PEI

Entirely Indigenous cast launches new show, sharing language and traditions

The Mi’kmaq Heritage Actors are back at The Charlottetown Festival again with their show Epekwitnewaq Mi’kmaq Voices, and the show’s co-writer says audiences can expect new and exciting elements in this year’s production.

‘I could feel the love that they have for the stories, and the dances and our actors and our drummers’

A group of people sit in an outdoor amphitheatre, watching a production featuring children and adults holding hoops, and a large traditional drum.
Epekwitnewaq Mi’kmaq Voices opened on Thursday and will run until July 22, 2022. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

The Mi'kmaq Heritage Actors are back at The Charlottetown Festival with the show Epekwitnewaq Mi'kmaq Voices, and the show's co-writer says audiences can expect new and exciting elements in this year's production.

Julie Pellissier-Lush said that in addition to sharing new Mi'kmaw stories, songs and teachings, the group hired a professional choreographer to teach hip-hop inspired moves to the ensemble for two rap songs included in the show. 

"[The cast members] said, 'well, rapping isn't really Indigenous.' I said, 'it's Indigenous people that are doing it, so that makes it something that we are allowed to showcase and share.'"

The noon-hour show opened on Thursday to a packed outdoor amphitheatre. It features traditional drumming and dancing, as well as songs and vignettes about Mi'kmaw legends.

"I could feel the love that they have for the stories, and the dances and our actors and our drummers. Everything that we shared today was so appreciated, and I could feel it from the stage," said Pellissier-Lush.

The Mi'kmaq Heritage Actors have been performing since 2011.

Watch some of the opening performance of Epekwitnewaq Mi'kmaw Voices

3 months ago
Duration 0:58
The show is part of this year's Charlottetown Festival and features an entirely Mi'kmaw cast. It runs until July 22.

Richard Lush, Pellessier-Lush's son and co-writer of the show, knows the Charlottetown Festival well. 

He started performing 14 years ago with the production, The Talking Stick.

He said leading this year's production promotes Mi'kmaw culture and identity.

It's like the ancestors are watching. And they're singing so proudly with us.— Richard Lush

"We always get a little eerie feeling sometimes when the youth are dancing, because it's like the ancestors are watching. And they're singing so proudly with us. It gives me goosebumps to think about," Lush said.

"For me to see our kids flourishing, it makes me a little emotional."

The mother-son duo say they love sharing their culture not only with a wider audience, but with the ensemble cast of young people, who are as young as eight years old. 

A man wearing a black vest and colourful Indigenous pendant stands, smiling.
Richard Lush co-wrote Epekwitnewaq Mi’kmaq Voices with his mother, poet Julie Pellissier-Lush. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"When I was growing up, I so wished that I had something like this to connect to, that would give me that pride that I'd be able to learn my language, sing my songs and wear my regalia," said Pellissier-Lush.

"These children will grow up never knowing a time where it wasn't a part of their lives."

Lexis Francis, 12, is in her second year with the company and said she enjoys dancing, particularly the jingle, shawl and hoop dances. 

She said part of her goal in performing is spreading the Mi'kmaw language, and that she loves being part of the group.

"It means the world to me. I get to do it with my family and friends, and people I love."

Epekwitnewaq Mi'kmaq Voices will be performed every day at noon, except on Sundays. It runs until July 22, 2022.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that the show features an all Mi'kmaw-cast. In fact, the entire cast is Indigenous.
    Jul 08, 2022 10:45 AM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate McKenna is a journalist with CBC News based in Montreal. kate.mckenna@cbc.ca.

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