The National Arts Centre has announced Kevin Loring as its first ever artistic director of Indigenous Theatre.
The Nlaka'pamux playwright, actor and teacher from Lytton First Nation in B.C. was introduced at a news conference Thursday morning at the NAC in downtown Ottawa.
"I take this position as a sacred trust to the Indigenous storytellers of this land," said Loring in an emotional introductory speech. "We are awake, and we are ready to reclaim what is ours."
The NAC announced in March 2016 it was creating a new Indigenous Theatre department to showcase works by Indigenous artists. Loring will now head that up.
"I wish this day had come much sooner. In fact, I wish when we'd opened our doors in 1969, an Indigenous theatre department had been part of the fabric of this institution," said NAC President and CEO Peter Herrndorf as he introduced Loring.
"But it's not too late, and today we are making one of the most significant steps in our 48-year history."
Loring is perhaps best known for his Governor General Award-winning 2009 play Where the Blood Mixes, which explores the intergenerational effects of residential schools. He has also served as the NAC's playwright in residence, among many other acting accomplishments.
Loring said he could have never foreseen this kind of opportunity being created for the Canadian theatre landscape. "I always felt like there should have been something, but I never thought it would ever happen," he said.
"It's the opportunity to bring our stories to the stage on a national level. It's an opportunity to hire the wonderful artists that I know across the country, and to meet the new ones that I don't know and to help bring them forward as well, and to raise our voices to get our stories out."
Métis actor, musician, and filmmaker Jani Lauzon calls Loring's hiring "fundamental to our future in the industry, and our intersection with the Canadian mainstream."
She was part of the initial consultations that reached out to Indigenous communities and artists for direction when the NAC announced the new department.
'It's about our cultural sovereignty'
"I think he's got a very good understanding of how to engage community, the importance of community to balance that idea of striving for excellence, but also looking for ways to encourage and grow artists," said Lauzon.
"And I feel that his ability to actually work within the infrastructure of NAC will be fundamental. It's absolutely essential, because we need to making those decisions. We need to be at the table."
Loring takes that part of his new role very seriously, and he believes other artistic institutions and organizations in Canada should follow the NAC's lead.
"It's vital. I think it's about our sovereignty. It's about our cultural sovereignty, and our sovereignty for our stories and our songs and our dances, and our ability to express ourselves and to influence the decisions that are being made around us, about us, for us — we need to be there for those decisions."
Loring will take his new position this October.