Dance performance ‘The Mush Hole’ based on Canada’s oldest residential school

A dance performance called The Mush Hole that explores the lives and spirits forced to attend Canada’s oldest residential school is in Winnipeg.

The Mush Hole is set at Ontario’s Mohawk Institute.

Mush was what residential school students called the food they were fed each day.

Six Nations artist Santee Smith is the creator and producer of the piece.

“When I was growing up I heard about the mush hole,” she said. “I had no context, no understanding about what that was other than to know that it was not a good place.”

Many children from Six Nations were forcibly sent to the institute including Smith’s grandfather and great grandmother.

Smith began developing the piece in 2016 when she took part in a workshop held at the site which now operates as the Woodland Cultural Centre.

“A lot of my work is land-based and site-based. To be actually in the land, in the building, acknowledging where we are and that history that is rooted in the ground, in the walls, in the DNA that is left in the walls,” said Smith.

The piece is set in between the 1930s and 1950s and touches on themes of colonialism and assimilation.

“The crosses, the broken crosses, the dismantling and the breaking of them and trying to put them back together is really that Christianity was imposed on the students and that struggle to loss of identity assimilated into a culture and a belief that is not coming from your Indigenous sense, your Indigenous person,” said Smith.

To prepare- the cast went over interviews and writing from residential school survivors.

Montana Summers has been part of the production since the beginning.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that could compare to this,” said Summers.

Though the piece explores the cruel realities Indigenous kids faced

It is ultimately a story of honouring and healing.

“We always want to represent our resilience and that’s what I like to take away from this is showing so much resilience,” said Summers. “And that we can still move forward even though how heavy this truth is we can still move forward with it.”

The Mush Hole is showing at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People until the end of February.


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