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REVIEW: Mno Bimaadiziwin brings to life true stories, real conflicts

Theatre by the Bay’s latest play is not only funny, emotional, intelligent and timely, but it is also quite simply the most important production the company has ever put on

Theatre by the Bay’s latest play is not only funny, emotional, intelligent and timely, but it is also quite simply the most important production the company has ever put on. Period.

Mno Bimaadiziwin (meaning 'a good life') began showing Friday and runs until Oct. 3 at the Orillia Opera House.

It is described as “a story about the resiliency of love, healing and community in the face of trauma.”

The importance of what it isn't far outweighs what Mno Bimaadiziwin is.

When someone with a non-Indigenous background, such as myself, hears of a play being written by a local Indigenous playwright — in this case, Ziigwen Mixemong  and examining Indigenous experiences in Simcoe County, one may have visions of the supernatural, a reservation setting and the stories we are used to hearing involving animals and spirits.

It is, unfortunately, what we have often been fed by motion pictures and books by white writers.

While The Creator is a needed voice in the play, Mno Bimaadiziwin tells stories that are common themes in everyday life, but how they can be amplified when they affect the lives of Indigenous people.

While not giving away too much of the play, the story involving Nisheemaas, played by Jordan M. Burns, has been told many times in Hollywood. But not like this. 

A story that has become part of the thread of many TV shows enters a new realm when seen through the eyes of someone of Indgineous ancestry.

The character of Imogen (Brianne Tucker) will immediately expose your judgmental side as an audience member and bring to light an Indigenous struggle you likely never contemplate. 

Pesche Nepoose plays Dawnis, who has a story you may catch tidbits of here and there on the big screen.

But in Mno Bimaadiziwin, Dawnis alone will take you through an entire journey in a short timespan that will leave you understanding more of the struggle faced by many young Indigenous women throughout history. 

If her story doesn’t, truthfully, you may never grasp it as Nepoose leaves no room for misunderstanding the unfortunate cycle.  

Before the final story is told, you have begun to realize how robbed we have been to not have been able to hear how everyday issues for many are made even more difficult by Indigenous people who often feel hardship by just existing. 

And then Trina Paula Moyan’s character, Zhawen, speaks and forces you to pay attention to her struggle. Loudly, uncomfortably and passionately forces you to hear her voice and the voice of many like her who can’t tell their story.

There is no intermission needed in Mno Bimaadiziwin as John Roldan, playing the Conductor among other parts, brings you the contemplative and emotional pause you will need during the production. 

While the other actors are wonderful at making you think about every word, Roldan invites you to “the sweat” in a way that sometimes makes you think he is speaking right to you. 

With National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, the stage is rightfully handed off to Indigenous storytellers — acclaimed Anishinaabe theatre artist Herbie Barnes is the director.  

Mno Bimaadiziwin is based in Indigenous culture, but in no way only suited for Indigneous people. Quite the opposite. 

It also doesn’t aim to make white people feel ashamed or sad for the tragedies Indigenous people have long faced and still do. It doesn't have to aim for that.

It simply tells the true stories and real conflicts that have often been left out of most Indigenous stories we have been told.

How you feel after that telling is up to you.

For tickets to Mno Bimaadiziwin, click here.

Shawn Gibson is a staff reporter at  BarrieToday.