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Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan

Language and Culture

After Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan was challenged to think about how to make their space more inviting to the Indigenous community, they started their journey with reconciliation. The OTC asked Alan Long, the director of marking and development, about reconciliation and their mandate to make the works of Shakespeare accessible to all.

How did your team decide to engage with reconciliation?
Reconciliation has been on our radar since 2014 and we began to address it artistically in 2015 with the programming of Othello with a Cree actor. We formed a partnership with GTNT, who helped us with cultural protocol and incorporating Cree Language into Othello’s speeches.

In 2018 we began a partnership with Joseph Naytowhow who became our storyteller. In collaboration with artists, he created a unique outdoor winter play called pimotehwak on our site in January 2019. Participants listened to four stories about reconciliation and growing up in Saskatoon while they walked in each of the four directions and took part in simple cultural activities as instructed by Joseph.  This took us further down the path to reconciliation, but again we knew this was just the beginning steps along the journey. 

Was there a turning point?
When we heard we needed to make the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan site more inviting, we were already well into our Staging the Future Capital Campaign to help us redevelop our temporary home on the riverbank into a more permanent festival venue that we could then more easily share with the rest of Saskatoon. Joseph became our primary consultant on how to make our area more welcoming to the Indigenous community. He has taken the lead on the design of a quiet contemplation area on our site, a place where anyone can stop and smudge and pray and get in touch with nature and the river in place near downtown.

What does the reconciliation journey look like so far and what does it look like moving forward?
The work with Joseph was only our beginning.  We see reconciliation as an ongoing process we will participate in for many years to come.  We still have a lot to learn and a lot more relationships to build.  In 2019 we signed an MOU with Saskatoon Tribal Council and Gabriel Dumont Institute to help us keep moving forward in the Indiginization of our space, and exploring ways we can share our space for Indigenous gatherings and ceremony.  We have future plans for interpretive panels on our site that celebrate Indigenous history, an Indigenous artistic installation in our central courtyard, and working with all these partners to explore unique spots in our riverbank area that could host cultural ceremonies.

Why is it important for Shakespeare to be part of the movement towards reconciliation?
It doesn’t get much more colonial than Shakespeare when it comes to literature and theatre.  He is the most celebrated author of the United Kingdom, and in order for his work to remain relevant it must reflect the community in which it is shared and performed.  We did our first Indigenous Othello in 1990 with Tom Jackson in the lead role, but since that time there has been relatively little done by the company to engage the Indigenous community until 2015.  We cannot leave out this part of community any longer, and Shakespeare probably wouldn’t want us to. 

Do you have advice for other organizations thinking about Reconciliation, but don't know where to start
Find an Indigenous leader in our community that you connect with and ask them for their honest opinion on where you are at
2. Join Reconciliation Saskatoon and start making connections with other organizations, residential/60s scoop survivors and Indigenous leaders.  We are all here to help!
3. Have quiet conversations with your staff about reconciliation and their heritage.  They say there is only six degrees of separation and it is even less if you are from Saskatchewan!  Create a space in your work environment where people feel comfortable talking about where they grew up.

Editor's Note: This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity

Alan (second from left) and the Shakesphere on the Saskatchewan team

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