'It opened my eyes': Inuit play helps participants understand their culture

Nunavut students in Ottawa are using theatre to tell a story they believe all Canadians need to hear: that of Inuit people.

Ottawa play tackles issues such as relocation, dog slaughter, residential schools

Performers rehearse The Inuit Story, a play exploring some of the of the most difficult events in Inuit history. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Nunavut students in Ottawa are using theatre to tell a story they believe all Canadians need to hear: that of Inuit people, and it's helping some of them better understand their culture.

The youths take to the stage at Arts Court Theatre Tuesday night for the second of two performances of a play called The Inuit Story.

It's presented by Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a college program for students from across Nunavut offered through Algonquin College.

The play focuses on a few key points in Inuit history and on the events that affected them most, such as residential schools, re-location and the dog slaughter.

'Hope for the future'

"It is an important story for other Canadians to know," said Larissa MacDonald, an instructor at the school who is helping with the production.

"We see our students just lift with pride as they become ambassadors for Inuit, and advocate for Inuit," she said. "It also shows a hope for the future."

Justin Milton from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, said he learned about his culture from participating in the play. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Despite tackling some tough subjects, participants say the show is produced in a way the public can enjoy and also leave them better informed.

For Justin Milton, a second-year student from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, it helped him better understand his own past.

"Back in my hometown, everyone, especially the elders, they keep super quiet about the history," he said.

"They have been shamed and abused and they don't want to talk about it. They don't want to go back to that traumatic past." 

'It opened my eyes'

Milton plays an Inuk father in the play, living in what they call the "government era," a time when outsiders came in and began to pull Inuit away from their traditional ways of life through assimilation. 

"It opened my eyes and made me understand much more than I did before I came to this program," he said.

Milton wants to make people in Ottawa aware of the story because he believes people often make assumptions about ethnic groups and Inuit.

"Giving them an awareness of our history will give them a better understanding about why we face barriers with housing and alcoholism," he said. "It's really powerful."

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning