Read these plays by Indigenous playwrights
June is National Indigenous History Month, and an especially significant one this year that highlights the necessary demands for recognition of colonial violence, investigation of residential schools, and support for Indigenous communities.
If you are looking to add some plays by Indigenous playwrights to your reading lists, curriculum, or theatre productions for the future, here are our suggestions:
Women of the Fur Trade by Frances Koncan
Sometime in the 1800s, three very different women (with twenty-first century affinities) sit in a fort sharing their views on life, love, and the hot nerd Louis Riel. This historical comedy shifts perspectives from the male gaze to women’s power in the past and present through the lens of the Canadian Fur Trade.
Indian Act: Residential School Plays edited by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard
Indian Act is a tribute and thank you to those who survived the Indian Residential School system so that future generations could be free to pursue their lives unhindered by educationally enforced lowered expectations and institutionalized abuse. Seven plays by contemporary First Nations and Metis playwrights cover the broad scope of residential school experiences, all kinds of characters, and no stereotypes, giving voice to those who could not be heard. The anthology includes Nôkhum by Michael Greyeyes, Bunk #7 by Lary Guno, They Know Not What They Do by Tara Beagan, God and the Indian by Drew Hayden Taylor, A Very Polite Genocide or The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Melanie J. Murray, kihēw by Curtis Peeteetuce, and Dear Mr. Buchwald by Yvette Nolan.
Huff & Stitch by Cliff Cardinal
In huff, brothers Wind, Huff, and Charles are trying to cope with their father’s abusive whims and their mother’s recent suicide. Preyed upon by Trickster and his own fragile psyche, Wind looks for a way out, one that might lead him into his mother’s shadow. In Stitch, Kylie Grandview is a single mom struggling to make a living as a porn star while dreaming of being on the big screen. When Kylie is offered the chance at a big break, a series of twisted events lead her down a destructive path, revealing a face no one will forget.
Bears by Matthew MacKenzie
As the prime suspect in a workplace accident, Floyd has to get out of town fast. Pursued by the RCMP, he heads through the Rockies for Burnaby, BC, along the route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. By the time he reaches the Pacific, Floyd has experienced changes: his gait widening, muscles bulging, sense of smell heightening…
Performing Indigeneity edited by Yvette Nolan & Ric Knowles
This volume about Indigenous performance features essays by Indigenous artists or academics. Scholars were invited to write essays on aspects of Indigenous performance and artists were asked to contribute statements on whatever they felt was important to them as theatre creators. Themes touch on theatre training, cultural identity, Indigenous theatre history, and claiming space, among others.
Almighty Voice and His Wife by Daniel David Moses
This classic play about the place of First Nations people in Canada shakes up a familiar story from the Saskatchewan frontier, reimagining it from the postmodern late twentieth century. The “renegade Indian story” transforms into both an eloquent tale of tragic love and an often hilarious, fully theatrical exorcism of the hurts of history.
Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish by Joseph A. Dandurand
From the Kwantlen First Nation village of Squa’lets comes the tale of Th’owxiya, an old and powerful spirit that inhabits a feast dish of tempting, beautiful foods from around the world. But even surrounded by this delicious food, Th’owxiya herself craves only the taste of children.
Two-Spirit Acts: Queer Indigenous Performances edited by Jean O’Hara
In this collection of short but powerful two-spirit plays, characters dispel conventional notions of gender and sexuality while celebrating Indigenous understandings. With a refreshing spin, the plays touch on topics of desire, identity, and community as they humorously tackle the colonial misunderstandings of Indigenous people. This anthology includes Hot ‘n’ Soft by Muriel Miguel, Agokwe by Waawaate Fobister, Taxonomy of the European Male and more by Kent Monkman.
The Unplugging by Yvette Nolan
In a post-apocalyptic world, Bern and Elena are exiled from their village for no longer being of child-bearing age. Forced to rely upon traditional wisdom for their survival, Elena and Bern retreat from the remains of civilization to a freezing, desolate landscape. When a stranger arrives seeking their help, they must decide if they will use their knowledge of the past to give the society that rejected them a chance at a future.
