By Kathryn Helmore
VANCOUVER – On July 11, 2008, a ring of 11 chairs marked the floor of the House of Commons. The chairs were designated for five Indigenous leaders and six residential school survivors. In front of these guests, Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the Government of Canada for residential schools.
To many, the apology marked the end of a long silence regarding a dark chapter in Canadian history. To Corey Payette, playwright and creator of the play Children of God, the time for silence has passed and the time for reconciliation, atonement, and conversation has come. He plans to move forward by putting the topic at centre stage.
In Children of God, the children of an Oji-Cree family are sent to a residential school. It is the story of children who were robbed of their community and the mother who desperately tried to see them, yet was never let past the school’s gate.
“Children of God demonstrates the intergeneration impact of a cultural genocide,” says Payette. “It shows how this chapter in Canadian history changed the course of lives. We hope that it will help people understand what happened. We hope that people will enter the theatre one way and leave it changed.”
While the production might seem like a tragedy, it is fundamentally about hope and perseverance, says Payette. “It is a testament to the strength and reliance of our ancestors. It dares us to look at how far we’ve come. Despite what happened, we have held onto our culture. That takes strength and courage.”
Children of God pays homage to the resilience of Indigenous culture and its growing prevalence in sectors that have, until this point, been dominated by Western culture. This work involved over 30 people, has a cast of nine, and required four independent theatre companies; the compelling narrative and First Nations-inspired musical score proved irresistible to the national theatre. After opening in Vancouver on May 17, the play will be staged in theatres across Canada, including the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
“There’s something about this show that is beyond me,” said Payette. “It has its own momentum and a strong purpose. I can’t wait to see how it is received.”
Children of God runs at the York Theatre from May 17 – June 3.Children of God, York Theatre