North Bay, Nipissing First Nation

Have you ever met someone who laughs often, laughs freely, and laughs with delight simply because she appreciates all the wonderful, quirky and innovative things that happen when people work together? Well, I have. Her name is Penny Couchie, and she is co-founder of the theatre company Aanmitaagzi (He/She Speaks). When Penny laughs you just can’t help but laugh along with her. Penny and her husband Sid Bobb (the other co-founder of the company) and their son Ouske started with Train of Thought in Vancouver and then stepped off the train after Edmonton. We are all glad to see them again. They call their studio Big Medicine and it is an apt name. There is a palpable sense of healing energy here. The studio, with its big windows, sprung dance floor, and walls covered with art and giant puppets looks out over Lake Nipissing. There is a steady stream of youth, moms and kids, and others coming in and out of the space and it feels like a family hub. The Nipissing people are known for their generosity as hosts and their good cooking and that is certainly evident over the several days we spend here. Our visit coincides (though not coincidently) with a conference of panels and workshops called Dream Big North held in a theatre in downtown North Bay. We are invited to take part in the conference if it suits us, but there is another task at hand as well. Penny and Sid and their team have been working up plans for a show to present at the culmination of the conference. They have the outline and are in need of a cast. It turns out we are the cast, joined by Aanmitaagzi regulars and a whole crew of Jumblies artists, associates and youth from Toronto who have made the drive up here. As I watch Penny choreograph and Sid direct I am struck by the way they balance clear direction about their vision for the piece with an open ended—even what you might call loving—invitation for performers to bring their own creativity to the work. Penny works in a mode of what she calls Spontaneous Choreography. She is clearly masterful in her knowledge of dance so people trust her to guide them, and yet she implicitly trusts each and every one them to find beauty and clarity in their own work as part of the ensemble. The show is woven together in record time, including a team at the side of the studio building a dozen animal masks with guidance from Cathy Stubington. The show is a stage adaptation of a west coast story Sid has learned from his mother, Lee Maracle, who is with us here. The story tells of a time long ago when the trees walked free and frightened all the other living creatures until they entered into an agreement with the humans to root themselves in exchange for care and protection. Two days after we rolled into town, the show is being performed with a cast of perhaps 30 or 40 cast members and musicians with lighting effects and projections. More impressive than this spectacle though, is the sense of purposeful collaboration among the cast of settler and indigenous people united in a common cause to tell an old story in a new way (as Lee puts it). This is the future.

White River to Sudbury

We board an early morning train from White River to Sudbury in the company of a group of fisherman who get dropped off en route at what must be a good spot along the river. Kelty initiates a movement activity in the aisles of the train based on writings she has gathered from us in response to the prompts: “what happened?” and “what did you see?” As usual, Ange has prepared a feast of groceries for us to snack on. More conversations. We pull into the Sudbury Ontario station and are greeted by the folks of Myths and Mirrors Theatre company who give us gifts and welcome us. More formal greetings inside and smudging and songs. I remain continually amazed at the experience of  hearing 30 people, Native and non-Native, introduce themselves one after the other by identifying the territory on which they live and what treaty governs it. It makes a difference in my own consciousness of my place in the world when instead of saying I’m from Victoria, I say I was born on Willamette and Multnomah territory in what is now called Portland Oregon. For the past ten years I have been a guest on unceded Coast Salish Territory in the city of Victoria.

This is an overnight stop only. The group will return for a more extended stay with Myths and Mirrors next week. The next morning we hop in rented cars and drive to North Bay, home of Annimatagze theatre in Nipissing Territory.

The road to Thunder Bay

I sign up to take the wheel on the drive from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay. It’s a different feel, driving across the prairie instead of watching from the windows of a train or bus. The time passes quickly and before too long we’re at our halfway point: Anicinabe Park in Kenora where we’re met by folks from Community Arts Hub, a local arts organization. They’ve brought food for our lunch together. Standing in a circle on the grass looking over the water, Anishinaabe elder Cathy Lindsay welcomes us to the territory. Then we hear a story from one traveler who just joined us in Winnipeg, Victoria Freeman. Victoria is the author of a book that’s been recommended to me, but I haven’t yet read: Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America. She tells us a story about the piece of land we are standing on—how starting in the first part of the 20th century, it was a campground used by First Nations parents to remain close to their children in the nearby residential schools and maintain their connections with them. These parents actually presented the school with a set of expectations/rules that the school would have to abide by before they allowed their children to attend. For the first decade or so the school abided by the rules they had agreed to. Then changes in staff over the years began to erode the promise. Victoria knows this story because her grandfather, a Presbyterian Minister, played a role in the early days of the story.

