious thing they’ve ever met, and they drop it off at a government building to complete strangers, for 13 years.
Right? That’s basically what happens?
I feel like that’s what happened to me. My parents had me, they liked me enough to bring me to their digs, where I spent a few years there and then as soon as I started speaking, BOOM - out. of. there. and into the arms of you lovely folx.
Precious babies - into the arms of strangers - seems absurd but we’re all just going with it aren’t we.
But that is what happens - teachers are bestowed humanity’s most precious beings and I’m here to talk about how you have, next to parents, the most influential position in young people's lives.
As drama teachers, as creatives, you have one of the greatest opportunities to not just change a young person's life, but to know and remember that because of that influence and impact - you actually change society.
Which sounds romantic - “teachers change the world” - I’m sure some of you have posters saying that, or it’s your mantra in the middle of a panic attack to remind yourself that you love your job. But I want to help remind you.
I want to help root it and nourish that origin story because if we’re going to talk about breaking through, as an Indigenous womxn, I want to say that me and my people need you, because some parts of our society are broken and hurting our children and you can help. We need your help.
Now I write a blog and I’ve started a podcast called, The Indigenous Cultural Evolutionist - anyone read the blog or listen to the podcast?
2 people excellent - I put in hundreds of hours of work - for no one to really care or acknowledge the work - I’m surprised they don’t call me a teacher.
I’m sure that’s how some of you may feel, you put in so much time and passion and sometimes that goes unnoticed and it certainly goes underpaid. But you do have some advantages.
More so than the non-arts teachers. Like one advantage you have as arts teachers is that your spaces are less clinical, usually. You can move around, shuffle the chairs and keep young people engaged with 'dynamic curriculums.'
Where as let’s say Mr. John in social studies really shouldn’t be acting things out. He should not be like Suzy you play Hitler, Joey you’re a Jew - Aaaaand scene.
What could go wrong here? Everything - everything could go wrong and that’s why Mr. John should stick to socials studies and not drama.
I remember in my Grade 10 social studies class we reenacted the confederation, we did the whole thing, we made hats out of newspaper and I played John A Macdonald. It was my big follow up role from grade 7 when I played Ebenzeer Scrooge.
Playing John A was confusing. It was very fucking strange when I rallied the British colonies by yelling “kill the indians, this is our land.” I’m just joking I didn’t do that.
They would never have let a brown girl play John A. I got relegated to fucking P.E.I. There was also an earthquake that day and our teacher abandoned us and ran out of the classroom and it was chaos.
That is a true story. Remember - precious cargo - hands of strangers.
Anyways, you have the ability and framework for embodied learning to occur. It’s really challenging for someone to zone out or fall asleep in a theatre, except for all audience members during a play because it gets fucking hot in there and we turn the lights off and it’s like we challenge them not to fall asleep.
Whoops! That’s my other keynote called, "Let’s Stop Boring the Shit Out of Our Audiences", which I will be delivering to the Vancouver canadian theatre community for the rest of my career apparently.
Moving on. Drama teachers, you have influence and I don’t just want to stand here and say it. I want you to know it, I want to speak to the teacher in you on the days when you don’t believe it, when you aren’t all amped up at a conference jonesing off each other’s energy and when theres a group wine session at the end of the day. I want to make offers that will stick with you on the days that you might forget the power you have.
You enter into young people's lives when they are impressionable, their brains are all elastic and absorbing everything. You enter into their lives and imprints occur because there are so many firsts, they are learning and absorbing so many new things and that is an incredible time to be a part of their lives.
Theatre provides and elicits a lot of very important firsts. Firsts that start to really slow down as we get older. So many firsts, especially high school theatre and I want to share with you some of my high school theatre firsts that really stuck with me:
-theatre class is where I first learned to correctly spell theatre - took 5 years did not get it right until grade 12. Theatre - t.r.e. theatre.
-it’s the first place I saw someone use a tampon to stop a bleeding nose. There was a substitute teacher that day Mr. Hamilton - you did not condone this.
-it was the first place I saw a female playwright speak her mind and defend her position with authority and passion.
-it was the first time I learned you are not supposed to touch fibre glass - especially when you were hanging a light.**act it out**
-it was the place I learned a safe space can be created just by giving it a colour. Shout out to all the green rooms out there, 5 year sanctuaries for so many of us.
-it was the first place I learned eating 50 chocolate covered coffee beans before a 7 hour drive to Tsilhqot’in territory while you’re ASM’ing a show was and still is a terrible idea.
-it was where I learned casting big shows could produce large amounts of joy.
-high school theatre was the place I mended my very first broken heart.
-it was where I wrote my first 1 Act play. Cordstons Courts - which is a terrible name for a play. Cordston Courts - saying it feels like you’re coughing up 5 pieces of lego. Cordston Courts. why tho Kim.
-high school theatre was where I kissed a boy for the first time - well almost. I got cast in a play where I had to kiss a boy and I had never kissed anyone before because I was a late bloomer - and so my friend group helped me get a bf asap.
I went on a law trip to UBC, met a boy from Aldergrove and quickly arranged a date to which my Dad dropped me off at the boy’s house and then Ryan - the boy - drove us to a hockey game in chilliwack in his moms turquoise astro van and we kissed oh so abruptly in the car a day before the rehearsal of the stage kiss and yess everyone at the rehearsal went “oooooooooooooo”.
-highschool theatre is where I directed my first show.
-highschool theatre is where I was, without question, supported in full, as an Indigenous female artistic leader.
Firsts, I had so many that I still think about.
A few weeks ago, I have the privilege of returning to my high school and speaking to some of the students involved with the theatre department and boy was I pleasantly surprised by the group who turned out.
Not just because I was there during their study block and people showed up but because of who I saw in the audience. Young people of colour.
Now my school when I graduated, 5 short years ago, was very white. I’m kidding I graduated almost 18 years ago and it was really white. My sisters and I were the only publicly identifying Indigenous students in the school and I would describe my Indigeneity as being deeply impacted by colonial displacement.
The canadian government for centuries now has been trying to segregate and eradicate Indigenous peoples from our territories and from existence and boy did I sometimes feel that erasure and isolation at my school. Indigeneity really only existed in our textbooks and that, as we can see from our current climate, has resulted in some dangerous environments.
Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I refuse the Indigenous trauma narrative, because I think for far too long and far too often Indigenous peoples are presented as data points, statistics and negative ones at that and as a person who works relationally I want to tell you my story, as working professional theatre maker.
We are not stats, we are people who need you to bear witness to our stories, and I don’t want you to be scared of telling stories of Indigenous peoples, with Indigenous content and using Indigenous frameworks and forms, from a place of deep respect.
In your classrooms is where you need to be flexing your power and utilizing your privileges as drama teachers. I believe that the only doorway to courage is vulnerability, I’m a Brene Brown fan, that woman hath done the research - literally.
I’m going to ask you some questions and I’d love for you to lean into some vulnerability so we can have courageous conversations.
Let’s ease into this:
-how many of you have acted, wrote or directed before?
-how many of you have seen or read an Indigenous play before? Any of you see Kamloopa? Oh snap for real - you’re my favourite - wait teachers aren’t supposed to have favourites but you do and we all know it.
-how many of you have Indigenous students?
-how many of you have taught an Indigenous play in your school?
-how many of you have wanted to teach or tell and Indigenous story or play in your school but got too scared to?
Now, I’m going to see if some of you can be really brave and just quickly and using our theatre voices yell out some answers.
-what stopped you from teaching or producing Indigenous theatre in your schools?
-didn’t know of any? I dunno I think that’s a lame cover for something deeper.
Take a moment to think, what stopped you from teaching or producing Indigenous theatre at your school?
The only way we can grow as people, is by breaking a bit, so I really love that this conference theme is about breaking through and I want us to have some break through here.
So whether you are courageous enough or not to say it out loud, I think you know it, you know it inside of you.
I believe one of the prevailing reasons why non-Indigenous and even some Indigenous peoples don’t engage in the new relationship we need is because of fear.
We are scared.
I believe fear is at the root of everything that stops us when we know we should do it- we get too scared and we freeze in the fear.
And I need you to unfreeze yourselves.
The discomfort you feel cannot be more important than the safety and well being of your students and the lives of Indigenous peoples. And you need to spend some time with that because it is our truth.
The convenience of non-Indigenous people, Settlers, has been prioritized over Indigenous peoples well being and that is not okay.
It’s been the canadian states agenda to make you scared of Indigenous peoples and or ashamed of what's transpired between us since colonization began over 400 years ago.
In my blog and podcast I talk a lot about Canadian culture being a shame culture - and I need you to refuse the shame, the shame that is attached to your fear, that has become permanently attached to who you are, because we are the artists and thus the evolutionists.
We need to build a new culture that is founded on vulnerability, courage and respect and you have some of the greatest opportunities to lead and open these portals for the new relationality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and it starts with your influence and the stories you presence in your classrooms.
If you don’t bring Indigenous peoples, stories, art, and plays into your classrooms you are then complicit in holding up canada’s agenda of “eradicating the indian.”
You become complicit in maintaining the canadian narrative that Indigenous peoples are only found in textbooks, or by Indigenous guest speakers once a year and that engaging and holding the rights and well being and presence of Indigenous peoples on a daily basis is not important or necessary and that hurts us.
I fight on a daily basis to be seen, heard and respected. Indigenous peoples are positioned to fight for our dignity all too often because canadians are too scared or frozen in shame to stand with us, especially when we are not there.
And that my slaxts, is when you need to really be doubling down on Indigenous content - even when we’re not there. And I know that’s one of the scariest times, because you don’t have a indian ally in the room to give you the nod, or the no face.
