Seeing Canada Through Indigenous Eyes: Discovering Indigenous Theatre

How do we discover and appreciate a world view that is different from our own? Studying the work of Indigenous playwrights brings us face to face with different cultural understandings of colonialism, decolonization and reconciliation.

We will read and discuss selected plays from Indigenous writers across Canada and immerse ourselves in the world of Indigenous theatre and performance. The class is offered as a way for non-Indigenous students to question their own relationship to decolonization and reconciliation. Students will also attend performances at the 2019 Talking Stick Festival, hosted by Full Circle: First Nations Performance. The festival presents Indigenous theatre, dance, film, performance and visual art from across Canada.

Note: This course involves required reading and attending performances at the Talking Stick Festival and possibly other live events.

A $62 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

We will discuss one play each week. Reading the play before class will ensure that everyone can participate fully. We will read excerpts out loud, ask questions, and share insights. The goal is not to learn "about" Indigenous theatre but to discover what Indigenous theatre can show us about ourselves and the Canada we live in. Our last class will focus on the Talking Stick Festival.

Week 1: Rewriting History

Almighty Voice and His Wife (1991) by Daniel David Moses. Moses, playwright and poet, takes as his subject the manhunt for and execution of the young Indigenous man, Almighty Voice, from October, 1895 to May, 1897, in Saskatchewan. The play is not only a retelling of recorded history, it is a scathing satire of colonial attitudes using vaudevillian tropes.

Week 2: The White Man's Burden

Bunk #7 (2003-2014) by Larry Guno (in Indian Act text). This play, based on an actual 1959 riot at a residential school experienced by the writer, went through an intensive development process. The writer, Larry Guno, passed away in 2005. The play was to have been mounted in Toronto in 2006; later a staged reading of the unfinished work was given instead. Bunk #7 languished for a number of years and was finally completed, with Larry's notes, and presented at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's sessions in Edmonton, in 2014.

Week 3: Healing Intergenerational Trauma

A Very Polite Genocide or The Girl Who Fell to Earth (2006) by Melanie J. Murray (in Indian Act text). In this play, times overlap as a grandfather and granddaughter find each other at their son/uncle's funeral—a man they never got to know because he was taken away by the 60's scoop. Can the lost years of lost generations be reclaimed by today's Indigenous people?

Week 4: The Irony of One's Convictions

God and the Indian (2013) by Drew Hayden Taylor (in Indian Act text). Imagine that following your promotion to Assistant Bishop in the Anglican Church, you are confronted by an Indigenous woman who claims you sexually assaulted her when she was a young girl at residential school.  Taylor keeps you on the edge of your seat as you alternate between sympathy for both the former teacher and the woman.

Week 5: Reclaiming Indigeneity

Kamloopa (2018) by Kim Senklip Harvey. Kim Harvey's play opened at the Cultch in September, 2018, with standing ovations. This exuberant play is a raw and hilarious look at three young Indigenous women claiming their heritage and finding their strength through a road trip to the Kamloops PowWow.

Week 6: Talking Stick Festival and Indigenous Performance

Performance TBA. The Festival runs February 21 - March 3, with most of the sessions at the Roundhouse Community Centre. Please check out the Talking Stick Festival website Students can also sign up with Full Circle: First Nations Performance to volunteer at the festival and see shows for free!

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

  • Indian Act: Residential School Plays, ed. Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. Playwrights Canada Press, 2018.

This book will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

A course pack with additional required readings will be available online one week before the course starts.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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