The event I chose to go to is the Slav & Kanata Debacle. It was presented by two women who fought against Robert Lepage when he tried to put on two different plays, Slav & Kanata, about cultures he is no part of – and clearly know nothing about. Those two women were Nakuset, a Cree woman who participated in a meeting with Lepage to criticize his attempt at the representation of Aboriginal communities in his play, and Elena Stoodley, a woman working in the theatre industry who helped revise Lepage’s show on black slavery. The key message of their discussion was that white men hold most of the power in society and that it requires a lot of talking, convincing and arguing to change their minds and to pass on to important messages. They both, in the name of their people, took a stand against the propagation of false information and for their right to be able to tell their own story the way it should be told.
Most students in the audience seemed to enjoy the talk and to relate to it in some way. Some of them asked questions about the speakers’ feelings relating to their specific fight against Lepage, and I remember one of them asking what they thought the limits of artistic freedom should be since that’s the main argument Robert Lepage used against their criticism. What struck me the most, however, was that barely anyone had heard about both those stories before. Even if Nakuset and Elena mutually concluded that mostly the francophone indigenous and black communities responded to Lepage’s work, I was still surprised since these stories attracted a lot of media attention over time. Both this element and the presentation itself made me realize that with all our different backgrounds, sometimes, it is hard to learn about everything that links us and everything that makes us different as humans. The only thing that matters, however, is to own up to the fact that we are not all-knowing creatures and that it is fine not to know a lot about some subjects. The first step towards that acceptance, in the case of Quebec, should be for the province to let go of their embarrassment about colonialism and to own up to what they did.
Indeed, other situations as such could happen, and men’s envy to show off their knowledge – and ‘’artistic freedom’’ – could eventually change the narrative about what is to be known about cultural matters that are not theirs to talk about. If we stop teaching kids that black culture started existing with slavery and that our relationships with Indigenous communities were always perfect, maybe fewer individuals would be biased and more would develop more meaningful respect and an interest in those cultures. To do so, we have to put them and their stories at a more critical level because, just like Elena Stoodley said: ‘’there is never appreciation when there is no equality’’ and their cultures deserve the same respect as the Western one.