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Theatrical event in Swift Current provides powerful message about reconciliation

Posted on 21 May 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

By Matthew Liebenberg

mliebenberg@prairiepost.com

A powerful theatrical event brought a strong message about reconciliation and a need to learn from the past to audiences in southwest Saskatchewan.

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Swift Current and Area hosted performances of New Blood: A Story of Reconciliation on May 14 and 15.

It is inspired by the life of Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman of Siksika Nation, who experienced the trauma of residential school as a child. He was able to reclaim his life and became chief of his people.

The show combines poetry, music, contemporary and traditional dance to provide a moving experience. It is directed by Deanne Bertsch, a drama teacher at Strathmore High School in Alberta. The 40 performers in the production includes students from the school as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the community and neighbouring First Nations community.

An afternoon performance of New Blood took place in front of about 200 students at the high school in Maple Creek, May 14. There were two performances of the show at the Living Sky Casino Event Centre in Swift Current. An evening performance for the general public attracted a capacity crowd on May 14 and it was presented to about 400 students from Chinook School Division and Holy Trinity Catholic School Division on May 15.

Bula Ghosh from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Swift Current and Area said it was worth the effort to bring this production to the southwest to further reconciliation.

“That awareness that we want to create, we have done it in so many different ways in the past,” she noted. “I think this performance goes to your heart.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Swift Current and Area was formed in 2016 and it has hosted numerous events since 2017 to create opportunities for reflection, learning and growth on the collective journey towards reconciliation.

She felt the level of interest in the New Blood performance highlights the need to continue the work of the committee.

“Because every year you’re capturing a new audience,” she said. “That’s why you cannot stop this work.”

An important part of the committee’s work is the outreach to schools to raise awareness about reconciliation among youth.

“Whenever we do a truth and reconciliation event, we always try to involve the schools, because that’s our future,” she said. “If they understand this better and then live their lives with that whole motto of reconciliation, we’ll have a better tomorrow for everybody.”

Bertsch said after the evening performance on May 14 that she felt humbled and honoured to be invited to bring the New Blood performance to southwest Saskatchewan.

“I am so impressed that you have a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that plans events like this for the community and we’re so lucky to be part of one of the events,” she mentioned.

The 10th anniversary of the New Blood production will take place this coming fall in November and she estimated there have already been about 300 performances. She felt audiences are moved by what they see and they realize the extent of the impact from residential schools.

“I think mostly the show just helps make people more empathetic towards Indigenous people and the struggles they face because of residential school,” she said. “I just feel very lucky to be able to be on this journey with my students and whoever decides to come along, and then that we get to share it with these different audiences and see them moved.”

She felt the production has helped to create friendships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, which then will create relationships between parents and families.

“I get to know their parents and their families too, which is wonderful for me,” she said. “I appreciate those relationships so much. I think it’s just been this bridge to creating relationships where relationships wouldn’t have existed otherwise.”

Students find a sense of community through their involvement with the show, they have an opportunity to shine and it gives them a bigger voice.

“What the show essentially does, not only for the Indigenous kids, but even the non-Indigenous too, it gives them an opportunity to say this is one way I can make reconciliation happen, because I’m in this show, we’re creating relationships and we care about each other,” she said.

She will therefore continue to direct the show for as long as students and other members of the production are interested to be part of it and there are still invitations to perform it to audiences.

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