We have lunch and chat in groups and then reconvene for an exercise that Ruth developed as a prompt for text generation: We are given two slips of paper to fill out. One reads: I know… and the other reads: I wonder… The completed slips are collected and redistributed. When read aloud it is a collective prose poem. We say our goodbyes and return to the convoy east. I drive for a couple more hours and then Rich Driedger spots me and we talk as he drives. When I first saw him in the Winnipeg Train Station in a hat and dark glasses and big red beard playing his clarinet he seemed a bit of a cipher. Following hours of conversation I see what an amazingly interesting fellow he is and our dialogue travels all over the map even as we drive straight forward. I don’t want to miss mentioning Rich’s partner Kate Romain whose talent as a musician and love of pure giddy fun is inspiring.

We meet the other half of the group. They had taken a different route, though Sioux Lookout, and met a group in Thunder Bay for some workshops with teens. We stay the night in a motel and then enjoy a full day of arts activities including storytelling at a tea party with playwright, artist, teacher and tea maker Eleanor Albanese and her colleagues. Late in the afternoon we board a chartered bus to White River. There is more freedom on a chartered bus than there is on a greyhound to wander the aisles and talk and share stories. I wind up in the front with Kate and Victoria and several others singing songs together from Kate’s copy of Rise Up Singing as we watch the hills and lakes of Ontario roll by. 


“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

                                                                                    Louis Riel

Stepping off the train after a long day of traveling we make our way into the concourse and are greeted by…a two-person Klezmer band Kate & Rich! Kate Romain (on accordion) and Rich Driedger (on clarinet) fill the whole area with joyous music. Kate and Rich will be joining us on the train from here on out. First Terry and Savannah from Vancouver Moving Theatre jump into the circle and dance together, then Ruth Howard and her son Eli from Jumblies join in. As we mingle, waiting for the luggage to arrive, we start to meet the newcomers to the train. Once we’re collected, we make our way into the main, domed rotunda of the station where we are welcomed with words and drumming and song.

Some people load into cabs to make their way to the hotel and some of us take the opportunity to walk in the cool evening air. The instructions are clear enough: two blocks up then turn and keep going until you see it. In my imagination I hear Peter Pan’s instructions to Wendy on how to get to Neverland: First star on the left, then straight on till morning.

We’ve got the morning off so I get to work! Our hotel, it turns out, is right across the street from the central “Millennium” branch of the Winnipeg Public Library. I head there first thing and find the 3rd floor office for the head of acquisitions. I have no appointment and he has no idea who I am when he cautiously comes around the corner into the reception area. We sit, I show him the book and within five minutes he’s sold. He wants to review it online before committing, but he’s pretty confident that the library will want a stack of them. He suggests I go talk to the buyer at McNally Robinson, the largest independent bookstore in central Canada, which is located in Winnipeg. I take the bus there and sure enough, they take five copies. The next day another independent bookstore in town takes three copies. I have been selling about one or two copies a day since I left Victoria and it is a wonderful confirmation of the timeliness of the book.

Winnipeg is Columpa’s home and she offers to walk with any of us who are interested to go visit the grave of Louis Riel. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I only had the vaguest idea who Riel was when I got to Canada and in my ten years here, I haven’t taken the time to learn. My loss. What an extraordinary man—a visionary who fought for justice for all oppressed people, not just the Métis, a soldier, and an orator with a poet’s sensibility. Standing at his grave, Columpa demonstrates that she is not only a first class actor, producer and playwright, she is a gifted teacher as well. She makes the history of this man and his passion come alive for us. Aaron Leon, who has been traveling with us since we were at his home in Splats’in territory, videotapes Columpa as she talks. When Jumblies makes the video available, I’ll let you know when and where to find it.

