When you ask Dakota Ray Hebert about her new gig at Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre, she doesn’t hold back. After several years as an actress on the national stage, Hebert has come home to try her hand once again as a playwright and for the first time ever, as director. Native Studies 101 is a show is set in a high school where the Indigenous students are confronted with a teacher who has no idea about their cultures. The premise came from a frustrating fact.
“It’s so bizarre that we’d learn about our histories, our traditions, our peoples from someone who doesn’t live it,” says Hebert. “Whether it’s because of residential schools or the 60’s Scoop, or because sharing traditions amongst us was previously illegal, some of us aren’t able to learn about our peoples from family. So we take Native Studies. But, most folks teaching Native Studies or Native-centered classes, aren’t even Native; how can we fix this or help them with the disconnect?”
“It’s so bizarre that we’d learn about our histories, our traditions, our peoples from someone who doesn’t live it”
Misunderstandings and untruths take hold in this play as the students are forced to decide; do they argue and risk being labelled a troublemaker or do they sit quietly and take it.
This premiere is the latest work of the Circle of Voices program at GTNT. It’s a program that mentors young aspiring Indigenous artists. Hebert served as assistant coordinator for the program a few years ago and she says it’s exhilarating to return as the director and playwright for this show.
“It’s really empowering. This cast is made up entirely of women and there’s so much love and support in the room.” She explains, “We are learning together, I hear my words acted out loud and they take on new meaning. This show is a community creation and we can’t wait for people to come see it.”
Hebert’s career has been on a high in recent years. She was part of the national tours both with Mary Walsh’s Canada It’s Complicated and Salt Baby. She performs regularly as a stand-up comedian and after gaining fame with her YouTube series Dakota Tries, is working on a series with APTN that’s slated for this Fall.
Hebert says Native Studies 101 is a labor of love and it’s pushed her to grow as an artist.
“Being both the playwright and director of a brand-new show is a huge experience. It’s terrifying… but it’s a good terrifying.”