People’s attitudes around reconciliation still need to change says award winning playwright Ian Ross

Dennis Ward
All good plays ask a question according to award winning Anishinaabe playwright and author, Ian Ross.

Ross’ latest offering, The Third Colour explores the notion of reconciliation and poses the question, what’s next?

“In a funny way I think some people within the country actually think it’s done, like it’s a done deal, we’re good,” says Ross. “Whereas, if you talk to anyone who’s Indigenous, they’re going to give you the opposite, like well we haven’t even started.  So, I’m not sure where we go?  I’d like to think that we do keep moving forward because I’ve seen change in my life, I’ve seen positive change in my life but it’s been slow.

“There’s still a lot that needs to be done.”

Ross says people’s attitudes need to change.

The Third Colour” had its world premiere at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg in October.

It’s a homecoming for Ross who got his start at the theatre where many years ago when he volunteered to do a painting job just to be around a theatre setting.

Ross says he just needed someone to open the door a crack so he could kick it in.

And that’s exactly what Ross did.

His first play Farewel garnered him a Governor General’s award for Drama in 1997, the first Indigenous person to ever win the award.

“It ruined my life,” jokes Ross.

Up until that point, he says his life was pretty simple.

Winning the award was like someone putting a giant stamp on him saying he was legit.

Ross believes it’s a great time for arts but points out there are still not enough Indigenous peoples involved.

In the latest episode of Face to Face, Ross says “the wonderful thing about theatre or how lucky I’ve been in being able to write Indigenous stories is that when you see yourself in a place like this you can go ‘oh right, I have value or I have the right to say what has happened to me or what I feel or what I think’ because for so long, again I think we’ve been excluded or told not to have a voice.”

Many in Manitoba will recognize Ross from his character Joe from Winnipeg who would share his everyman commentary on politics and society.

The popular character that aired on television and radio also spawned numerous books, CDs and cassettes.

“Joe from Winnipeg was born out of poverty,” says Ross who was mad at himself one day for not having enough money to catch a city transit bus.

While the character was a huge hit, some were critical of Ross for doing it.

“Some people tried to say I was perpetuating a negative stereotype with Indigenous people and I say ‘well what is this character about?’ He’s about seeking understanding, listening to people, respecting one another, loving one another, being good to one another and I said you know what, if those are Indigenous stereotypes then ya I’m all for it and I’ll perpetuate that all day long,” he says.

Ross recently revived Joe from Winnipeg in 2016 for a series of short videos on Youtube.

According to Ross, there may be more to come but he’s worried the character would become to “cynical and mean” given the state of the world today.

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