“There shouldn’t be a line that separates any of us when it comes to our health.”
It’s one, small line that opens up a huge discussion in Hospitals, Broken Pianos a brand-new collaborative work of theatre from Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre and its Circle of Voices (COV) program. It’s a frank and honest look at the double standard Indigenous people face when they enter the healthcare system.
“This is not meant to point fingers, we know medical staff are doing the best they can but there are instances of discrimination that can’t be ignored,” says playwright Jennifer Dawn Bishop. “Many of us feel judged, they assume we are looking for a fix and it often feels like we are ignored or discarded.”
“Many of us feel judged, they assume we are looking for a fix and it often feels like we are ignored or discarded.
Drawing on her own family’s personal experience and the experience of the COV students, Bishop created a play that follows nine Indigenous people as they journey through the system. Benny Severight plays a young man, abandoned by his family and in and out of hospital trying to kick addiction.
“We all deserve to have that care. If you’re Indigenous or a person of colour, often you’re the last in line to get it,” says Severight. “This play is giving a voice to our people and I like that.”
This is a performance but it’s also a key component of COV that mentors young aspiring Indigenous artists. At the helm of this production is first-time director Marcel Petit. Petite has been involved for years serving as both a playwright and program coordinator. He says this production is a great way to address attitudes Indigenous people encounter.
“I think when it comes to Indigenous theatre, we’re always bringing up stuff people don’t want to talk about. We see acts of racism big and small every day. This play is a way of getting people to talk about the hard stuff,” says Petit. “People throw around the word reconciliation so much it’s a buzz word. What it really boils down to is simply treating each other better as fellow humans.”
Severight says the COV program and working on the play has been life changing.
“At first I felt like quitting because it was uncomfortable but I pushed through,” he explains. “Before COV, I had trouble accepting myself as an Indigenous man but after being here and learning about my culture and sharing with others, I feel more at home in my own body.”
Bishop says this play has been a work of the entire group and she’s grateful for the input from the COV participants.
“We built this story together, they are a brave group and I admire them.”