The world premiere of The Third Colour, a thought provoking but funny new play by Anishinaabe playwright Ian Ross is on stage now at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg.
The Third Colour follows two spirits that take the shape of Indigenous women, Agatu and Head Full of Lice, as they take us through the history of Canada from pre-settler contact to today.
“If you looked at the world right now, the state the world is in, are you ok with that and if not do you want to see it change?” asks Ross.
“As a playwright as an artist I want things to change because they can get better”
Although the matter is serious, the play is sprinkled with dashes of humour.
It asks asks questions of Indigenous identity.
One of the charactters has little to no context of their people because of the violence they have suffered at the hands of settlers, and the goal to assimilate or erase them altogether.
Since settler contact, so much of Indigenous identity, culture, and spirituality has been met with violence in Canada’s attempt to assimilate Indigenous Peoples.
It left Ross wondering whether Canada can truly achieve truth and reconciliation without embracing the people that made the country possible.
Ross is often asked why he uses humor to tackle these heavy topics. He says
“That’s the thing that’s kept us sane as Indigenous people and it’s also what we’ve inherently known,” Ross says.
“We know what’s important.”
Ross, who was the first Indigenous person to win a Governor General’s Award for English Drama, says it’s important to see Indigenous worldviews reflected on stage to show their lives have meaning and value.
It’s also an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to gain a better understanding of who Indigenous people are, to see all they have lived through, and continue to live through – issues like systemic racism, inequality, and underfunding child welfare on reserve.
The Third Colour asks the audience “which way do we move forward?”
“It raises the question of, as Indigenous people, should we continue to buy into the idea of Canada and working within that system and trying to make it better or do we go our own way,” says Ross.
“And I see both happening right now.”
This past year, the Prairie Theatre Exchange made the commitment to take an honest look at their role in the Truth and Reconciliations calls to action.
They answered that with a guarantee of showcasing one Indigenous playwright per year.
This year, the playwright is Ross.
Actress Tracey Napinak from Peguis First Nation stars as Agatu, one of the spirits tracing the history of Canada in The Third Colour.
She says that theatre has the power to change lives.
“This is a very sacred place. I think it’s a healing place. So you come here and you open your heart and you feel this energy that is gentle and open and I think you are affected by that on a very personal level and so art heals,” she says.
“These words heal.”
The play can be seen at the Prairie Exchange Theatre until Oct. 20.