Theatre company unveils new name in honour of legend
- EFN Staff | October 07, 2015
The Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company is no more. But do not fear, it has just changed its name to the Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre. The renaming has given the ground breaking theatre company a fresh start and a way to honour one of its founding members, and it has also given the Tootoosis family a sense of closure four years following the acting legend’s passing.
Gordon Tootoosis was one of Canada’s preeminent Indigenous actors and his passion for his craft and for youth came together in the creation of SNTC almost 20 years ago when he joined with Kennetch Charlette, David Pratt and Tantoo Cardinal to realize their dream of a place to provide artistic opportunities for Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan through cultural arts programming.
The birth of the company in 1999 and its impact over the years made Gordon very proud.
“That was his baby. He spent so much time with it,” said his daughter Disa Tootoosis after the new name was made official at a banquet at the Dakota Dunes Casino attended by over four hundred supporters of the Theatre, including 100 members of the Tootoosis family. “When I was growing up I got to travel with him and I often stood at side stage of his plays and I got to watch it all unfold. Him on stage was completely different than him as a person. He would completely become the character and to him to start this theatre, it was himself. This is what he was. Everything that the theatre is doing is who he was. I am proud of what he did but it is him as a person. It is not like he was trying to do it. What he always told us was that our life isn’t our own. We have to live for the future generations. Our life has to be of service and purpose of some sort and his completely was, even without trying.”
The theatre company was looking for a way to honour Gordon and after consultation with the Tootoosis family and a process of ceremonial protocol, the new name was decided on.
“Gordon was a leader in the community and always had wisdom to share and he was adamant about the importance of instilling pride, cultural identity and artistic expression in Indigenous youth,” said Irene Oakes, Co chair of the theatre company board and adopted daughter of Gordon’s. “To sum up his legacy, we had to find a word that encapsulated everything he stood for. The word Nikaniwin means being ahead or being in the lead, to excel or leadership. We thought that was very fitting.”
In an emotional evening hosted by actress Andrea Menard that included an excerpt from Gordon Winter, the last play Gordon starred in, read by Kennetch Charlette and playwright Kenneth T. Williams and several video tributes. A portrait of Gordon by artist Cheryl Buckmaster was revealed. The portrait will be on display whenever the theatre company has a performance. The Amiskusees Semaganis Worme Family Foundation announced a partnership with GTNT to distribute $10,000 in arts scholarships over the next 12 months. Prizes range from $500 to $2,500 and are for an array of artists and disciplines, but with a focus on Indigenous youth pursuing performing arts training at a post secondary institution. The Tootoosis family also presented the theatre company with a beautiful star blanket to commemorate the honouring.
For Kennetch Charlette, changing the name is a fitting tribute to Gordon, and he thinks the humble legend may be comfortable with it.
“Because he was a quiet, personable kind of guy, he probably wouldn’t say very much about the name but I think he would be very appreciative and I think it is something that honours what he has done for everyone,” said Charlette who was the founding Artistic Director of SNTC. “He created a path for people like me and the ones behind us and the young ones still coming up. So I think that he would be very appreciative of that fact. I am very thankful for everything that he taught me.”
Disa Tootoosis on the other hand thinks her dad might be a bit uneasy at all the attention and honouring in his name.
“He would not be comfortable at all. I can just imagine him squirming in his chair,” she laughed. “That’s what I was thinking when we had the first meeting (about the name change) and I thought about it. This is more for us and for the future. This is us carrying on the powerful spirit that he had. It is for us to hang onto him and to share him with everybody else in the whole world that can be affected by this. I am really humbled by every one that is here and the spirit that is in this room. To me it brings final closure. We had his final feast, and we had a final special at the powwow. But it still didn’t feel complete. Once we got into the circle with the theatre and started planning, that’s when I started to feel that we had come full circle. Our mourning can finally end and we can move forward with more positive things. It reinforces everything that he was about that he lived for in everyday life. It is a good feeling. I finally feel closure and that’s the only thing that I really ever wanted.”