National Arts Centre play changed after First Nations man alleges cultural appropriation

Ottawa's National Arts Centre has issued an apology and a play has been changed following accusations of cultural appropriation by a Saskatchewan First Nations man.

Museum curator in Sask. says depiction of Chief Poundmaker was 'ridiculous' and 'fictional'

A play co-produced by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa that at one stage included a reference to Chief Poundmaker has been changed after a complaint of cultural appropriation. (Oliver Buell/Library and Archives Canada)

Ottawa's National Arts Centre has issued an apology and a play has been changed following accusations of cultural appropriation by a Saskatchewan First Nations man.

Gabriel Dumont's Wild West Show, which is co-produced by the NAC, featured scenes depicting Chief Poundmaker that the curator of the museum dedicated to his legacy in Saskatchewan says are historically inaccurate. 

"It's unacceptable in this day and age that our history and our chief is still being used in an unethical manner by outsiders," said Poundmaker Cree Nation band member Floyd Favel.

Favel, a playwright himself, serves as curator of the new Chief Poundmaker museum on the reserve 150 kilometres west of Saskatoon. He and others have worked for years to clear the name of the legendary Plains Cree chief.

Chief Poundmaker museum curator Floyd Favel demanded scenes depicting the Plains Cree chief be removed from a National Arts Centre play because he says they reinforce historical inaccuracies. (Submitted by Floyd Favel)

Poundmaker was convicted of treason in 1885, in part because of what was eventually revealed to be a false connection to the Métis resistance movement of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont 200 kilometres away at Batoche.

That's why Favel says he was so shocked to learn about an NAC play that appeared to reinforce historical inaccuracies.

Scenes 'disrespectful'

He says the depiction of his chief was insulting and inaccurate. He demanded the scenes be removed.

"It was ridiculous, is all I could say, and disrespectful, and fictional. You can't further distort our history," he said.

National Arts Centre director Robert Gagné apologized in a letter to Favel.

The play is about Métis leader Gabriel Dumont, shown here. (CBC News)

In an interview with CBC News, Gagné said multiple theatre companies worked for four years on the production. Many of those who worked on the production are Indigenous.

He said they tried their best to be inclusive, but clearly should have done more.

Gagné said the focus of the play is the Métis struggle, but Favel is "absolutely right. We could have gone to talk to the people of Poundmaker."

Carl Martin, spokesperson for the National Art Centre, said the name "Poundmaker" was removed from the play at an early stage and did not appear in any public performances.

Martin said while the name was taken out, there were no scenes cut from the play.

Show coming to Saskatoon

Favel would like the play's funding to be reviewed. One major source was a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. One of its directors, Caroline Lussier, said in an email to CBC News that the council is committed to culturally appropriate art.

That said, it does not interfere with the decisions of the juries that award grants, and funding for this production will not be reviewed, she added.

"Once their recommendations are made, we stand behind them," Lussier wrote. "We were pleased to learn that, following Mr. Favel's feedback, the NAC as co-producer agreed to stop using the fictional character in the production."

The play runs in Saskatoon from Feb. 27 to March 4 at the Remai Arts Centre.


  • A previous version of this story stated that scenes from the play were deleted. In fact, changes were made to the play but scenes were not deleted. Those changes were made in its writing and rehearsal stages.
    Dec 17, 2017 7:26 PM CT


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.