British Columbia

Port Moody playwright wins national award for Indian Arm

Hiro Kanagawa recently won a Governor General's Literary Award for his take on Little Eyolf, one of Henrik Ibsen's more obscure plays.

Hiro Kanagawa consulted with Tsleil-Waututh Nation while writing play

Hiro Kanagawa was in contact with members of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation during the research for his play, and went on a tour of the area. (Stephen Drover)

A Port Moody-based playwright recently gained national recognition for his modern twist on an old play. 

Hiro Kanagawa won a Governor General's Literary Award for his take on Little Eyolf, one of Henrik Ibsen's more obscure plays.

The contemporary version of the 1894 Norwegian drama is called Indian Arm and tells the story of a couple with an adopted First Nations son and a cabin on the shores north of Deep Cove, B.C.

"In my story, the play becomes very much about the relationship between First Nations and settler communities," Kanagawa said.

Indian Arm is northeast of Vancouver, near Deep Cove and Belcarra. (Stephen Drover)

Respect and reconciliation 

Kanagawa said he wanted to be careful about the question of cultural appropriation while writing the play and so reached out to members of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

He consulted with Leonard George, former chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and cultural ambassador.

George said it was important to be included in the project. It was a sign of respect to ask permission to use Tsleil-Waututh Nation's land and stories, he said.

Due to medical reasons, George could not be interviewed in person, but via text message he described telling Kanagawa about the deep meaning and value of the land.

"He wanted to do it right by asking our permission for using Indian Arm as inspiration," George said. "People [like] Mr. Kanagawa are ahead of the government's idea of reconciliation, just by showing respect."

Kanagawa also went on a tour of the Indian Arm area, learning about the history of the land from the Tsleil-Waututh perspective.

L-R: Mishelle Cuttler, Stephen Drover, both from Rumble Theatre, Hiro Kanagawa and Leonard George's nephew Dennis Thomas, on a tour of Indian Arm in December, 2013. Rumble Theatre produced the play. (Peter Boychuk)

Kanagawa said his work touches on a number of relevant topics in Canada which is why he thinks it won the prestigious national award

"It's an important Canadian conversation," he said. "As a writer, that's all you can ever wish for is that work would be part of a national conversation."

The national award means a $25,000 prize for Kanagawa and an invitation to meet the Governor General in Ottawa at the end of the month.

With files from Matt Meuse.