Nova Scotia

Neptune play tells Nova Scotia's colonial history through Mi'kmaw eyes

A new play at Halifax's Neptune Theatre is looking at Nova Scotia's four-hundred-year history, but from a different perspective. 

Koqm by shalan joudry will be on stage until April 17

shalan joudry's play takes place near one tree in Kespukwitk, Mi'kma'ki. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

A new play at Halifax's Neptune Theatre is looking at Nova Scotia's 400-year history, but from a different perspective. 

shalan joudry's play, Koqm, tells the story of colonialism through the eyes of Mi'kmaw women and the natural world around them.

She says it started when she was reading Mi'kmaw history, but realized it was nearly always written by outsiders — usually white men. 

"I knew that I wanted to tell the colonial European story from my area, my region, not far from Port-Royal," she says, "and I wanted to tell that colonial story from a completely different perspective from what we normally hear in Port-Royal and I wanted to go over those 400 years, but through the lens and experience of Mi'kmaw women."

Neptune Theatre takes its name from Theatre de Neptune, a play performed at the early French settlement of Port-Royal in the early 1600s. It features four Mi'kmaw men — but their words are thought to have been written by French settlers. 

'Who of my ancestors have passed by here?'

joudry decided to create a play that focuses on three fictional Mi'kmaw women, living through real historical times in Kespukwitk, the district near her home in Bear River First Nation in the Annapolis Valley. 

The 400 years covered in the story touch on the creation of residential schools and the centralization policy, the creation of the reserves, and the wars that scarred much of early Mi'kmaw-European history. 

shalan joudry speaks to CBC on the set of Koqm. She says who tells stories, and how they frame them, makes a difference in how we understand our history. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

She created the play with Two Planks and a Passion Theatre and after a run in Annapolis Royal, it's now at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. 

The story is tied together by the koqm — the tree. 

"I think about that when I see a very old tree. I wonder, what have you seen? What changes have you seen in this very forest? Who of my ancestors have passed by here? And what were they on their way doing?"

joudry says despite dealing with such hard times, the stories are uplifting. 

"One of the ways that I've given myself hope is that I've gone into this imagination of my ancestors who absolutely lived hope," she says. "I know my ancestors were hoping for good things for all people."

She hopes audiences leave with a similar hope — and share her curiosity about Mi'kma'ki's 14,000-year human history.

"I want people of European descent to have more questions, but not in a defensive way. I didn't mean for this play, these stories, to come across as guilting anybody into the colonial history, but to say, 'These are some things that were going on, and how it impacted our people,' so that we understand all of the trauma that we're still trying to heal from."

Koqm will be on the Fountain Hall stage from April 5 to April 17.