In Spirit by Tara Beagan
Twelve-year-old Molly was riding her new bicycle on a deserted road when a man in a truck pulled up next to her, saying he was lost. The next things Molly remembers are dirt, branches, trees, pain, and darkness. Now a spirit, Molly musters up the courage to piece together her short life as she reassembles her bicycle. Molly’s tale becomes more and more vivid, challenging humanity not to forget her presence and importance.
This Is How We Got Here by Keith Barker
In This Is How We Got Here—a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and winner of the Carol Bolt Award—it’s been a year since Paul and Lucille’s son died by suicide, and their once-solid family bonds are breaking down. While the now-separated couple tries to honour their son, Lucille’s sister Liset and her husband Jim refuse to discuss their nephew. The ties that kept the four together are strained by grief and guilt… until a visit from a fox changes everything.
Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture by Yvette Nolan
Medicine Shows traces the work of a host of the Indigenous theatre artists over the past three decades, illuminating the connections, the artistic genealogy, and the development of a contemporary Indigenous theatre practice. Neither a history nor a chronicle, Medicine Shows examines how theatre has been used to make medicine, reconnecting individuals and communities, giving voice to the silenced and disappeared, staging ceremony, and honouring the ancestors.
Inspiration Point by John Garfield Barlow
Paul, Joseph, and Peter are stranded at Inspiration Point. With no one to call and nothing else to do but get high, the boys argue about life on the rez and the growing struggle of a community threatened by internal and external assimilationist forces. Poised between hope and despair, each man faces how best to move beyond the past and adapt to a future in which cultural legacy seems destined to diminish.
Dreary & Izzy by Tara Beagan
1975, Lethbridge Alberta. When the Monoghan sisters lose their parents in a car accident, Deirdre remains as the sole caregiver to her adopted older sister, Isabelle, who was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Deirdre is barely staying afloat under the strain of this reality when hope arrives in the form of gorgeous vacuum cleaner salesman Freddie Seven Horses. Both sisters find in Freddie a new world of unexplored emotions and ideas, where Freddie is a port in a storm.
Annie Mae’s Movement by Yvette Nolan
Annie Mae’s Movement explores what it must have been like to be Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a woman in a man’s movement, a Canadian in America, an Indigenous person in a white-dominant culture. It is still unclear what really happened to Anna Mae back in the late ’70s before she died under mysterious circumstances. Instead of recounting facts, this play looks for the truth from examining her life and death, acknowledging that we live on the work that we do and the people we affect long after we have passed.
Stories from the Bush: The Woodland Plays of De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Company edited by Joe Osawabine & Shannon Hengen
The six plays in this anthology represent both their significance to Indigenous culture and identity and the milestones they provide in the history of the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Company. Among the plays in this collection are the first play to ever be professionally produced in Ojibway, the first play created using the Four Directions Creation Process, and other works that focus on the foundation teachings of Odawa Midewin, using traditional stories to create theatre and explore modern themes or time-honoured values.
Staging Coyote’s Dream Volumes 1 & 2 edited by Monique Mojica & Ric Knowles
These two anthologies of First Nations plays in English bring together work by some of the leading Indigenous playwrights in North America. Between the two volumes, plays include Aria by Tomson Highway, Girl Who Loved Her Horses by Drew Hayden Taylor, Burning Vision by Marie Clements, Please Do Not Touch the Indians by Joseph A. Dandurand, and many more.
Darrell Dennis: Two Plays by Darrell Dennis
This book includes two humorous and heartbreaking plays that focus on the lives of young, urban Indigenous people. Tales of an Urban Indian follows the trials and tribulations of Simon Douglas, a young First Nations man who moves from his rural reservation to the big city of Vancouver. And in The Trickster of Third Avenue East, Roger and Mary are spiralling out of control but are too scared to let each other go when a mysterious visitor turns their lives upside down and forces them to confront their darkest secrets.
You can find more plays by Indigenous playwrights here!