"Making Treaty 4" a powerful, emotional journey

By Everett Dorma Posted: July 4, 2019 1:00 p.m.

"Making Treaty 4" performers.
"Making Treaty 4" performers. Photos: Chris Graham Photo

Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples and its contemporary significance was the subject of the Globe Theatre production Making Treaty 4 (MT4) this spring. 

The play is not a historical reenactment but a conceptual performance of events in the lives of Indigenous peoples in the Treaty 4 area from the time of creation to the present. It explores some of history and impacts of colonialism on Indigenous peoples including the loss of buffalo, spread of disease, creation of reserves, residential schools, 60s Scoop, and Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. 

Erin Goodpipe, who graduated from First Nations University of Canada in June with a degree in Indigenous Education, is one of the creators of MT4 and a cast member of the Globe production. She discussed the making of MT4 and why it is important to tell this story.

What was the genesis of Making Treaty 4?  

Making Treaty 4 originated in 2017 during an INA 390 Theatre class at First Nations University that was taught by Dr. Jesse Archibald-Barber, Associate Professor, Indigenous Literature. It was inspired by Making Treaty 7, a Calgary Arts collective formed in 2012 that recreates the signing of Treaty 7 and continues the narrative to contemporary times. 

Under Jesse’s tutelage, I and the other students in the class created a series of short vignettes with a Treaty 4 theme and at the end of the class staged a production called Making Treaty 4.  With the help of a Canada 150 grant, following the class production Skyler Anderson, Teddy Bison, Pete Kytwahat, Jesse and I continued to work on refining the play and staged another production of Making Treaty 4, this time with more elaborate stage tech and professional dancers, in August 2017 in the Riddell Theatre on Campus.


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Scenes from the Globe Theatre production of "Making Treaty 4"

 

How did Making Treaty 4 end up at the Globe Theatre? 

Ruth Smillie, the Globe Theatre’s Artistic Director was in the audience during the August 2017 production and she loved the show and contacted Jesse about developing it for a run at the Globe Theatre. 

Of course we were all excited by the opportunity to share these stories with a broader audience and the Making Treaty 4 Collective, consisting of Sklyer, Teddy, Pete, Jesse, me and Benjamin Ironstand, was born.  We spent the summer of 2018 further refining and developing the play and then began working with the Globe putting together the cast and developing elements of production. The cast included Skyler, Teddy, Pete, Ben, Johanna Bundon, Meagan Angus, Mandy Goforth, Danielle Mitchall, and Jaire Olmos and Ruth served as production mentor and guide. 

The production itself broke a lot of new ground at the Globe Theatre, and we appreciate their openness to working with us as we are the first Indigenous led production to appear at the Globe.

How did MT4 break new ground at the Globe? 

There were actually a lot of firsts for the Globe that I think was essentially a decolonizing of Western theatre. Because many of our cast members were not professional actors, for example, we had a rehearsal schedule that allowed the cast to meet other work and family commitments. The Globe also supported our spiritual beliefs and provided us with a room for smudging. Many of us were very uncomfortable with allowing alcohol to be served given the problems it has created in Indigenous communities so we definitely broke with Globe tradition as this was the first theatrical production where alcoholic beverages were not available. These and other accommodations were really challenging for the Globe and we definitely appreciated the willingness of Ruth and everyone else involved to work through these things. 

Why is it important to tell these stories of Making Treaty 4? 

I think it really helped expose the current ongoing impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples here on the prairies.  For Indigenous members of the audience, it acknowledges the cultural genocide Canada has inflicted and continues to inflict on them, while recognizing their strength and resilience.  For the non-Indigenous audience members, it was in many cases a learning opportunity in that they may not have been aware of our country’s history or of the government’s efforts “to get rid of the Indian problem.” 

Recognizing the truth of this history and current conditions is an essential first step towards reconciliation.

What was the audience reaction like? 

It was incredible, very emotional but also very supportive.  At the end of each performance we provided the audience with an opportunity to ask questions and the audiences always had lots of questions. I think it was not only emotional for them but really thought provoking as well. 

Because of the disturbing, potentially triggering subject matter, we also had elders and professional counselors available to speak to people who were experiencing distress. Which was another first for the Globe. 

Each show ended with a round dance, which provided a chance for the audience and performers to come together and begin building relationships that I think was a very positive, hopeful way to end.

Are there any plans for future productions of Making Treaty 4? 

The Making Treaty 4 Collective is definitely interested in continuing this work, and many communities, schools and theatres have approached us about a possible tour. I think it would be fantastic if we could develop a smaller production we could use for educational outreach in schools and communities across Saskatchewan.

Background:

Treaty 4 covers most of southern Saskatchewan, including the City of Regina and small portions of western Manitoba and eastern Alberta. First signed in Fort Qu’Appelle on September 15, 1874 the treaty was one of 11 numbered treaties made between the Crown and Indigenous peoples from 1871 to 1921. 

The treaties provided Canada with land for development and settlement in exchange for various promises (both oral and written) to Indigenous peoples, including special rights to treaty lands, hunting and fishing rights, tools, education, etc. The terms of agreement and its implementation have been and continue to be contested and have ongoing legal and socio-economic impacts on Indigenous communities.

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