NAC insideMNO Education Officers Wanda Botsford (centre) and
Alicia Blore (right) lead NAC staff in a jigging demonstration.
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Thanks to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Indigenous stories and issues are becoming more a part of the public consciousness in Canada than ever before. At the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa, this is taking the form of a new Indigenous Theatre Department, to be headed by an Artistic Director from a First Nations, Métis, or Inuit community.

On January 17, Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) staff members presented a Métis 101 information session to staff of the NAC as part of a broader framework of Indigenous training sessions the organization is implementing in preparation for the new department. “The rest of the NAC now needs to catch up and become educated and aware of what our several histories are across this country,” says Associate Director of English Theatre (and Interim Facilitator of the new Indigenous department) Sarah Garton Stanley.

Since September the NAC has hosted one information session each month. The presentation by MNO staff was the first Métis-focussed session, and introduced staff to both the history of the Métis as a people, and the life and significance of formative Métis leader Louis Riel. MNO Education Officers Alicia Blore and Wanda Botsford led a presentation that included a discussion of the role of Voyageurs in the fur trade, fiddle music, and a jigging demonstration. MNO Manager of Education, Way of Life and Special Projects Scott Carpenter was also on hand to answer questions and provide additional knowledge. He says the Métis 101 sessions are designed to help facilitate understanding of Métis people in today’s contemporary society.

The Métis 101 session comes a few months before the NAC will host a performance of Louis Riel, an opera about Riel’s life. Written in 1967 by Canadian composer Harry Somers and co-produced with the Canadian Opera Company, the performance focuses on the events of the Red River and Northwest rebellions, and is part of the NAC’s summer Canada Scene Festival.

While the Métis 101 session won’t affect the content of the opera, what it will do is provide NAC support staff in the communications, programming, and marketing departments with the context to be able to promote and discuss it in a way that is authentic to the contemporary Métis experience, explains Jason Dubois, Festival Manager for Canada Scene. “There is a whole interest in professional development within the institution,” he says. “There’s sort of a narrow focus around the Louis Riel opera and a broader focus around the future plans for the NAC.”

“Like any other offering that lands on the NAC stage, we need to have some understanding and be able to talk about it, and this [opera] specifically because it has lots of history around it.”

The first season of Indigenous theatre at the NAC is slated to happen in 2019. “The reason for an Indigenous Theatre Department at the NAC is because it needs to happen,” Garton Stanley says. “Our stories, our country, this land of Canada was created out of the stories of Métis, Inuit and First Nations people, and those are the central stories of our country … We have an English theatre, we have a French theatre, and so we must have an Indigenous theatre so that we’re really making sure that we’re telling the story of Canada.”

Posted January 26, 2017