That evening we attend a panel discussion intended to share the work of local artists. Saturday morning we meet at the workshop space of Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba where some of our folks from the train share stories about the work they do with the local practitioners. In the afternoon there are hands-on workshops in the space and activities down on the street, including an interactive art-making installation using postcards curated by Winnipeg artist Lindsay Bond, who will be joining us on the train from here on. Parked across the street is the Tale of a Town Storymobile, a traveling project that tours Canada to gather and share stories about towns and the people in them. I have loads of admiration for Lisa-Marie DiLiberto, a smart, funny and fun community artist based in Toronto. Lisa and her husband Charles Ketchabaw are the creators and, literally, the driving forces behind the storymobile. The afternoon wraps with film screenings of a documentary about Winnipeg’s people, another about Vancouver Moving Theatre’s shadow theatre production on addiction and recovery, and third about the renowned community artist Lily Yeh. In the evening we enjoy a feast and a performance by the inimitable Columpa Bobb. Cathy Stubington and Keith McNair reprise the bird song. Sunday we convene at The Forks, Winnipeg’s popular gathering spot of public green spaces, shops, and cultural venues at the confluence of the Red River and Assiniboine River. As we gather on the grass of the park, a local drumming group called Buffalo Gals offers songs. Then Cathy Stubington brings out the long wide strips of fabric with images of fruits and vegetables that were made by people in her community. It’s all hands on deck with our folks and local artists plus families who have wandered up to see what’s happening. Like an army of people about to fold bedsheets, the volunteers hold the corners of these parallel ribbons of fabric. Cathy orchestrates the dance: other sheet holders standing perpendicular to the first team alternately run across the ribbons or duck under them. Our crowd weaves a single sheet of interlaced ribbons about 30 feet square. Then the real fun begins when we flip the woven piece into the air and the children run underneath shouting the names of their favourite vegetables and fruits. After a closing ceremony, we drift away and get some time to gather our thoughts and pack our bags in anticipation of an early departure by car tomorrow morning. I’ll be among those driving in convoy east to Thunder Bay; others will be on the train overnight.

On the train to Winnipeg

In my first entry on this blog I tried to describe the beautiful train journey from Saskatchewan through Western Manitoba. The hours we spend on the train during this leg of the journey are particularly rich with conversation. In the thick of actively unpacking our experiences one of my fellow travellers makes the earnest claim that there is nothing wrong with asking people questions about themselves. Curiosity is a good thing, right? Isn’t it, after all, what makes us human? I feel compelled to challenge this premise. It occurs to me later that this is at least partly because I recognize that I once believed it myself, but have come to see things differently. Others challenge it too, but I find myself particularly fervent, on the edge of proselytizing.

What also occurs to me later is that I am living out our café scene, “Answerizing,” in From the Heart. Over the course of our group’s short time together I have seen a surprisingly large number of the scenes and songs from the script virtually reproduced in real life. I can only speculate that this confirms we were touching the pulse of some really critical issues in the show.

The conversation on the train prompts me to ask myself, when is it not appropriate to ask questions? I am certainly starting to recognize that asking a new acquaintance with different skin colour “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” may be intended as a gesture of interest, but is often a subtle, even unconscious way of my saying “What kind of not-white person are you?” There is a place for asking about this, but certainly not as a starting point. Beyond this top-of-the-list adjustment to relating to new acquaintances, I am learning about other, more nuanced reasons to rein in one’s questioning. For instance, I am considering whether my impulse to ask people right off the bat about personal and cultural stories and histories is actually founded in a need to redirect the conversation to me, as if I am looking to find something in that person’s life experience that gives me a chance to show that I know something about them because I have a story that is connected to their lives. So how do we think about approaching these encounters in a different way? There is a Yiddish word mensch that means man, but implies a good man. For me, when you are talking with a mensch you feel without a doubt that he considers you to be the most valued and important person he could be talking to right at that moment. A mensch doesn’t pepper you with questions like a reporter for the benefit of his learning and his ability to identify how you fit into his world. He is present with you in the spirit of building and honouring your mutual relationship at a pace that suits you. Perhaps you feel at ease sharing something about yourself, but that’s because he makes you feel seen. If a mensch does ask questions about your personal or cultural stories, it will be because you have established a relationship of mutual interest. Could this offer some clues for how settlers can think about our relationships with Indigenous people?


