Vera Manuel devoted her life to encouraging others to free ourselves through the use of our personal voices. Telling the truth is disarming, speaking your truth is a generous and healing gift.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Theatre that heals wounded communities"

From Beverley Haun, "Native Textuality" book review, published in Canadian Literature:

Taking Back Our Spirits, by Jo-Ann Episkenew, focuses on horrific past colonial traumas experienced by Native Canadians and current healing through personal and communal narratives. It begins with an accounting of historic government policies and practices, with a specific focus on the prairies, that displaced and marginalized First Nations. Episkenew then demonstrates how these physical exclusionary policies are also reflected in Indigenous peoples’ exclusion from the authorized story of the creation of the Canadian nation-state, resulting in a national collective myth that foregrounds and validates the story of settlers.

In the second part of her book, Episkenew considers the historic and continuing trauma experienced by First Nations as a result of these government policies, specifically removal from the land and residential schooling. She catalogues the repercussions down through time for parents forced to give up their children and children forced to live apart, being taught to discard their own languages and cultures as worthless. Into this bleak scenario, Episkenew introduces the hope of First Nations authors to use narrative, novels, autobiography, and community theatre as a healing anodyne for themselves and their own people. She explains how Indigenous life-writing helps Indigenous readers to heal from the trauma of colonization by recrafting their personal and collective myths.

... Episkenew makes the case for such texts to find a place in the Canadian school curriculum and a place for study in the academy, arguing that inclusion in curriculum has the potential to disrupt the Canadian settler myth for young Canadians and inclusion in the academy validates the importance of these texts as a vital part of the recalibrated collective voice of the country.

The final portion of Episkenew’s thesis is to demonstrate the importance of communal narrative participation—through theatrical production—performance, and attendance, to transform. This transformation is accomplished by addressing unresolved grief and trauma present in so many Native communities.

Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy and Healing

My comment: Jo-Ann Episkenew includes an extended discussion of Vera's play, "Strength of Indian Women," in chapter 5,  "Theatre that heals wounded communities." In her original text, she does not locate the grief and trauma solely in Native communities, as the reviewer implies, but as a reality contigent across boundaries and across Canada. An important element in Episkenew's work is reweaving that which Canadians are trained to consider quite separately, and thus, this book is Highly Recommended.