By Jeremy Harpe and Candice Ryan of CFWE-FM
In all Corey Payette’s years of speaking with residential school survivors and their families, he has come to know of their immense strength, and their ability to connect back to their culture and language, and their depth of character to be able to forgive.
“If audiences knew about that strength and resilience, of what it would take to move forward and hold on and be proud of your culture and heritage, I think that we would all have a different idea of how we think of Indigenous people in this country,” he said.
It was from this understanding that Payette crafted “Children of God”, a musical about an Oji-Cree family whose children were sent to residential school.
"Children of God" begins its run at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre March 3. It will show on the Shoctor Stage until March 24.
It’s a pop-rock Indigenous drumming fusion of music which allows a unique access point to a difficult topic, the intergenerational impacts of the residential school experience on one Oji-Cree family.
It takes place in two time periods, 20 years apart, Payette told CFWE-FM. It’s a new work with a largely Indigenous cast, who play different roles in those different time periods.
"Children of God" has received rave reviews in Ottawa and Vancouver. “The story is absolutely compelling,” said the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. “This is a brave work, and a starting point for important conversations. See it,” wrote the Georgia Straight.
Payette says many have heard the facts and the figures of the residential school history, but they don’t often hear about what it would have been like for a parent to lose their children, or for brothers and sisters to be separated or how that trickles down through their lives for generations and generations.”
Work on the musical began a couple of years ago at the Chief Louie Cultural Centre in Kamloops at the residential school there. They rehearsed the show in the chapel of the school and performed it for the community.
“What we heard from them, after we did it was from Elder Evelyn Camille, and she said ‘You need to do this work for every community across Canada, because it’s not just about Indigenous people knowing this history. It is about everyone.”
From that moment, Payette said, it was recognized that theatre was a tool to be able to voice some of the stories and perspectives that have been silenced for generations and generations.
The cast includes Dillan Chiblow, an Ojibway member of the Garden River First Nation, who plays Tom. Juno-nominated Sandy Scofield plays his mother Rita.
Dillan Chiblow and Sandy Scofield (above)
“She’s fantastic. She’s amazing in the role, and I think audiences are really going to fall in love with her,” said Payette.
Citadel Theatre veteran David Keeley plays the hard role of Father Christopher, the head priest at the residential school.
David Keeley (above).
“We have this really great mix of these Indigenous performers, that maybe the Edmonton community hasn’t seen before, and also some people who may be familiar to audiences.”
There is something about experiencing this story through the eyes of this family.
“Audiences are yearning for a story that is about this land and our history and where we come from…. If you live in this country, this is your history. This is where we have all come from.”
Watch a short promotional video here: https://youtu.be/dOdDdqOZATw
Go to the Citadel website for more details. http://www.citadeltheatre.com/2017-2018/children-of-god?gclid=Cj0KCQiAieTUBRCaARIsAHeLDCSci-DncZzP4wqvJHe6BDjXaY-dpzcNVOlhZSCujKax7-DxQdnjsY4aAqY_EALw_wcB