Teaching anti-racism with theatre

Through theatre and cultural exchange this spring, Vanderhoof’s residents — new-in-town, settler, or native — will learn about anti-racism.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad presents $10

Through theatre and cultural exchange this spring, Vanderhoof’s residents — new-in-town, settler, or native — will have an opportunity to reflect and learn about being a good neighbour to all.

On Nov. 19, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad presented $10,000 in anti-racism funding to Nechako Healthy Community Alliance member Lisa Striegler.

In the coming spring, the funding will enable the Good Neighbours Committee, one of the alliance’s member groups, to bring to the community three theatrical performances that reflect situations of discrimination in Vanderhoof and a multicultural learning exchange, said Striegler, the committee’s chair.

Called the Mirrors Project, the play was first written in 2013 and then presented to select audiences in the spring of 2014 for feedback on whether it reflects reality, Striegler explained.

“It grew out of the idea that people are good and they want to have a nice, happy community, but they don’t understand the realities of what some people live with,” she said. “If we can hold up the mirror to ourselves, as the settler community, and see how our interactions with people perpetuate racism, we can make some change.”

Depicting scenes of people’s interactions with the health and education systems, as well as with the business sector, the play was found by the preliminary audience — which included new immigrants, the settler community, and First Nations — to generally reflect their experiences in the community, Striegler said.

With feedback from the workshops, Mirrors, including audience-specific scenes as short as 15 minutes long, can now be presented to staff in the health and education systems, as well as to Vanderhoof’s businesses at the Chamber of Commerce, she explained.

“The intent behind is that the play is followed up by a discussion or dialogue so that people can integrate some of their thoughts and feelings of what they saw,” Striegler said. “Hopefully this could result in some program change or policy change or, what we really want is, practice change.”

She added, “We actually got lots of policy that’s anti-racism, but in practice, it doesn’t always follow.”

It’s a long-time coming change to happen, along the same line of thinking as the provincial government adding Aboriginal education elements into the B.C. school curriculum this year, Striegler said.

“It’s a systemic problem that comes out of the colonial mindset that we think we’re treating everybody the same, but we’re actually treating everybody like us,” she said. “It’s not something that happened a long time ago and we get over it — colonialism still happens.”

She added, “The evidence is now in 2015, and we’re just putting in residential school information into the B.C. curriculum…it should be catching up by now.”

A great-granddaughter of a settler, Striegler started the Good Neighbours Committee 15 years ago and a roundtable discussion participant shared a story of being different.

A well-educated woman with a healthy self-esteem, the participant recounted, “So this is me, this is who I am, but when I get to the top of the hill to go into town, driving from Saik’uz First Nation, there’s a feeling of insecurity and the thought: I wonder how I’m going to be treated today.”

It’s a thought that white settlers may not necessarily have in town — wondering if they would be treated disrespectfully because of their colour, Striegler said.

“My utopian ideal is that nobody feels that way, when they come into town,” she said. “I think people in town wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way.”

Along with the Nechako Healthy Community Alliance, the College of New Caledonia, the Burns Lake Ts’iyanne Buts’udilhit’ Friendship Centre Society, and the Smithers Bridging Committee also each received $10,000 from the B.C. government to help eliminate racism.

“Racism comes in many forms. And so do the ways to address it,” Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad said. “By funding anti-racism projects, along with supporting community engagement and multiculturalism, our government can help strengthen communities and help end racism in B.C.”

These groups are four of 14 organizations throughout B.C. participating in the province’s Organizing Against Racism and Hate (OARH) program.

They shared $240,000 in funding from the provincial government towards activities in 24 communities that connect area networks in their common goal of wiping out racism, including local outreach, educational events, workshops and community engagements.