“We are all Treaty people”

Making Treaty 7 artists Cowboy Smithx and Blake Brooker at The Banff Centre. Photo: Narcisse Blood

Making Treaty 7 artists Cowboy Smithx (left) and Blake Brooker (right) at The Banff Centre. Photo: Narcisse Blood.

“We ask for your grace and courage to tell our story in the most honest way possible.”

It is a golden winter afternoon at The Banff Centre. I am sitting in the Kinnear Centre dance studio listening to the words of a prayer, spoken first in Blackfoot and then in English. The prayer marks the opening of a workshop presentation of Making Treaty 7, a new theatrical work that examines the legacy of the 1877 treaty between the Crown and the Blackfoot First Nations.

As the setting sun paints the faces of those performing, I am by turns moved, shocked, informed, and, ultimately, inspired.

I am moved by the hardships faced by Alberta’s Indigenous people in the 1870s, and their hope that this Treaty would bring a brighter future for their children. I am shocked by the devastating impact smallpox had on Canada’s Indigenous people in the years before the Treaty signing. I am informed about the historical context of Treaty 7 — the promises made, and the promises broken. And I am inspired by the goal of this ambitious project — to create a renewed understanding of southern Alberta’s collective history and a shared vision for the future, because, in the words of Making Treaty 7,“we are all Treaty people.”

This workshop performance is the outcome of three weeks of collaborative and creative work at the Centre during which the Making Treaty 7 crew listened to elders, agreed upon themes, and drafted a preliminary script.

Michael Green, curator and creative producer for Calgary 2012, one of the partners behind the project, says the first step was to get permission from Treaty elders to tell this story. “They told us to go ahead on two conditions. We had to tell the story properly, to get it right. And we had to tell the truth. What we’ve discovered is that the truth comes from many sources. It isn’t just contained in historical documents. It also comes from the stories passed down from generation to generation.”

“This is an important project for Calgarians and for all Canadians,” says Treaty 7 actor and contributor Cowboy Smithx. “It’s a chance for all of us to take an honest look at what happened in these treaties.”

While this Banff read-through offers just a taste of what audiences will experience at the Calgary premiere – an outdoor theatrical reenactment scheduled for September 2014 – I, for one, will be marking my calendar.

Listen to an interview about the Making of Treaty 7 on CBC Radio’s The Homestretch.

About Debra Hornsby

Debra Hornsby is the Director of Communications for The Banff Centre. She has worked in journalism and communications for over 35 years (rumour is she began work at the tender age of three…). Deb’s favourite part of her job is talking with artists about their experiences at the Centre, and then turning their words in stories for this blog or for the Centre’s magazine, Inspired. When not at work or attending a Centre concert, you can find her on cross country skis or in running shoes making tracks in the mountains.

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