Latest COV play tackles uncomfortable scenario when non-Indigenous person is teaching Indigenous history, culture
- NC Raine | March 06, 2019
After talking with Dakota Ray Hebert, it becomes clear she isn’t content with the status quo. As a successful stage and screen actor, playwright, and stand-up comedian, Hebert seems always ready to advance her career with a new venture – her latest being writing and directing a one-act play. It should come as no surprise, then, that her play also takes aim at bettering some of society’s present state of affairs.
“It’s so bizarre that we’d learn about our histories, our traditions, our peoples, from someone who doesn’t live it,” said Hebert. “Most folks teaching Native Studies or Native-centred classes aren’t even Native. How can we fix this or help them with the disconnect?”
Hebert, from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, has gained renown for her national tours with Mary Walsh’s Canada It’s Complicated and Salt Baby, and her YouTube series Dakota Tries. Her play, the aptly titled Native Studies 101, tells the story of a non-Indigenous high school teacher educating a small group of Indigenous students on their own culture.
“She’s a sweet, well-meaning teacher, she loves culture, she means her best, but she’s just not quite getting some things. There’s a disconnect there and she learns pretty fast that the students won’t stand for that,” said Hebert.
It’s a subject that sprung from stories from some of her peers, she said, as well as her own personal relationship with learning about her culture and language.
“My grandfather survived residential school. He didn’t teach my mom or aunts or uncles Dene. So, we’re starting to learn, but it takes time to get it back,” she said. “If someone who wasn’t Dene was teaching me the language, I wouldn’t be mad at them, but mad at the circumstance. I think that’s the feeling some people have in Native Studies.”
The play is the latest work of the Circle of Voices (COV) program at the Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre in Saskatoon, which mentors young Indigenous artists. Herbert served as an assistant coordinator for the program before taking her new role as playwright and director.
“COV has been so helpful, in the sense that I have actors and other artists I can spitball ideas off of,” said Herbert. “It’s been really great because the youth are learning about professional theatre and I’m learning about my directing style. So, it’s been a really lovely, gentle learning experience.”
The cast of Native Studies 101is made up entirely of women, including Victoria LaFontaine, a young actress who also got her start through COV.
“The experience working with (Dakota and COV) has been great. We have a little talking circle at the end of every session, and everyone is really supportive,” said LaFontaine, who said she’s been inspired by the message in the Hebert’s play.
“I was fortunate enough to be taught be Indigenous teachers when I took Indigenous studies. But I can imagine in University being taught by someone who is not Indigenous – if they’re not educated about something, I’ll be happy to speak up.”
Hebert said her play can eventually expand to schools across the province, believing young audiences will connect with the show.
“I want them to have fun. I want them to learn things. I want them to have questions, and to search for the answers on their own,” she said. “And I want them to keep supporting Indigenous artists.”
Native Studies 101 runs March 7-14 at the Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre.