A story about reclaiming one’s heritage leads the way for conversations about Indigenous stories
By Isabella West, Arts Editor
New Blood: A Story of Reconciliation combines poetry, music, contemporary and traditional dance to tell the true story of the former chief of the Siksika Nation.
The play recounts his experience in residential school as a child and how he reclaimed his way of life to then become the chief of his people.
The director of the play, Deanne Bertsch, is a drama teacher at Strathmore High School. Bertsch said that she was inspired to create a play that explored Indigenous themes and history after visiting the pictographs at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.
“I went on a tour of the pictographs with a Blackfoot elder and she told us that many of the stories had been lost when the Blackfoot people were put on reserves,” said Bertsch. “I just felt so sad for my Blackfoot students that I teach at Strathmore High School.” After this, Bertsch began developing the play, but there was still one main element missing, a focus person.
This is when one of Bertsch’s students approached her and said that she should talk to their grandfather, Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman.
Yellow Old Woman shared his story with Bertsch and gave her a poem called The Indian in the Child, which became the opening act in the play.
New Blood is now entering its 10th year, performing more than 320 times. Each year, new members join the cast and the production grows.
Bertsch said that most cast members are students from Siksika Nation, however, they also have parents, grandparents and non-indigenous members.
“Although Siksika is a Blackfoot nation, so many of these kids are also Cree and Dene and have different Indigenous backgrounds,” says Bertsch.
How students are representing their stories
Trinity Pretty Youngman has been a cast member for the past three years, switching between the main role as a child and the Blackfoot dancer role.
Pretty Youngman says that this play is an opportunity for her to show where she comes from and to give audiences an understanding of why Indigenous people are the way they are.
She says that she has heard all of her grandparents and mother’s stories about what they experienced in the residential and day school system and is grateful for the opportunity to share her family’s story.
“I just wanted to show people that we’re still here. That I’m still here,” says Pretty Youngman.
When each member of her family attended the play for the first time, there were many emotions brought up from their own experiences with the themes discussed in the play.
Pretty Youngman says that although the play brought up painful memories and emotions for her family, she believes it also opened a door for healing.
“I think the show brings a huge awareness about residential school [and] the reality of it when you see these Siksika students, essentially playing the parts of their grandparents who have all gone through residential schools,” says Bertsch.
What more can you do?
This year, the production has three shows. On National Truth and Reconciliation Day, Sept. 30, the play will be presented at Bert Church Theatre in Airdrie.
Tickets are available on the Bert Church’s website or on the New Blood Dance Show website.
Pretty Youngman says that she often gets the question “what can I do more?” from people who are looking to support Indigenous communities.
“The first thing that comes to mind, is well you’re here, you’re already listening to what we have to say and that’s more than enough,” says Pretty Youngman.