Mi’kmaw poet and storyteller shalan joudry says she was inspired to write her play, KOQM, when she noticed the town of Annapolis Royal’s plans in 2021 to celebrate 400 years of the signing of the 1621 Charter of New Scotland (Nova Scotia).
“Annapolis Royal is celebrated as a European colonial town and I understand that they want to celebrate,” joudry, a member of the Bear River First Nation, explained.
“At the same time, I am constantly wondering what it was like for our ancestors in this region through all of those colonial times,” she said.
KOQM, which means “old tree” in Mi’kmaq, tells the fictional story of six Mi’kmaw women from the same family lineage living on the same patch of land where the tree is located over a 400-year period.
joudry (who spells her name in lowercase) performs all six characters in her hour-long play. She uses unique masks for five of the characters, which range from an elderly woman to a young girl.
joudry is currently performing KOQM at the Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro, N.S. Aug. 11-14. This will be the third production of her play in the past year.
She previously performed her play at the King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal, N.S. in Oct. 2021 and at Neptune Theatre in Halifax in April.
“But what about the women?” – shalan joudry
joudry says she chose to write the play from a woman’s perspective because she discovered that many of the written historical accounts of Mi’kmaw people only described Mi’kmaw men and leaders.
“But what about the women? What were they doing? What were they doing to continue to empower our nation, take care of our nation?” she said. “You know, what were their roles throughout history?”
Through monologues, the characters describe their personal experiences with residential schools, centralization, the formation of reserves and dealing with British and French settlers.
Because of the subject matter, joudry has placed a trigger warning in the lobby of the theatre for anyone who may find the characters’ monologues traumatizing.
KOQM is being produced through joudry’s own production company, Nestuita’si Storytelling Productions. She has hired Ken Schwartz, co-founder of Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, to direct the play.
“A really moving education” – Ken Schwartz
Schwartz says non-Indigenous audience members react differently to the play than the Indigenous audience members who attend.
“They get, I think, in some cases, a really moving education, you know,” Schwartz explained.
“It’s like a provocation that invites them to learn more and to ask questions, and to question things they thought they already knew,” he said.
Despite the subject matter, joudry says she tries to weave into her play a sense of hope and strength for Indigenous people.
“I hope that for Indigenous audiences, that they, although, there’s a sad reality, what they get out of it is pride and a memory of strength and that they are hopeful for our future,” joudry explained
“We come from strong, brilliant, powerful people. We are still strong and brilliant and powerful people today,” she said.
The next production of KOQM will be in Sydney, N.S., in October, joudry confirmed.