Salt Baby: a play about Indigenous self-discovery

Salt Baby, the debut of Six Nations playwright Falen Johnson, opened at the Globe Theatre in Regina earlier this week. She spoke with CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition about the play on Wednesday.

Johnson grew up on the Six Nations of the Grand River and nearby city of Brantford

Dakota Hebert, right, plays the titular character in the play. (@ontheboardsyxe/Twitter)

Playwright Falen Johnson's first play, Salt Baby, is one of self-discovery as a woman navigates life between the rez and the city.

"Growing up in between those two worlds, I sort of grew up not being recognized as an Indigenous person in either of those places," Johnson said, describing herself as fair-skinned. 

The play is semi-autobiographical, based on Johnson's own experiences growing up on the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario and the nearby, predominantly white city of Brantford.

Johnson said members of the Six Nations didn't necessarily know she was Indigenous or that she was from the reserve and people in the city didn't know where she belonged.

"I just sort of blended in," she said. 

That feeling of being a fish out of water served as the inspiration for the play.

The play will see its character exploring the two worlds, dating outside of the culture, rising to challenges and trying to figure out who she is as an Indigenous person. The play explores what comprises an Indigenous identity, she said. 

One aspect of the play explores the concept of blood quantum and DNA testing, something Johnson had considered at one point. 

Yvette Nolan, a dramaturg and the play's director, advised against it. 

"'No one wants to hear you know the answers to the story,'" Johnson said Nolan told her. "'We want to see you try to know.'"

Johnson started writing the play in 2007 and it has evolved since then. She referred to it as "the little play that could."

"We get to see her struggle and we get to see her triumphs," Johnson said of the play's character. 

"Women get to see themselves reflected maybe in a way that they don't necessarily see themselves reflected on tv or on stage."

The play is currently playing on the Globe Theatre's main stage in Regina. It opened up on Jan. 18 and runs until Feb. 5.

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition