British Columbia

Royal Winnipeg Ballet explores residential school legacy in Vancouver production

“First Nations in particular are great at expressing themselves through stories and through art, and we've been doing that for a long time."

Royal Winnipeg Ballet performance also inspired a public forum about reconciliation being held March 9

Dances from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet during a performance of Going Home Star. (Samanta Katz)

An acclaimed classic ballet exploring the legacy of the residential school system is coming to Vancouver next month.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's production Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation tells the story of a young urban First Nations woman who travels back in time with another character to witness the suffering of two students at the hands of a demonic priest.

Even though ballet is an art form that originated in Europe, it is an effective medium to explore this legacy, according to Tyrone McNeil, president of the First Nations Education Steering Committee.

"First Nations in particular are great at expressing themselves through stories and through art, and we've been doing that for a long time," said McNeil, who will be speaking at a free public forum on March 9 at the Vancouver Public Library, in anticipation of the ballet's Vancouver premiere.

"With this ballet it's an opportunity to share one of our stories through an artform that isn't ours, yet a lot of our artistic values and really critical messaging around Indian residential schools comes out in a very comprehensive way in this artform called ballet."

Educating the public

McNeil said he hopes the forum — and the ballet itself, which runs April 7 to 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre — will help people become "better informed and better educated" about First Nations and their worldview.

While he welcomes the fact that more will be taught about aboriginal peoples and their history in B.C. public schools, McNeil told The Early Edition that more could be done to emphasize the specific First Nations groups in each school's region.

"The majority of the curriculum rolling out right now takes a pan-B.C. First Nations context and [includes] other First Nations across the country," said McNeil, who is the vice-president of the Stó:lō Tribal Council.

"I see that as an entry and an opportunity for my local public school teachers, my local principals, my local trustees in the Fraser Valley to become more aware of First Nations in general and go, 'We shouldn't be talking First Nations we should be talking specifically about the Stó:lō people whose land we're on.'"

The forum Expressions of Reconciliation takes place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central branch, and also features traditional First Nations storytelling, and a question-and-answer period with Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal dancer Sophia Lee.

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Ballet exploring legacy of residential schools coming to Vancouver