Brandon U: National award for play about residential school survivors
A pair of Brandon University professors have earned a national award for their new play, called IAP, which follows two members of an Indigenous family from Winnipeg who go through the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) for former Residential School students.
Darrell Racine, an Assistant Professor in Native Studies, and Dale Lakevold, an Associate Professor in English, Drama & Creative Writing, received the Best Full-Length Play award in the Theatre BC Canadian National Playwriting Competition 2021.
“It’s a harrowing experience for these two men to relive the trauma of their years at residential school,” Lakevold said. “But the play shows how they get through this experience by relying on cultural knowledge and traditional ways. The play is both sad and funny, and it comes with the performance of live music. The play affirms the bonds of family within an Indigenous context.”
The IAP is a real process, set up by the federal government to hear personal claims regarding abuse at Canadian residential schools. It formed the largest class action suit in Canadian history, and it has recently just been completed with 38,000 former students having gone through the process. For more information on the IAP: http://www.iap-pei.ca/story-eng.php
IAP the play has not yet been produced, but the script had a reading in Feb. 2021, which was directed by Tracey Nepinak and facilitated by the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.
Developing a script based on such a difficult and emotional experience was a careful process that the pair approached with caution and sensitivity.
Their research process began with consultations with a lawyer whose firm represented more than 2,000 former residential school students as they went through the arduous Independent Assessment Process.
“The lawyer understood what these former students would be going through as they recounted the awful details of their residential school experience before government officials,” Racine said. “For some of the claimants, who didn’t have the proper support, it would become too overwhelming for them to open up old wounds. We relied on this lawyer, as well, to make sure that we got it right as we developed and wrote the script.”
At the reading of their play in February last year, Racine and Lakevold engaged with an audience of former residential school students who had gone through the IAP, as well as mental health workers, elders, and IAP adjudicators and researchers.
“It was very emotional and heart-wrenching to hear those former students reflect on their experiences, but they had come through it. Their courage in being there at a reading of a play about dealing with the residential school experience was inspirational,” Racine said. “What they told us in the talkback session after the reading enabled us to go forward with the script. This play is dedicated to those former students. They are the ones leading us through this reckoning with our history.”
The play will also contribute to important research. IAP is part of a research study entitled “Reconciling Perspectives and Building Public Memory: Learning from the Independent Assessment Process,” which is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) and led by Dr. Cindy Hanson of the University of Regina.
It’s the second time that Racine and Lakevold, longtime and frequent collaborators, have won the Best Full-Length Play award from Theatre BC. Their play Stretching Hide, which was produced in 2007 by Theatre Projects Manitoba, won in 2005.
Next up for the duo is another play: Franklin’s Fate is a history play about the search for the lost Franklin expedition. The play has a Manitoba Indigenous connection, in the character of Alexander Isbister, a Métis lawyer and author in London, who stood up for the Métis in their struggle against the Hudson’s Bay Company.
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