On our last morning in Edmonton we walk from the student residence to the Greyhound Depot. The bus line is usually fairly strict about weight limits on the baggage and number of bags per person. When our circus of chaos descended on the place all bets were off and they were just glad to hustle us on board and get the heck outta Dodge. The bus with its assigned, slightly cramped seats and lack of aisle space is not nearly as conducive to the kinds of roaming conversations that were happening on the train, but we look for little moments when we can. It is a long trip interspersed with long looks at the beauty of the prairies out the window, conversations here and there, and the occasional stop at a lonesome bus stop for air and frolicking in the fields. We arrive late in Saskatoon and we are greeted by the local team. Bruce Sinclair, who lent a hand in Edmonton, got a head start on us with Ruth Howard, the Artistic Director of Jumblies theatre and the architect of the Train of Thought, and they are both here to greet us. Ruth has chocolates and a little activity involving Train of Thought trivia that grounds everyone after our time on the bus. I meet my host for the next couple of days, a former English and Accounting teacher called Rod. Whenever possible I am taking advantage of the offer of a billet in someone’s home. I really enjoy talking with people and staying in homes. Over the next two days Rod and I discover we have a lot in common and have a fine time talking shop about literature and theatre.

Not so much about accounting.

Saskatoon is the home of my good friend Joel Bernbaum. He runs SUM theatre here, producing a variety of performance projects including a big original show each summer that tours for free to city parks. I’ll be meeting Joel and his partner Heather later tonight but in the meanwhile he’s introduced me via e-mail to Leisha the CBC morning show host here in town and the arts reporter for the Saskatoon Phoenix Star. I want to see about getting a spot on the radio and maybe a print story too and I am trying to get their attention about Train of Thought and From the Heart.. Leisha and I exchange a few e-mails about the possibility. She is enthused but ultimately she says this is really a story for a CBC weekend show where they can spend time on an interview, not a morning drive show. I let it go and bring my attention back to the upcoming events of the day.

Saskatoon is Cree Territory and I am all eager to learn about this significant Nation on Turtle Island, sometimes called North America. We begin with a 30 minute drive out to Wanuskewin, a cultural interpretive centre about five kilometres north of Saskatoon. The artwork in the gallery and other exhibits in the building, and the video about the place are marvelous. And we could watch a group of schoolkids actually binding the poles of a tipi with guidance from a docent. But the main attraction was without a doubt time spent walking the hills and valleys of this ancient place. Feeling I am stepping on the same paths of people who have walked here for over 6,000 years.

Our next stop is the grassy field of a park in town near the statue of Gabriel Dumont, the General who served with Louis Riel. More on Riel when I write about visiting his grave in Winnipeg. Dumont and Riel are new to me as an immigrant to Canada—I have heard their names but I couldn’t have relayed more than a sentence about either of them until now, when I have occasion to be in the company of the Métis people to whom these two people (and others) are heroes. They dedicated their lives not only to the Métis, but to all oppressed people of this region and of this land. This is part of my learning on Train of Thought. As a new Canadian, it is my responsibility to learn these histories beyond what I was called to learn to pass my citizenship test. And this is a challenge for all Canadians. A woman in the original cast of From the Heart talked about how she leaned history in High School but she is relearning now that she is recognizing how many holes there were in what she was taught. Just today one of the train travelers came upon a book called Canada by Train. Like so much historic writing about Canada, the colonial worldview is embedded in the writing. “Months before the transcontinental railway was completed, the Northwest Rebellion erupted. Canadian military forces were required to put an end to the Native and Métis revolt.” They were “required” were they? According to the way this author frames the history, it was a necessity—bringing order to chaos brought about by this “eruption.” I wonder what a different account of this event might look like in a different writer’s hands.

So back to the grass in that Saskatoon Park. We sit in a circle on the ground, guests at a class in Cree language taught by Randy Morin. He is teaching us some basic starter kit vocabulary. Last night in Edmonton we learned from Jerry Saddleback that the Cree suffix “-win” links a word with the big concept. So the word for the Cree people, Nehiyaw turns into the big concept version of the people with the suffix. Nehiyawewin is the Cree word for the Cree language. Seeing this linguistic construction, it dawns on me that for the Cree, as for so many Indigenous people, the language is not just a medium of verbal exchange. The language is big concept because the language itself holds their Cree-ness. The language is the container for what it is to be Cree. Or it is one very important container among others. A least that is what I understand right now. These words I am writing are not coming from any place of expertise, they are the scribblings of a fellow who is trying to learn more.

After a while we are joined by Tyrone Tootoosis and the topic turns to more of a broad lesson on Cree relationships with the territory here in Saskatchewan. When he winds up and the conversation comes to a close, I’m able to practice some of my new vocabulary. I tell him thank you in Cree.

