Backstage: Expanding the Museum: Sharing my Indigenous Story

Get to know us in our Backstage at CCPA blog. Contributors are students, faculty, and members of our community. 
Year II student Jacelyn Perret articulates her experience as a young growing Indigeneous artist, how her hometown and the College shaped her, and where she intends to take her career.
I’ve always had such a love-hate relationship with my hometown. Prince Albert’s a small city and there’s only so many things to do or places to go. There’s five neighborhoods and four high schools. With a mall that has more offices than retail stores, one bowling alley, and a sprinkle of small museums, the most fun we had growing up was driving around town drinking iced coffees from the only Starbucks, meeting up with other people who were driving around town. The museum is one of the most complicated places for me. It’s slowly changing as time evolves, but tucked away in a tiny corner of the main floor is the section on the Indigenous history of the city, mainly the Cree, Dene and Métis. But that’s it. After that tiny corner is all white man’s history.

In elementary school I didn’t see it as much, but towards middle school and high school kids started acting more hostile towards the Indigenous populations. There seemed to be so many stereotypes people would make fun of and Indigenous peoples were always the butt of everyone’s jokes. The more the crime rates rose, the less safe it became to go out, the more the fingers were pointed at the Indigenous community. If you could picture eyes being rolled at every land acknowledgement, that’s what the majority of race relations in the province are like. I was going into the 11th grade at the time Colten Boushie was murdered. Grade 11 (the end of it at least) was also when I rediscovered my Métis heritage. I always grew up with the culture, but never the title.

Now that I’m more connected to my heritage and culture I feel more confident about publicly identifying as Indigenous. But like everything, I’m still sometimes scared of telling people I’m Indigenous. Because I’m white-coded (“white passing”) you just never know how someone is going to react. Are they going to think that’s great? Are they going to deny? Are they going to try to relate to you and tell you about their family history? That’s all happened. For me, publicly identifying as an Indigenous artist is the first step in decolonizing myself. And I hope that my openness with my story will encourage other Indigenous youth to do the same.

I think that’s what excites me the most as an artist, let alone an Indigenous one, is the chance to make bold choices. You can confront a lot of things through art and you can help an audience confront those same things through bold and unapologetic choices. Not that it can always magically be in the budget, but I’m a sucker for a bold and grandeur design. Something so visually pleasing it’s euphoria. A dream of mine is to direct an all Indigenous A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a design in the style of Métis artist Leah Dorion. I also enjoy out of the box art like Kidd Pivot, I’m fascinated by Crystal Pite and all of her work. I’d love to do a movement piece to pre-recorded text. I think theatre is a great medium for Indigenous artists because you combine the soapbox and production value of theatre with cultural traditions and practices. Both in creating and performing!

I’m also excited to put Indigeneity at the forefront of my artistic process because I’m starting so young! There is a big wide world out there for me to explore a growing community of Indigenous theatre artists in Canada theatre dedicated just to Indigenous works, like Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre in Saskatchewan, and Native Earth Performing Arts in Ontario to name a few. The great thing about Indigenous artists making and working on Indigenous art is that it can’t be romanticised or colonized. It can’t be white-washed. It’s telling stories in traditional languages like Marie Clements did with her opera Missing. It’s Julie McIsaac & Corey Payette’s Children of God. It’s seeing people that look like me, think like me, share a mutual culture and love for theatre like me.

The Birds, 2019

And the college has provided me with so many great opportunities and chances to embrace my Indigeneity and hone this side of my artistic identity. The college fostered the beginnings of identifying as an Indigenous artist. The staff and faculty encourage the exploration of my identity and how to integrate it into my work. In October of 2019, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Keith Barker who directed Company C’s production of The Birds by Indigenous playwright Yvette Nolan. This conversation is something that I’m going to value and remember for the rest of my life and I’m very grateful the college could make it happen. I was also available to “e-meet” Yvette and get some recommendations of Indigenous plays for me to read. She gave me some great titles and I can’t wait to dive in. My mentorship, which was to be a part of the TD Festival of New Works, is an original play titled Invisible Minority. In light of recent events, I was able to meet digitally with my cast and workshop this project. The play is a historical drama that brings to life the Northwest Resistance of 1885 through the eyes of the women that experienced it. It tackles the importance of young people knowing the value of their history and culture. It even integrates words and phrases in Michif, the blended French/Cree language of the Métis.

On the topic about Indigenous plays about Saskatchewan: the new play, Reasonable Doubt by Joel Bernbaum, Lancelot Knight, and Yvette Nolan, opens that door for honest dialogue and a step towards healing when it comes to race relations in Saskatchewan. Though there’s still quite a way to go, a step forward is a step forward. It’s important now more than ever. And important for me now because I lived so long without it. Looking back on it it’s so frustrating to see myself growing up being so ignorant and misinformed. But from what I’ve seen youth of today are anything but that. Canada is a long way from reconciliation. People keep saying sorry for what happened in the past but still suppressing the marginalized voices of today. Change is a slow drip. History really does repeat itself. And it’s been repeating itself for hundreds of years now. Rallies standing by the Wet’suwet’en Nation have spread across the country. Indigenous youth of today are just so powerful. They’re really using their voices to stand up and work towards decolonization using social media. They’re bringing to light the MMIW crisis, harsh living conditions of the reserves, effects of colonialism, and positive things like behind the scenes of pow-wows, food recipes, traditional art tutorials on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Tik Tok. That’s what inspires me. I want to contribute to the state of our country now and the beautiful traditions and cultures of the Indigenous peoples. And right now, the only way I know how to contribute and educate is through art.

I want to take my art, educational or otherwise, back to its roots. Physically back to its roots in Saskatchewan. I think Saskatchewan’s growing theatre community is the perfect place for a young actor and budding playwright to start contributing to the arts community in and show the world what she’s made of. I plan to more plays, maybe not all about Indigenous history like my mentorship is, but at least write Indigenous characters so there’s more visibility in our industry. Yvette (who was born in the same hometown as me!) is a big inspiration of mine and I would love to work and learn from her in Saskatoon one day. I also want to produce one of my own works and do a Fringe circuit, but that may be a few years down the road still. Of course, I’d love to one day be working on a national scale, Stratford and Shaw and all the big names, but I’ve learned that as much as I love the big cities outside of Saskatchewan, I shouldn’t be so quick to brush off what beautiful art may be hiding in the Land of the Living Skies.

View Photo Credits

The Birds, 2019 | director Keith Barker | photo credit Peter Pokorny