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By Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

A beaver in a bathtub. Magma beneath an actor’s feet. A monkey on the loose.

These are some of the images arising from traditional and contemporary stories that could appear in Talking Treaties: Tiohtià:ke when it debuts at Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal.

The piece, which aims to explore the untold history of Tiohtià:ke from Indigenous perspectives, is the focus of the theatre’s first-ever Indigenous artist residency.

“The piece is focused on what is the actual story of the land where Centaur sits,” said Eda Holmes, the theatre’s artistic and executive director.

In April 2021, it was announced that Ange Loft, Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, and Iehente Foote, all of whom are rooted in Kahnawake, would take up the residency after Loft’s proposal for the project was accepted.

While the piece is not expected to debut until at least summer 2023, the three artists will participate in a “Saturday Salon” discussion on January 22 at 2 p.m., which will be live-streamed on the theatre’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The conversation will centre on the artists’ histories and their process in creating the complex work.

“Ange is a musician, a puppeteer, a visual artist, and a theatre director - and a writer - so she brings all of that to the table as they start to examine how to tell the story,” said Holmes, who will host the discussion.

“Barbara is an incredibly gifted dancer and choreographer,” Holmes continued, “and so she comes in from the physical side, and then Iehente has a film background and an activist, community-organizing background, so she brings all of that to the table as well.”

The research has been thorough, with the artists conducting interviews and poring over historical documents.

“We have all these stories about the island that are in my family that I think about, and then talking to people, there’s so much that’s validating some of the information,” said Loft.

The storytelling is likely to take the form of multidisciplinary performance, including pre-filmed movement pieces, projections, and performers from Kahnawake and elsewhere.

“I work in kind of an absurdist fashion, a lot of comedy, a lot of big weird visuals, so I want (the audience) to also see that we can have fun,” said Loft.

Despite the tone, the project invokes serious reflections on the gravity of Indigenous relationships to land.

“I feel like just doing this research has kind of just opened up my (understanding of) the scope of what we’re talking about here, the scope of what could have been Kanien’kehá:ka,” said Loft.

The piece will pose challenging questions about what it means to honour Indigenous claims to Montreal.

“There’s the street Atateken and different perspectives on what that means when you start to change names of places, when you start to try to re-Indigenize a city, but then how shallow is that gesture?” she asked.

“What does it actually change for us when we have so many issues in the city around Indigenous livelihood?”

Loft hopes audiences in Montreal will respond with meaningful support of Indigenous artists and causes.

“I think it’s an interesting opportunity to show them these kinds of richer narratives,” said Loft.

“We are a contemporary theatre company,” said Holmes. “We’re focused on what are the things that affect our lives right this minute where we are, and the conversation with colonialism is urgent and necessary in order to really grow as a community and to really become a community.”

After the piece is mounted in Montreal, Loft, who was deeply influenced by her participation in the local Turtle Island Theatre Company, hopes to bring it to Kahnawake.

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