Some of us wander to the river that runs right through town with pretty bridges traversing the water and walkable banks on both sides. Saskatoon is really a lovely city—it seems handmade with care. The rest of the day brings me to the Mendel gallery with its bold and stirring exhibition The Fifth World curated by Wanda Nanibush, a walk with Joel and dinner with him and Heather, and a evening of mostly indigenous performers from the area, emceed by our language teacher from earlier in the afternoon, Randy Morin. We are treated to the world premiere of Cathy Stubington’s song, birdsong—she sings as best she can what they sing—accompanied by Keith on mandolin. As the sun sets, everyone gathers in the park for singing and round dancing. The next morning we board the train to Winnipeg.

Train of Thought: Edmonton

It is a long train ride from Kamloops British Columbia to Edmonton Alberta. In an old vaudeville routine two men at a doorway took turns insisting that the other go first: “After you Gaston” said Alphonse. “No, after you Alphonse” said Gaston. Nothing like this on VIARAIL. Whenever a CN freight train is gaining on us with goods bound for market, it is “After you Gaston” every time, while we passengers repeatedly step aside on the parallel tracks to sit and wait a while until it has gone by. This little game delays the trip by hours but, in truth, it just gives us that much more time to spend getting to know each other. There is room on a train to mingle in the aisles and carry on conversations.. As the hours pass I sit with one or two or five others at a time, sharing stories, learning a bit more about who they are and where they come from. We are all doing this—mixing and matching our conversation partners all along the train car, in the coffee bar and up in the observation lounge where you can get a good look at the view from above. Ange, who is Associate Producer from Jumblies Theatre has packed a couple of duffle bags of food and has set it out as a snack buffet on one of the empty seats for all of us to enjoy whenever we’re feeling a little peckish.

I am writing this blog post looking back over the past week and with the benefit of hindsight I now know that these early conversations in the “getting to know you” mode will quickly deepen over the course of our time together. Before long we start using our time together on the train to dig into some of the hard questions we’re asking about what docolonizing means. It’s not theoretical, like in a university ethics class. We are taking stock of the implications of engaging with each other and the people we meet on a daily basis. My fellow and sister travelers are smart, thoughtful people with great senses of humour. What an extraordinary experience this is.

We finally arrive in Edmonton after 2am, not 11 pm as expected, but the event organizers Nikki and Brooke are here to meet us with a big welcome sign, a plate stacked with a local delicacy for us to eat while Bruce Sinclair and Joseph Naytowhow give us a welcome with their drums. Have you ever felt truly welcomed to a place? That is what this is like for us. As loopy as we are from the exhausting trip, here are these people showing us that we are welcome in their home and that they consider us valued and honoured guests. It is protocol enacted. I begin to feel in my bones and tissue what this concept “protocol” can mean.

Several volunteers have showed up in these wee hours to transport us to our lodgings—the student residences at McKewan University. I get a ride from Jane Heather a faculty member in the theatre department at the University of Alberta. I met Jane a few years ago and included her article on labour theatre in my syllabus when I was teaching at UVic. Even at this ridiculous hour she is as feisty and funny as always and it is good to see her.

We take a break in the morning to catch our breath and then make our way to a midday coffee meeting with organizers of Masala Mix, an event that had taken place the weekend before. Masala Mix was a come-one-come-all talent extravaganza held in a mall in a culturally diverse Edmonton neighnourhood called Mill Wood. Originally the Papaschase Indian Reserve, the Mill Woods area was settled under treaty by a Métis-Cree band between 1876 and 1891. In the 1970s the land was appropriated for a city subdivision initiative for new arrivals to Edmonton. The topic of the conversation was venues—how do community arts projects find the big spaces we need to mount our events and how do we afford them? I learned that one of their strategies was to enlist in-kind support from half a dozen mall retail tenants as a way of encouraging the mall management itself to back the project. One organizer spoke of the importance of building relationships and a sense of mutual reliance among neighbours. If the organization can draw on what each individual brings to the table, everyone can achieve together what they couldn’t achieve on their own. I was able to tell her about John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann’s writings about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Like its cousin Arts-Based Community Development (ABCD..oh, the confusing acronyms), Asset Based Community Development presents a useful framework of strategies, systems, and approaches that can help us to improve our practice. One of the purposes of Train of Thought is to share knowledge, not only about big picture concepts, but also to exchange information about nuts and bolts details like this. If we know about the existence of other models, we can tap into the good groundwork other people have done.

