A teacher once told my theater class that if we were not all artists, we would be murderers.
Looking back at the trajectory of my career, I admit that most of my work indeed has been a war cry. I predominantly gravitate towards projects promising a battleground to rage and to process. The performances I’ve have been privileged to be part of initiate change and healing. Even shows that I agree to pay and sit through must have some manifesto or I won’t even bother — there are too many devastating injustices in the world to fall asleep or merely to be entertained. My pet peeve? Paying $35 to find myself suffering an existential loneliness at the theater. While that ignorant, white Supremicist misogynist is still the US president, I want to go to the theater and be collectively moved by indignation. With that smarmy, weak-in-the-knees Pinocchio still as my Prime Minister, I say inspire me, please!
As I write this article, we mark day seven of a grieving orca holding her dead newborn calf above water. Her baby was born without enough blubber to float. She’s been carrying the baby on her nose, refusing to let her go. There are only 76 resident whales left in these Coast Salish waters. With tanker traffic, ocean noise pollution and diminishing numbers in Chinook, whales aren’t getting enough to eat and their habitat is increasingly threatened. This is the first orca born in three years. Is she holding her baby in grief or is she showing us all what we have done?
Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau just spent $4.5 billion of our Canadian tax dollars to ram the Trans Mountain pipeline extension down our throats. He insists on increasing oil tankers in these waters by 574%, twinning a pipeline that will destroy 500 streams, while turning a blind eye to the way of life of Indigenous people, my community, who are already desperately clinging to our culture.
How do I proceed? What do I do with this anger, this fear, this profound love? How do I fight all the battles that need to be won?
Once, I was waiting in the wings to perform a solo excerpt of Starr Muranko’s Spine of the Mother. I was the last act of the evening at the Sacred Water Gathering at Trent University. It had been a full day of reverently listening to messages spoken by Indigenous Elders and world Spiritual Leaders, including Chief Arvol Looking Horse, my childhood hero. The theater vibrated with the power of their teachings. Their voices were still circling in the minds and in the hearts of everyone in that audience. Now it was my turn. I was suddenly so shy! How could I share the same stage as these gentle and magnificent warriors? Who was I to enter the same arena and dance my dance? Then I recalled the messages that the Indigenous Elders shared that day. In these critical times, they said, everyone has a role, everyone has a responsibility to ensure we move into our future in a good way. Chief Arvol Looking Horse said we were all born with a gift and that we were brought here to share that gift as part of our sacred responsibility for all our relations. I took my place on that stage. I joined them in the middle of that sacred circle. I danced Spine of the Mother as a prayer. A prayer to Chief Arvol Looking Horse, who carries the Peace pipe. A prayer to Grandmother Mandamin who walks for the water. A prayer to the next generation of artists seeking to help save the world.
I don’t blockade. I will march but rarely will I carry a sign. I’ll sometimes hold hands but I wont sing protest songs. I have not been arrested. I dance. I dance to pray. I dance to do something, anything. I dance to process this relentless battle to protect what is sacred. And when I dance, I find connection. Connection to spirit, to humans, to myself. This is my defense; connection is how I survive. When I dance, I find solace when I find myself, more often than not, flailing powerlessly against loss after loss.
This week I danced with the dead. Perhaps I always do. But during the Tinana/Whenua Project facilitated by Charles Koroneho in particular, I practiced. I unearthed. Lamented. Allied. Calmed. Reconciled.
Following my body’s imagination, I explored different landscapes where the dead and I could communicate. Coast Salish Land and Waters. My insides. That place where she was born, and then wasn’t. Offering my back to the sky. Keeping my belly close to the Earth. That’s how I could see them best.
Dying ones are everywhere:
I practiced responding. For I am not a murderer. Not literally, anyway.