Corey Payette’s Children of God breaks open the unspoken and festering wounds of our country
A revolution in itself, Corey Payette’s (playwright and director) Children of God is a major step in Canada’s journey toward reconciliation. This reconciliation however, is more wide-ranging than one may assume.
Payette’s script was originally sparked seven years ago out of a frustration with the sweep-it-under-the-carpet mentality he was taught growing up. To combat this, the script opens conversations that, at the time, were actively shushed within and outside of the Indigenous community.
But by opening this conversation, painful wounds left untouched and unhealed for generations are cracked open as well. Not only does Children of God open old wounds for those who lived the attempted culture-breaking of residential schools, but also for those who were key in carrying out said culture-breaking.
Set in two time periods 20 years apart, Children of God follows an Oji-Cree family, whose two children are forced to attend an Indian residential school in northern Ontario. To write the script, Payette originally met with several survivors of the residential school system. But as time went on, he had multiple teachers, nuns, and priests from the schools come out to him, something he says helped him accurately portray the full picture.
“The story is really inclusive, in that it tells a lot of different narratives about what was done,” says actor Dillan Chiblow (Tommy). “It’s good because it can open up a lot of conversations for people to have.”
With Ojibway and Cree words written into the play, the incredible strength of the two cultures through such systematic oppression shines. But as the majority of the children are quite young, the amount of cultural knowledge they hold is limited. At moments, the children sit in secret asking one another what they can remember of their own ways, desperate for their culture and the point of true identity that comes with it.
“Because of the amazing survivors and Elders who have kept the language, we now are able to have Ojibway sung and spoken in the show, and that’s extraordinary,” Payette says. “After 130 years of this history taking place in Canada, it didn’t work.”
By making the piece a musical, Payette finds he was able to convey emotions that couldn’t be fully rendered otherwise.
“When the characters can no longer speak, they retreat into song; they use song and dance and story as a tool to really be able to unpack what they’re feeling,” Payette says.
An important part of this music is helping survivors who struggle to convey these heavy emotions and feelings address a painful piece within themselves, which then helps to bridge generational gaps that very much still exist today.
“It kind of bridged a gap between me and my father where he suddenly opened up about his memories and his family,” says actress Cheyenne Scott (Julia), who with Payette’s script was able to bridge the generational gap and better understand her grandparents, who went to Indian residential schools.
For Chiblow, he was also able to better understand both of his grandmothers, but he also gained more understanding and compassion for his uncles, who were heavily affected by the generational trauma in their upbringing.
Moving into the present, not even a full generation since the last residential school closed, Payette views the piece as a catalyst to better understand ourselves as Canadians, giving perspective as to where we sit today and what the road forward looks like. So far the musical has been brought to Kamloops, Vancouver, and Ottawa, but the hope is to bring it to many more cities across the country.
“These are all of our children; what would this sort of system have been like if it had happened to anyone’s family? These are communities that had no children—can you imagine that?—no kids laughing or playing; it’s sort of unimaginable,” Payette says.
Counsellors and resources will be on hand at each performance given the nature of the musical and the potential triggers written into the script. Every show also holds a facilitated conversation afterwards to discuss audience members’ personal roles in the country-wide process of reconciliation.
“These people have a level of strength that I actually don’t think that I have as a person; to forgive the people who did this to their families, who ripped apart their communities, and yet they still found the strength to be able to forgive. If more people knew of that strength I think that we would have a different idea of Indigenous survivors of residential schools,” Payette says. “It’s about recognizing that this history is something we can never let happen again in any shape or form.”
Sat., Mar. 3 – Sat., Mar. 24 (7:30 pm & 1:30 pm matinée)
Children of God
Shoctor Theatre (Citadel)
Starting at $30