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Healing through theatre

In 1928, a government official predicted Canada would end its "Indian problem" within two generations. Church-run, government-funded residential schools for native children were supposed to prepare them for life in white society. But the aims of assimilation meant devastation for those who were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Decades later, aboriginal people began to share their stories and demand acknowledgement of — and compensation for — their stolen childhoods.

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It's a dramatic solution -- literally. In British Columbia, residential school survivors and their families are using a new approach to come to terms with the past: theatre. In a five-day workshop, they've written Reclaiming Our Spirits, a play about life on the reserve, and now they're performing it before the community in Lillooet. It's a style known as "forum theatre," in which audience members can interrupt the show and take over from a cast member.

For many in the audience and onstage, it's a cathartic experience. Tears flow as the cast and audience members replay a scene over and over again until everyone's satisfied with how it ends. Meanwhile, as this CBC Television clip also reports, RCMP officers in B.C. are investigating claims of abuse at residential schools and native leaders are pondering the issue of compensation for their people's suffering.
. Forum theatre is a method used by counsellors to help people resolve a problem and address their feelings about it. The concept — in which audience members replace or supplement the actors and change the course of the performance — was invented by a Brazilian, Augusto Boal. He developed this experimental "Theatre of the Oppressed" in the 1960s, and by the 1990s it was adapted for use in healing workshops.

. As awareness of what happened in residential schools became more widespread in the 1990s, survivors coped with their painful past in many different ways. Some sought out healing methods like theatre, some embraced native traditions, and others went for psychological counselling. Others devoted their energies to securing apologies and compensation from responsible parties.
. Lillooet is a community 300 kilometres northeast of Vancouver with six different reserves located nearby.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: March 26, 1996
Guest(s): Lisa Alexander, David Diamond, Colleen Jacob, David Terry
Reporter: Deborah Goble
Duration: 5:36

Last updated: February 13, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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