Indian Act: Residential School Plays. Ed. Donna Michelle St-Bernard. Playwrights Canada Press, 2018.
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s collection, Indian Act: Residential School Plays, from Playwrights Canada Press, is, as the press’s description reads, “a tribute and thank you to those who survived the Indian Residential School system so that future generations could be free to pursue their lives unhindered by educationally enforced lowered expectations and institutionalized abuse. Seven plays by contemporary First Nations and Metis playwrights cover the broad scope of residential school experiences, all kinds of characters, and no stereotypes, giving voice to those who could not be heard.”
In her introduction, “Grow Up Already,” St. Bernard, a self-described “emcee, playwright, and agitator,” puts into relief the tension between learning about this country as a “New Canadian” and the stories deliberately absented from the Canadian school system. “Some of what we want to know would be unkind to ask,” notes St. Bernard. “Some of those we want to hear speak have a right to their silence. The playwrights in this volume have started the work for us; they have generously opened very personal wounds, dug deep into research that they can’t shake off. They outline a trajectory of impact that is not yet complete.”
The playwrights, and St. Bernard, have started the work; it is up to us to continue it, in our classrooms, on our stages, and late at night with the books we choose to keep on our nightstands by our reading glasses. St. Bernard’s highly impressive work in amassing this collection also demonstrates an increasingly familiar collaboration not only between art and social justice—less a collaboration, really, than an imperative—but rather that between artists and witnesses and survivors to the atrocities history leaves behind and leaves out. Indian Acts reminds readers—settler, Indigenous, scholar, and student—that theatre creates a highly privileged space and opportunity for un-telling and un-learning mis-told histories that, as settler scholars working on this stolen land, we are implicated in and culpable for. It becomes our work, now, to ensure that we are sure of what history we ourselves are telling and teaching. Congratulations, and thank you, to Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.