Modern Canadian Indigenous Theatre

Name: Selena Smith (Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw)
Grade: Kindergarten to Grade 12
Subject Areas: Theatre/Drama
Artefact /Place/ Skill: Modern Canadian Indigenous Theatre

Making Space

How might teachers prepare their students to work with this content? What background knowledge might be required?

  • To begin, it will be necessary to introduce how Indigenous art and performance art might differ from students’ expectations of theatre based on the Western concepts of art and theatre. Furthermore, that the differences do not mean that one method is superior to the other. Different cultural contexts have different conventions and perspectives that will arise in their work, but this makes each person, culture, and place unique.
  • Much like Western theatre, techniques, content matter and perspectives will grow and adapt over time. This is why it is essential to explore this concept of how specifically Indigenous stories and storytelling methods evolve with the people as time goes on to reflect the current world and current needs of the people. Opening up this discussion will also ensure that Indigenous arts and peoples are shown to exist in current times and remove them from historical lenses. Hence, focussing on modern Canadian Indigenous Theatre will demonstrate their contemporary presence and how some individuals might blend their traditional teachings and perspectives with the Western society they live in.
  • An example of some differences might include content matter. For instance, some playwrights focus their work on residential school or intergenerational trauma as a way to change certain narratives imposed onto them.
  • Going off of the point above, students may also need a refresher on residential schools and the ongoing impacts of assimilation. Again, it might be essential to bring in specific examples based on the school’s location to help students contextualize.
  • As a result, students may also need support when dealing with the heavy content matter, so being aware of the different resources available to students can help create a safe space.
  • This could look like talking to the schools’ guidance counsellors or emotional supports, Indigenous support workers in the school or district, some outside support such as Foundry, UNYA, the Indian Residential School Survivor’s Society and more.
  • Likewise, it is beneficial to have a conversation with the class on respectful language, how to support one another, how to communicate when they need support or a break or generally, making a collaborative list of ways to ensure everyone feels safe to learn, explore and share.
  • That being said, it is equally as important to highlight the strengths and positive aspects of Indigenous culture and survival and to have conversations on ways Indigenous people show resilience and flourish, especially in the arts. It is common to get overwhelmed by the negative experiences and forget to explore the positive ways Indigenous communities work through society.
  • To avoid a pan-Indigenous approach, students will need to be aware of the differences between nations and territories and how these varying perspectives are reflected in the works studied. To do this, research can be done on the specific playwrights being studied and looking into their biographies and nations. Hence, students know the particular culture and locations that the subject matter is being framed through.


Practice Humility

How might non-Indigenous teachers sensitively work with this subject? What might they need to consider in their own positionality?

  • Some research on the playwright’s nation may reveal if there are any specific protocols within their nations when it comes to working with their culture and teachings.
  • Similar to the suggestion above, it is vital to consider the language used to avoid a pan-Indigenous approach. For example, mentioning the nation or the culture’s name instead of just saying “Indigenous culture” or “Indigenous playwright” (i.e., “The Haida playwright….” “In their Haida culture” and so on)
  • Not all Indigenous performance art will be in the form of traditional Western plays. Although some artists opt for a similar format, there are other ways of sharing stories and experiences through songs, dance and oral. It might be interesting for students to see other forms of performance art that challenge their expectations and understanding of Theatre or performance art.
  • Ensuring that the work done in the play, classroom or classroom resources does not appropriate the culture or reinforce stereotypes. Or explaining the intentional use of stereotypes to comment on their harms ifthat is the artist’s intention.
  • Being aware of the conventions and purposes of Indigenous arts and not imposing a Western lens or criteria on these works and instead exploring the differences and uplifting them.
  • Exploring the difference between giving Indigenous artists a space to share their voices instead of speaking for them or over their voices.


Acknowledge Sources

What can teachers do to find good supporting resources? How should they be cited, especially when it comes to Indigenous knowledges?

  • For lessons on Indigenous oral stories, songs, dances, etc. there are considerations such as protocol, who is allowed to tell the story, is it allowed to be used in a classroom setting and if these permissions need to be granted by the nation, an individual, a community member or a family. Reaching out to Indigenous support teachers in the school or district or finding the contact information of the local band office could help answer some of these questions and grant approval. They might also be able to support you in citing your sources and how to fulfill protocols when introducing and incorporating their works.
  • In some cases where language might be used, an excellent authentic resource to learn what the words mean and the pronunciation include First Voices:
  • Making students aware of the specific nation or land that the text or piece is from can also enlighten them on the differences or similarities between Indigenous communities, overall helping them step away from a pan-Indigenous approach.
  • Educators are encouraged to reach out to local theatre companies or Indigenous artists to find authentic plays, performances, etc. and ensure that research is being done on the playwrights or company to avoid appropriation.

