First Nations, settlers, newcomers develop ‘Mirrors’ play

Reflection in the ‘mirror’ might change attitudes, behaviour

Jimmy is an outspoken, well-informed youth who is angry at the ‘system’. He is proud of who he is, but he has issues: his mom is sick, his teacher is asleep at the wheel, and every store owner in town seems out to get him. Madge is struggling with balancing the needs of her family and the racism she experiences at work. Phillip is a young misunderstood forester with Mennonite heritage, he has a good living and works hard. Margaret is a teacher in the high school, she is an Al-Anon participant who “means well”. Madge is a Newcomer from Asia/South Pacific who had to leave her daughter and warm-climate home country for Canada to earn a living to send back home. Madge has a degree in health, but cannot work in her field.

These are just a few of the diverse characters and more make up the story of ‘Mirrors’, an interesting journey of navigating life in a rural town in Northern B.C.

Community partnership

The play has been three years in the making, through a partnership of the Good Neighbours Committee and the Nechako Creative Communities Collective (NC3) which is one of three organizations under the umbrella of Nechako Healthy Community Alliance. It is a carefully developed work with material combining input from several groups from Vanderhoof and Saik’uz. Residents were consulted for input, some have beenactors in the play, or part of the audience members in workshops with First Nations, settler, and Newcomer groups.

Published play, available free

As of this week, the five act play Mirrors, directed by Lisa Striegler, produced by Sylvia Byron and Melanie LaBatch, is available in book form and ready for anyone to access free of charge on library shelves of the Vanderhoof Public Library, Nechako Valley Secondary School (NVSS) and the Nechako Campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC).

Qualitative research

A grant from the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako provided support for a qualitative process of research in Saik’uz Territory, including the District of Vanderhoof and Regional Area F. Research unearthed local context experiences in themes of tension around social, health, or economic issues.

Mirrors was first workshopped in the spring of 2014 before three diverse audiences at Burrard Market Square in Vanderhoof and Saik’uz Band Office Gym at Saik’uz First Nation. Each act of the play was presented in workshops to facilitate dialogue to integrate audiences’ experiences into the plays.

Educational tool

The play addresses stereotyping and prejudice. It purposely evokes discomfort in the audience in order to provide an opportunity to examine thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviours.

The play examines questions like:

“What is accepted as normal?”

“In which characters did you see elements of yourself?”

“Does having this look in the “mirror” change what or how you will think or behave in the future?”

Hold up a mirror to settlers

The objective of the Mirrors Project was to hold up a mirror to the settler community and show how we often unwittingly, sometimes overtly, behave in ways that are rooted in racist, colonialist attitudes, and that contribute to economic, educational, and health inequities for First Nations and Newcomers.

“Most people don’t want to be racist”

Exposes one-sided beliefs

This project bravely exposes deep-rooted one-sided beliefs which people may not even be aware they carry or perpetuate unconsciously. It does so, however, in a compassionate and sensitive way, acknowledging that most people don’t want to be racist. The play and individual scenes are always followed by a dialogue so that players and audience members have the opportunity to have a discussion to talk about the issues raised and process the theme portrayed in each of the scenes.

Safety in theatre

Theatre offers a degree of safety with which to explore tensions between settler populations, local First Nations, and Newcomers. Mirrors reflects these tensions at a particular point in time. It is the hope of the Nechako Creative Communities Collective (NC3) and the Good Neighbours Committee that readers and future players who renact the scenes will use the script to forward the mission of creating welcoming and inclusive communities for all.

Play reviews

“This project has definitely opened my eyes. I wish I could explain how grateful I am to be a part of Mirror Project. Being given the opportunity to be a part of the play is a privilege for me. Thank you for your hard work in putting up this play which [addresses] the issues that affect us.” Workshop participant.

“I love your play!… I found I really identified with Carina… The frustration with trying to negotiate the system and the attitudes faced when trying to follow instructions is far too easy to imagine. I also really like Jimmy – one of those teens you hope can negotiate the system and come out okay.” Dr. Nicole Ebert.

“[Y]ou all have been doing a fabulous job on the Mirrors Project. I spoke with [a local resident], and she very much enjoyed workshopping the play at the Arts Council AGM night…Thank you all for the hard work and vision you have put into this project… and for caring so much about everyone in our communities…” Vanderhoof Community Member.

“I think you guys are courageous to do what you do – I don’t like to say the words, but white people coming on to the rez and asking us what we think. And [to the actors] it must be difficult to play the parts, especially the Indian [Indigenous] parts.” Saki’uz Audience Member.

Original cast

The original cast included: Dii, Marama and Jale Bulamaibau, Becca Shears, Conor Striegler Iannone, Kyle Althaus, Siobhan Striegler Klassen, Linda MacDonald, Susan Carberry, Jean Johnson, Cheyenne Threlkeld, Conor Sytriegler Iannone, Chelise Everett, Brandon Boivin, Sarah John, Katie Peers and Derek Broughton.

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In this photo are actors Chelise Everett (as Carina, the First Nations woman) and Sue Carberry (portraying Rhonda, the nurse), playing the scene, heart beats, from the play workshopped at the Saikuz Band Office in 2014. There were performances 2014 through to 2016 for various audiences. Photo submitted.

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