Many TofT participants head off to enjoy the Edmonton Sikh Vaisakhi celebration on this sunny afternoon. I am completely knackered and so I get a ride back to the student residencies for a few quiet hours. Later we reconvene at Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts to enjoy an evening of performance and feasting. A local caterer  has provided a wonderful East Indian meal and we sit around big tables getting to know new people before seeing them on stage. Our host for the evening is Joseph Naytowhow, who had welcomed us in the morning hours at the train station. Bruce Sinclair is also on hand. He is a Metis Cree man with a great sense of humour and a flair for improvisation I used to write emails to him when he was the theatre program officer at the Canada Council. These days he puts his attention to the education of Indigenous youth in the Saskatoon area. After a “jig-off” between the two of them, Joseph begins to introduce the acts for the evening show—a variety of local artists. Surrounding us on all four walls of the room are photographs large and small taken by students at Meskanahk Ka-Nipa-Wit (Standing on The Road) School on the Montana Cree Reserve northeast of Ponoka, Alberta. The images are dazzling as they open a window into the people of the reserve. After a short intermission, some of the travelers on Train of Thought perform. Rosary Spence lives in Toronto and grew up in the coastal Cree community of Fort Albany First Nation, off the coast of James Bay. She prefaces her time on stage by telling us about the ongoing challenges faced by the people of the Attawapiskat First Nation. Then she begins to sing. Fluent in her language (she speaks Swampy Cree), Rosary’s voice fills the entire room with spirit. I am beside myself hearing her. Another traveler on the train is Eliza StarChild Knockwood, a Mi’kmaq/Ilnu woman from Abegweit First Nation (PEI). She, too, tells about her people and she, too has a voice that transports listeners as it simultaneously grounds us in this place, on this land. Kelty McKerracher who lives in Vancouver, takes the stage and tells us something about the history and context of her personal and professional passion—Flamenco. Having taught Flamenco to residents of the Downtown Eastside for five years she has a deeply felt connection to what the form offers. Dressed in jeans and wearing a down vest, Kelty stands before us and sings a song in Spanish—a lament for a desperate life. It is electrifying. Then she begins to dance and she is astonishing. Again, I am transported. Another traveler on the train is Columpa Bobb of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. She is Artistic Director of Urban Indigenous Theatre Company and The Aboriginal Arts Training Program in Winnipeg. With only a scarf as a prop, she gives us the story “Raven Steals the Sun.” Her work as an actor is nuanced and powerful and very funny from start to finish. She and her brother Sid Bobb are both on the train. Both are skilled theatre artists with impressive bodies of work. They have it in their blood. Columpa and Sid’s mother is the celebrated First Nations poet and writer Lee Maracle and their great grandfather was Chief Dan George. Sid is traveling with his wife and artistic partner Penny Couchie—they are co-founding member of Aanmitaagzi, on Nipissing First Nation in northern Ontario. They are traveling with their young son Ouske and later in the program Sid and Ouske offer us a dance. Later still, Penny leads us all in a round dance with support from Ange Loft.

This is a long description of the program and it doesn’t include everyone who stepped to the stage—the young Indigenous hip-hop/rap artists who credit poetry with changing their lives or Erin from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network who uses art and comedy in her work to destigmatize and educate. I’ve described so much of it because together, these performances have helped me to see something I’ve never seen before. This was not in any sense a talent show like I’ve seen them in the past. No one was intent on displaying their talent for the audience. Everyone was offering a way of knowing the world through the artistic medium that had meaning for them. When Rosary sings it is because she is compelled to convey understanding about her people through her gift—through her voice. The same is pretty much true of everyone here. This is performance and art as a lifeline for us to connect with each other. It is vital and vibrant and as important as air.

The next day we meet again for a convivial lunch followed by an art/performance workshop led by Ruth Howard with First Nations artist and all around remarkable guy Aaron Paquette. The opening exercise, which involves telling our names, where we’re from, and something we want people to know about us, is transformed into a series of hilarious and moving theatrical moments when the prompt is coupled with instructions to integrate four rolling suitcases into our introductions. I am reminded of the capacity we all have to create lyrical, visually compelling stage work when offered effective prompts to lead us in a productive direction.

