For some Canada Day is a time for celebration while for many it can a painful reminder of our countries colonialist history. How our country treats its indigenous people is a direct reflection of all of our progress. We have a long way to go which has become one of our foundations’ main undertakings to support, celebrate and lift up the voices of indigenous peoples that continue to graciously share this land with us.
Santee Smith, who directed and starred in Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s The Mush Hole, was the recipient of five Dora Mavor Moore Awards this past June.
“The Dora Award honours heaped upon The Mush Hole are richly deserved. They demonstrate the emotional impact of this extraordinary work of theatre and dance. Santee Smith and her collaborators bore with grace and courage the difficult role of embodying the trauma and the resilience of victims harmed by the Mohawk Technical School. The Mush Hole offers glimmers of hope despite the overwhelming shame associated with the history of Canada’s Residential Schools. We are very proud to have opened YPT’s 54th season with this brave act of speaking truth.” explains Allen MacInnis, Artistic Director at Young People’s Theatre.
The Mohawk Institute is the oldest residential school in Canada, after which all others were modelled. Operated in Brantford, Ontario from 1828 to 1970, it served as an industrial boarding school for First Nations children from Six Nations, as well as other communities throughout Ontario and Quebec. For 142 years, the modus operandi of the school was to forcefully assimilate children into Euro-Christian society and sever the continuity of culture from parent to child. Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald and Superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott were the main perpetrators of the residential school system. Students experienced a range of abuses from sexual assault, food deprivation, and corporeal punishment at the hands of faculty and staff.
The Mush Hole created and produced by Six Nation Kahnyen’kehàka Nationmultidisciplinary artist Santee Smithconnects to her family history. Smith’s great grandmother and grandfather attended the Mohawk Institute but no family information was passed on due to silencing through intergenerational trauma. Smith stated, “The Mush Hole reflects the realities of the Mohawk Institute Residential School experience and offers a way to open dialogue and to heal, through acknowledgement and honouring the spirit of Survivors and families that were impacted. The Mush Hole moves through the devastation of Residential School with grace and hope for transformation and release. Opening a small window into the atrocities inflicted on thousands of Indigenous children, it attempts to close the door on historical amnesia. A haunting portrayal weaves through memories of Survivors, reliving traumas, school life, loss of culture, remembrance, returning to find each other and the lifting of shame. Residential School and the continuing institutionalized extermination of Indigenous lives and culture is an issue that affects all Canadians.”
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Photo credit: Premiere Cast: Semiah Smith, Montana Summers, Julianne Blackbird. Photo credit: Ian R. Maracle