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Cliff Cardinal’s one-man show a must-see

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By Kristin Crawford

TORONTO — Cliff Cardinal’s one-man show, The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It, took me on a roller coaster of emotion. Originally produced by Crow’s Theatre in Toronto is both written by and stars Cardinal. It was recently presented by Mirvish Productions from March 10 to April 2. Cardinal compares David Mirvish to the Hudson Bay Company, who gave them the building and left – one of the many quips at HBC’s expense, including one about not being sad about some of the stores closing.

There was a lot of laughter, but I wouldn’t want to dismiss it as a 90-minute stand-up routine, because it was so much more. Cardinal was born on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the US, but now calls Toronto home. He is a man of many nations including Cree and Dene and a grandmother who “might be a quarter French or Ukrainian.”

My perspective was changed by some of the points Cardinal made in his show. One thing to note in the first production of the show, audiences thought they were going to be seeing a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but were presented with a 90-minute land acknowledgement instead.

I saw land acknowledgements as begrudging lip service to truth and reconciliation, sometimes lacking in sincerity. It seems to be so commonplace now. Last Fall, I was in Sydney, Australia, watching a show at the Opera House and there was one before the show. It is usually in the program at the very least. Strangely though, I didn’t realize until the next day after I saw a show in the US recently that there was no land acknowledgement statement. I never really saw it as a form of virtue signalling a way for self-proclaimed allies to show they are one of the good ones. Cardinal questions how can you be an ally I’m not at war? Things rang a little too true with talk of well-intentioned non-Indigenous people experiencing schadenfreude when they talk about what a shame what happened is, without actually saying they are grateful it isn’t them.

Another perspective change was on teaching on reserves. A dorm-mate from my university years has taught on several reservations over the years and I thought it was positive as I saw their Facebook posts over the years. I never really gave this issue a second thought until it was pointed out that new teachers will often go teach on reserves to gain experience, before often leaving taking their experience with them. This is to the detriment of the children’s quality of education.

Some of the show was hard to hear and I had tears streaming down my face as the difficult, but crucial topics of MMIWG and Indian Residential Schools were brought up. The terms “pedophile cult” referenced the Roman Catholic Church and “rape camps” were used instead of schools. The valid question is raised with some of the priests and nuns still alive, where is our Nuremburg? My ethnically Jewish husband who attended with related to the themes of genocide. I wonder if everyone got Cardinal’s reference to the church sending priests to South America, which is where a lot of Nazi’s fled after World War Two.

Most of the performance, Cardinal was in front of a red curtain and perpetually engaging. At some points, the lighting and hand movements almost made shadows resembling birds. There was fun audience participation when he had us raise our hands asking question about our experience like, “Raise your hand if you have ever watched a movie/TV show with an Indigenous person (Dr Quinn Medicine Woman doesn’t count)?” He asked us to shout out names of books by Indigenous authors we’ve read.

Not your typical Mirvish fare, but a welcome one. Off the top of my head, the last show with a strong Indigenous voice would have been Thomson Highway’s Dry Lip ought to move to Kapuskasing in the early 90s. A breath of fresh air seeing my people on stage, hearing our voice. Shows like this are an important part of truth and reconciliation, especially since the typical Mirvish audience tends to be older and have seen far too many Lloyd Webber productions. With this production Mirvish isn’t just paying lip service, they are putting their money where their mouth is.

I look forward to seeing what other works Cardinal crafts and to following his career. He has a strong and important voice. If the show gets reproduced again, see it for sure — a must-see!

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Lead Facilitator – Circle Process

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Rice will serve as a mentor for program featuring budding Indigenous writers

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Inherent rights highlighted at the 8th annual Anishinabek Nation Lands and Resources Forum

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