**give the no**
You should also not rely on the one or two or any Indigenous student to make you feel comfortable in teaching Indigenous content. My English 8 teacher did that to me waaaaay too often, “Right Kim, this is what the Haida did?”
I don’t know I’m a fucking Interior Salish, we we’re too busy surviving the harsh winters and summers and did not have time for button blankets and totem poles so stop asking me!
You have to go and do the work to make yourselves more comfortable, because you’ve been hiding behind and rationalizing your lack of efforts inside your comfort and it’s been at the expense of Indigenous peoples dignity.
Artists and storytellers are some of the most respected and cherished community members in Indigenous country, and you are artists and storytellers and thus have a huge responsibility to break through your fear and bring Indigenous content and peoples into your curriculum on a regular basis.
We as creators and artists have the responsibility to create worlds not yet realized, we have the responsibility to illuminate the stories that have been oppressed and marginalized and you are the igniters and provocateurs of the cultural evolution that this country so desperately needs with Indigenous Nations.
I know that Drama teachers, all of you have the notion and ability to let a trickster live in a part of you. For I know that when you close that door to the drama room or theatre, something inside of you ignites, you get that spiritual smile that knows for the next block, the principle will not be peering in, you flutter at the idea that somewhere in the school some science teacher is turning on a projection and you are about to create worlds unseen and experience by that precious cargo you’ve been handed.
And remember you might be the only place that these young people will have the opportunity to empathize in person and witness that embodiment of what Indigeneity is.
I am in theatre because I believe it to be the most powerful modality to show another human the reality of what it is to be in relationship to others, to understand one another’s humanity.
We have to embrace and leverage that.
Do not let this opportunity go because our society urgently needs you right now.
Read the TRC and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Final report, listen to the All My Relations Podcast, CBC’s Unreserved, take Indigenous courses at night, see every exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology, and ingest as much Indigenous art and stories as you can so you can be the leaders and space makers for all citizens to get the education they need to bear witness to the lives of Indigenous peoples and not too get stuck in the shameful colonial past.
You are going to make mistakes, that is a truth You are going to mispronounce something but heck, a lot of you are already comfortable with that, in fact, some a little too comfortable because some legitimately mis-pronounce names with a weird sense of pride. I do find that a little alarming, cause I think of it as if I, on a consistent basis started saying we are in Vooon-cah-how-ver instead of Vancouver.
Those regular offenders need to smarten up.
But know that you are going to fall sometimes, you will get complaints, you will not know the answers to some questions but beyond appropriating stories or putting your students in red face, I don’t think you can mess up that bad.
And when you get really scared about maybe misrepresenting something culturally, always remember you will never mess up as bad as the fucking Prime Minister who has made it his hobby to dress up in brown and black face.
As artists it is our job to make mistakes, someone should tell the PM he is not an artist.
Anyways, because we are innovators, builders and thus we make mistakes all the time. And I’m proud of myself because I’m in it. I’m in the circle making space for others to join and Indigenous peoples have been in the circle waiting for years for you.
Your Indigenous students are waiting in the circle for you and your non-Indigenous students need to hear these stories, learn how to be in circle and grow up to become socially conscious members of society who understand and empathize with Indigenous peoples humanity because their high school drama teacher passionately prioritized and presented Indigenous art, stories and people.
The canadian state might try and erase Indigenous peoples but you have the agency and power to bring us into the world views of your students. Students who will grow up to be system and policy makers, political leaders, mothers, fathers and guardians who will drop off the next shipment of precious cargo, that will either be educated and know and respect the value systems of Indigenous peoples or not.
Teachers have the great power to influence our young people, young people who become adults and then become entire generations. And for too many generations non-Indigenous teachers have failed to seize the powerful opportunity they have to change society and I’m asking you to seize it.
High School Theatre has always been the place where young people imprint some of the best times of our lives. I know I did, when I think of high school, I think of the theatre, I think of my drama teachers. The people who taught me how to put a story into my body, my spirit, my heart.
Drama teachers, I need you to put Indigenous peoples into your hearts, so we can share the same dignified opportunities and privileges that you are afforded. You are the leaders in your schools of innovation, risk taking and influence.
Each and every single one of you here have the power to impact Indigenous peoples lives through the power of stories - so be courageous and seize it.
I am proud to say that I have been deeply impacted by the power of high school drama and I think there is much more opportunity in your theatres to explore. And this starts with self, so I deeply encourage you to break through any barriers that society, your school or selves have built to maintain and protect your fear.
We know the objective and we know stage fright is to be expected but we cannot delay this anymore, the house is full, we’re all here and now you have to lead the show.
Break a leg, Wounded Knee, from my Ancestors to yours, limelet, sechanlyagh.
p.s Limelet to all the attendees and those who came up to me at the wine and cheese and shared a laugh.
Some have also emailed me and you're on the docket and will hear from me in the next couple weeks!
Lots of love!