BC Curriculum Connections

How does it relate to BC Curriculum?

Click on the subject area below to expand the section.

Arts Education

Big Idea(s):

  • Individual and collective expression can be achieved through the arts.
  • Artists often challenge the status quo and open us to new perspectives and experiences.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Explore relationships between identity, place, culture, society, and belonging through arts activities and experiences
  • Demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of personal, social, cultural, historical, and environmental contexts in relation to the arts
  • Develop, refine ideas, and critically appraise ideas, processes, and technical skills in a variety of art forms to improve the quality of artistic creations
  • Reflect on works of art and creative processes to understand artists motivations and meanings
  • Describe, interpret and respond to works of art
  • Use the arts to communicate, respond to and understand environmental and global issues


Big Idea(s):

  • Identity is explored, expressed, and impacted through drama experiences.
  • Drama provides opportunities to gain insight into perspectives and experiences of people from a variety of times, places, and cultures.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Describe, interpret, and evaluate how performers and playwrights use dramatic structures, elements, and techniques to create and communicate ideas

Big Idea(s):

  • Drama communicates ideas, emotions, and perspectives through movement, sound, imagery, and language.
  • Active participation in drama creates personal and cultural connections and reveals insights into human experience.
  • Drama offers dynamic ways of exploring our identity and sense of belonging.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Explore and create dramatic works to express ideas and emotions
  • Examine the influences of social, cultural, historical, environmental, and personal context on drama
  • Reflect on dramatic experiences and how they relate to a specific place, time, and context
  • Express personal voice to respond to environmental and social issues
  • Demonstrate personal and social responsibility associated with creating, performing, and responding to dramatic performance
  • Explore First Peoples perspectives and knowledge, other ways of knowing, and local cultural knowledge to gain understanding through dramatic works
  • Make connections with family and community through drama and theatre

Big Idea(s):

  • Individual and collective expression are founded on history, culture, and community.
  • Drama offers dynamic ways to explore and share identity and a sense of belonging.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Make connections through drama with family and community on local, regional, and national scales
  • Explore the role of story and narrative in expressing First Peoples perspectives, values, and beliefs, including protocols related to ownership of First Peoples oral texts
  • Demonstrate personal and social responsibility associated with creating, performing, and responding to dramatic works
  • Explore the impacts of dramatic works on culture and society

Big Idea(s):

  • Drama is a way of sharing and understanding traditions, perspectives, cultures, and worldviews.

Curricular Competencies:

  • Evaluate the social, cultural, historical, environmental, and personal contexts of dramatic works

First People’s Principles of Learning

Which First People’s Principles of Learning apply?

“Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).”

  • Theatre is used as a vehicle for connecting with others and expressing oneself. Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have been using the arts to explore and share their perspectives on life and connect with one another. It is also a way to explore the similarities and differences between nations and how they can relate with and care for one another.

“Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.”

  • It is important to recognize how different Indigenous cultures interact with the Western concept of theatre and how it is used to uphold oral storytelling traditions and make sense of work around them.

“Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.”

  • Theatre can be a way of reclaiming Indigenous voices and telling their sides of the story either in history or modern-day events, which are often excluded.

“Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.”

  • Many Indigenous playwrights incorporate pieces of their identity and cultural and/or family teachings in their work. However, these plays can also serve as an exploration of one’s identity and how they make sense of it within a Western society.

Inviting Community

What is one way that teachers could work with community members for this project?

When creating lesson plans around modern Indigenous theatre, it would be beneficial to centre around playwrights or plays based on the area it is taught in. Getting in touch with Indigenous support workers within the district could be one way to find local Indigenous playwrights to feature their work and encourage students to make relevant connections to the land they are learning on.

Another consideration could be finding the local theatre organizations and asking them if they have any Indigenous content or in-house playwrights that could share the process and considerations when making and producing modern Indigenous theatre.


Indigenous Perspectives

How does your lesson relate to decolonization or reconciliation of education?

Many Indigenous playwrights, directors, producers, etc., have been pioneers in modern Indigenous theatre. Artists such as Margo Kane or Corey Payette have actively been involved in creating spaces where Indigenous people can safely create and share their work, to which their journeys and specific institutions can be found in the following resources: (Although, it is crucial to note that this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but merely a starting point for some B.C. based Indigenous theatre plays, companies, playwrights, etc. Within these resources, they can bring educators to other resources or some guidance on what to look for in their own communities and how to find authentic resources.)


Panel on Modern Indigenous Theatre in Canada:

Urban Ink:

Corey Payette:

Children of God by Corey Payette:

Margo Kane Biography:

Full Circle: First Nations Performance:

Margo Kane Interview: