‘It’s very common’: Playing with Blackfoot actors examines the effects of Treaty 7

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CALGARY — Young Blackfoot actors are set to embark on a journey through time focused on signing historic Treaty 7 with the Canadian government at a play opening in Calgary this week.

“O’KOSI,” a Blackfoot word meaning “in the fall when we gather,” is filled with music and poetry and takes audiences through history, from the day Treaty 7 was signed to Blackfoot Crossing, east of Calgary, September 22, 1877.

It’s no coincidence that the show at the Victor Mitchell Theater begins on Thursday, the 145th anniversary of the treaty.

“Each scene you see is basically set on September 22, but a different year,” director Michelle Thrush explained.

“At the time, people in this territory did not understand the repercussions. They were in the midst of a famine because there was cultural genocide happening, loss of buffaloes, disease, smallpox,” he said. -she says.

“They had no idea they were going to be put on these reservations and kept in an apartheid state.”

Treaty 7 is one of 11 treaties signed between First Nations and the Crown between 1871 and 1921.

Treaties set aside land for reservations and promised annual compensation in exchange for surrendering First Nations rights to their traditional territory.

Thrush said that although the plays centered on historical events that affected her community, she did not want to focus on the residential school system.

“We mention it once, but it’s really about how our family systems have been destroyed, our bonds between parents and children for two to three generations have been broken and how can we find them again?”

Actor Garret Smith said there was some humor despite the dark manner of the subject matter.

“I play a father and I also play a game show host,” Smith said with a laugh.

“It’s very broad, but it’s also very grounded. As fantastic as the piece is, it’s really rooted in the land and in our people.”

Smith, who grew up in the Calgary area, said he hopes those who attend the play come away with a better understanding of what First Nations people have gone through.

“We really want people to connect with anything and everything, as long as they come away touched, with a smile or a tear,” Smith said. “That’s really the result we’re looking for.”

Dusty Frank, who grew up in Lethbridge but is part of the nearby Blood Reserve, plays a young native adopted by a Polish family. He hopes the topic will help inspire young people and educate them about Indigenous history in Canada.

“It’s an education I really needed too,” he said.

The musical score is a combination of traditional powwow and dancing, but some of the songs include a fusion of guitar and bass music.

“It’s a cool trip,” singer Faith Starlight said.

She said one song is a rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” that overlaps with powwow music instead of English words.

“All of us who helped remake that song? We can’t hear that song the same way now,” Starlight said.

The play runs until October 1.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 19, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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