I miss part of the workshop to be interviewed on video by Don Bouzek of Edmonton’s Ground Zero Productions (GZP) and Sam Egan from Jumblies, both travelers on the train. The video is not for a documentary as such. Don intends to create a digital searchable database of video and images from the entire journey that can be accessed by anyone who wants to see it. Soon, Don will be posting short excerpts on the Jumblies site. I’ll let you know when they’re up.

In the evening we enjoy another feast, followed by a riotously funny semi improvised piece of comedy on an imagined post-colonial Canada featuring Bruce Sinclair, Sid Bobb, and a new Train traveler (and editor of Alt.Theatre Magazine) South Asian-Guyanese-Canadian theatre artist Nikki Shaffeeullah. This is followed by a presentation of Cree worldviews by elder Jerry Saddleback. It has been a full couple of days. Tomorrow we leave for Saskatoon.

Train of Thought: Enderby to Kamloops

The train doesn’t leave from Enderby, so we rent some vans, pile in, and drive to Kamloops. Although we’ve called this project Train of Thought, the train won’t take us everywhere we need to go, so we say “It’s the thought that counts.” We will be taking all sorts of means of conveyance, including vans and Greyhound busses. Arriving in Kamloops, we settle into a couple of motels. There are twenty-seven of us all together, a mix of settler and Indigenous theatre makers and artists of other kinds who have come together from across the country to take part in the journey. Also with us on this leg of the trip are some grandmothers from the Splatsin community and a mum with her 3-year old girl. Some of us drive and others walk down the hill to enjoy a meal at a family owned restaurant called The Painted Pony that serves traditional Aboriginal meals. One of the cooks wears a tee shirt emblazoned with: “My grandma makes better bannock than your grandma.” Grandma—the chef—comes out to greet us when the meal is done and asks in her big voice: “well, are you fed up?” It seems we are.

I chatted with the women who run the place for long enough that I missed the group walking back up the hill to the motels. I take advantage of my solitude to take a detour and make my way down to the Riverwalk. I’ve been here before once or twice, and I remember how clearly one can feel the power of this river from just standing on the bank. The sun is setting and the spirit is palpable. I am grateful for cell phones so that I can call Mia in Vancouver and share with her some of what I am feeling.

The long walk up the hill in the dark is bracing and, after stopping to take in the view from the lookout over the city, it’s after 11pm by the time I’m back in my room. It’s after midnight by the time I’m in bed and the 4:30 am wakeup call comes awfully quickly. The vans were returned the night before so we pile into cabs to get to the train station. Jamie from Manitoulin Island in Ontario has brought a toy wooden train whistle with him and he gives us some good toot-toots to rally us in the early morning light as we board the train to Edmonton.

Will’s Blog on the Train of Thought Tour


It is Thursday, May 21st. I’m on the eastbound train, rolling steadily toward Winnipeg. This land I see through the windows is well and truly beautiful. There is a line from the movie Contact that keeps repeating in my mind. Jodie Foster’s character is looking out the portal of her space capsule. With tears in her eyes, struggling to put into words what she sees, she says, “they should have sent a poet.” I feel so privileged to live in this country and to call it my home.

So much of my personal aspiration on Train of Thought involves learning what it means to reconcile the understanding that I am a guest on this land—whether on Lekwungen and Coast Salish territory, or across the many traditional territories we are visiting—while also calling Canada my home. That particular paradox is just one of what seems like dozens of learnings that have been filling my days since I began this journey. Yesterday I was on the phone with Mia and I asked her to remind me how many weeks into the project we are. She explained that I’d left a week ago.

And now I look up again and see the afternoon sun over western Manitoba and it takes my breath away. They should have sent a poet.

I promised you all that I would be posting blog entries as I traveled from place to place and I have been woefully delinquent simply because we’ve all been going at such a pace, I haven’t had a moment to spare. Tonight I will try to make up for it by posting a series of blogs, back-dated from when we left Enderby/Splatsin. The stories of what happened up until then will be covered in my report on the TRACKS symposium. It was the official launch of Train of Thought—the Victoria activities were a sort of soft opening or prelude. I was invited to serve as co-rapporteur for the symposium, which began in Vancouver and then continued in Enderby/Splatsin. The other rapporteur is Kwasuun Vedan, Artistic Associate at Full Circle: First Nations Performance in Vancouver, who is from the Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteux and Secwepmec Nations. Kwasuun will be writing her own report on the Vancouver event. We’ll submit our joint report in the fall and I’ll post it here then.

More to come.


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