In 2007, on a lake not so far away from Bancroft, the wild rice wars began when James Whetung, of Curve Lake, began reseeding and harvesting his indigenous food from local lakes. Whetung’s actions got noticed and the saga eventually became the story line of Drew Hayden Taylor’s stage play, “Cottagers and Indians.”
Now, in partnership with the Kijicho Manito Madaouskarini Algonquin First Nation, Kelly Beaulieu and Hospice North Hastings, a locally produced version of the play will be performed at the Village Playhouse on August 24 – the first Indigenous production mounted on this stage in Bancroft and the surrounding communities.
The play will follow a week of special programming that will bring cast, crew and volunteers together to prepare for the production but also to create discussion about land and stewardship, between both settler and indigenous youth and adults.
Kelly Beaulieu is overseeing the special production that includes a week of experiential programming for the volunteer cast and crew and Teo Dragonierri, of Zanni Arts, will also work with the actors and choreograph the chorus. Mr. Dragonierri is a Theatre instructor at Centennial and Sheridan Colleges. He is an adjudicator for National Theatre School Drama Festival. Dragonierri is renowned for his work in mask, movement and physical theatre.
“The play humorously examines the conflicts and the stakes of both cottagers and indigenous peoples as they look for ways to be good stewards of their lands,” Beaulieu explains. “It examines treaty rights and miscommunications and despite good intentions on both sides – conflict arises. Spoiler alert- the play ends in a demolition derby conflict between a rice harvester and an MNR sponsored dredger.”
Drew Hayden Taylor’s script tells all sides of the story in a powerful dramatization of contemporary battles being fought between environmentalism and consumerism, from an Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspective and all the partners are ready to see the project launch.
Noreen Tinney is a project co-chair and she encourages everyone to get involved with the production that will also include a post-show discussion.
“Coming together as a community to discuss these issues is important for everyone as we share this land and all its resources,” Tinney says. “We feel that this play is timely as students and adults are learning about Indigenous issues and the Truth and Reconciliation Report.”
The experiential nature of the theatre camp provides an environment where questions can be answered and different perspectives can be explored, Beaulieu says.
“It is a chance for the volunteers to explore this issue in a safe environment where they can ask questions without fear that they will be thought of as uncaring,” she says. “We need to have conversations with each other, if we are to broaden our understanding of others. We are going to eat together, laugh together, paint sets, build docks and get to know each other.”
This experiential learning is why Hospice North Hastings has donated the Village Playhouse for the camp and the production.
Heather Brough is the Coordinator of Hospice North Hastings and the Manager of the Village Playhouse; which Hospice operates as part of their Caring through Culture initiative.
“A production like this provides a chance for our community to learn, grow and to evolve in a way that we will all benefit from,” Brough says. “Cultural programming allows us to understand issues and our own behavours in such a unique way. We are honoured to play a role in this project, and we anticipate a wonderful response from the audiences.”
“Cottagers and Indians” will be performed at the Bancroft Village Playhouse on August 24 at 2 and 7pm. Tickets are $15 and are available from Harvest Moon, Posie’s, Vintage on Hastings, Hospice House and online at www.bancroftvillageplayhouse.ca. There will be a discussion following each show and everyone is welcome to participate.
Anyone still wanting to assist with the camp, or the production can contact Noreen Tinney at 613.332.0318. The camp starts at the Playhouse on Monday, Aug. 19.