After four years of planning, the Indigenous Theatre department’s inaugural season is now in jeopardy
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
The Indigenous Theatre department of the National Arts Centre received word late last month that they’d been passed over for $3.5 million of requested funding in the 2019 federal budget.
“Although the leadership of the NAC is committed to the existence of Indigenous Theatre, without ongoing financial support, we will not have the capacity to achieve our vision and full impact,” said Artistic Director Kevin Loring in a Facebook post on the matter. “We do not have the resources for outreach, professional development and engagement with Indigenous artists and communities that would have supported the work. We also won’t be able to support the efforts we had imagined necessary to elevate the Indigenous performing arts sector across the country.”
Plans to create an Indigenous Theatre department for the National Arts Centre began back in 2015, with Loring appointed to the artistic director position in October of 2017. Loring is a Nlaka’pamux playwright, actor, and director from the Lytton First Nation in British Columbia and won the Governor General’s Award for English-language Drama in 2009 for his play Where the Blood Mixes. The Indigenous Theatre department’s 2019/2020 inaugural season is still set to launch this year, “albeit in a greatly diminished capacity,” according to Loring.
“I have now been put in the disturbing position of overseeing a department whose creation and existence is a financial burden to an already stressed institution—the NAC has not received an increase to its annual base funding in 15 years,” said Loring.
“Going forward we will be even less capable of producing or presenting a season […] perpetuating the narrative of Indigenous people being a burden, and looking for a hand out to support our existence.”
The decision to deny funding has been met with outrage and disappointment from members of Indigenous arts communities online.
“This is truly disappointing,” said Jesse Wente, director of the Indigenous Screen Office, on Twitter. “Indigenous theatre has a long and rich tradition, and there are some amazingly talented people that work in theatre across Turtle Island. So many stories to be told, the only thing missing is opportunity.”
Many are being encouraged to reach out to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, Pablo Rodriguez, who is cited as being responsible for the budget decision.
“To all non-Indigenous folk, bear witness to this news and figure out your activation plan to truly support and work for Indigenous peoples,” said director, playwright, and actor Kim Senklip Harvey on her blog. “Indigenous Theatre is at a very dangerous tipping point—our jobs and work and art are being threatened out of existence.”
“Our stories are medicine,” said Loring. “Like our stories, we too are resilient. […] We remain committed to rising.”