Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It was only three years ago when 21-year-old Shyanne Duquette experienced a very impactful serendipitous moment.
“I’m 24 now so it wasn’t really that long ago,” she told Windspeaker.com. “I was on the LRT. I looked over and there was this girl who looked a lot like me, but a little bit different. Call it instinct, or whatever, I went up to her and I was like ‘Hi. Is your father my father?’ and he was, and that’s how I met my sister.”
At the time, both Duquette and her new-found half-sister were both attending the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“We met up and just kinda talked about everything... It was really crazy speaking to her and realizing how many similarities we had just by not growing up together,” Duquette said.
“So we shared our favorite authors and dumb little fun things like that. And, of course, she was very easy to talk to about my whole experience with my father because, of course, the only one who could ever really understand not growing up with that whole half of you is someone who also didn’t grow up with that exact same whole half.”
At the time, Duquette was studying Indigenous theatre and realized her experience would make an impactful play, focusing on the realities and loss of connection for urban Indigenous youth in the modern world.
That play, Omisimawiw (meaning elder sister), began taking shape almost a year ago and is now being presented by RISER Edmonton from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12 at the Backstage Theatre at the Fringe Theatre Arts Barns (10330 84 Ave NW) in Edmonton.
Duquette will perform as one of the sisters and Emily Berard the other.
“This script has really come out of a lot of conversations of annoyances of continually being expected as an Indigenous person to portray our culture in the way it was pre-colonization. It’s not like that,” Duquette explained. “We don’t have those memories any more because they have been taken away from us. But, as Indigenous people, it is unfortunately our duty to reclaim that culture and this is a story about the reclaiming of that culture and the questions around how you reclaim that culture.”
The cast brought in Elders and other knowledgeable individuals who helped them develop the on-stage cultural experience to tie into the story about the two girls who didn’t grow up knowing anything about their Cree ancestry.
For Duquette, this was also a learning experience about how some individuals from the community don’t want to see some of their culture on stage. Something that led her to rewrite certain portions of her script as she felt it was important to respect the stories she was told.
“Something that has been interesting to come across is, of course, a lot of Indigenous culture has been shamed and forced to be done in private and a lot of people still hold that journey when it comes to Indigenous culture.
“Yes, in the past we weren’t allowed to do that because you would get arrested, get thrown into schools… but now we are at a time where we can explore our own practices and cultural beliefs on stage and there won’t be major repercussions. It’s balancing that with the community that has been… demonized for these practices for so long. We aren’t in that space or demonized for doing them anymore, so how do we become comfortable with performing it on stage when we have been forced to keep it in hiding for so long?”
Duquette worked closely with the director Danielle LaRose to respect the views of those individuals from the community, while still portraying the challenges and experiences of the two young sisters.
“Something that is really tricky for Indigenous theatre-makers, is how do we show our stories on stage, how do we represent our people on stage without exploiting all of our practices,” said LaRose.
“We have had lots of conversations (about) how we do that and how we do that in a good way and in a responsible way. So that Indigenous audiences come and feel like it is them there on stage, but without it feeling that it is being done without the respect that things like jingle dance deserve.”
Throughout the production, the cast and crew decided they would continue to learn about the best practices for exploring Indigenous culture and history.
LaRose said the focus on reconnection and best practices was one of the main reasons she was so drawn to the script and committed to directing the show.
“I felt like I connected to the piece because of that search, that desire to reconnect and that desire to reach out,” she said.
“The play is about serendipity meetings, and when you come across someone and it seems to be by chance, it’s very rarely chance at the root of that meeting. I believe there is always a choice there.”
LaRose applauds Duquette for sharing her real-life story on stage in front of an audience and hopes the performance resonates with other youth who are beginning their own journey.
“So many people go on this reconnecting journey, and they feel they are alone and they feel that they have to do all this hard work and it can be really lonely, especially at the beginning when your just meeting people or going to new places putting yourself out there,” said LaRose.
“It is really important for Indigenous youth in Edmonton to see plays like this and to know, if they are on that reconnecting journey or if they are interested in learning about their own heritage and their communities, they can see stories like this on stage and know lots of people go through the same thing.”
Tickets for the show are free for all Indigenous attendees and on a sliding scale for all other audience members.
This means those who want to attend can pay based on what they can afford.
“We wanted to make sure the story is accessible for as many people as possible. There are various ticket prices that you can select depending on what you are able to pay for theatre at that time,” explained LaRose
For more information visit the website Fringe Theatre – Fringe With Us All Year Long
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.