Theatre Illuminates Systemic Barriers Faced by Indigenous in BC Human Rights Tribunal Process

March 24, 2022

Very early in their time together at PWIAS, Wall Scholars Bethany Hastie and Tom Scholte saw the potential for a collaborative project that would apply some of the Systems Theatre tools Tom has been developing to Bethany’s on-going work with the Expanding Our Vision Committee of the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

This committee is attempting to identify and dismantle systemic barriers faced by Indigenous people engaging with the Tribunal and bringing complaints forward.  At the core of the committee’s work is the recognition that the complaint process itself is in need of decolonization given that it is embedded in the same legal frameworks that have justified the dispossession and oppression of Indigenous peoples in the first place, and to which they are responding.

Bethany and Tom hope to engage stakeholders from within and beyond the Committee to create an interactive, Forum-style, Systems Theatre play intended to illuminate many of the mental models and structural interdependencies generating negative interactions between Indigenous people and the Tribunal, and to “rehearse” interventions within this complex system. They have already received an enthusiastic expression of interest from Committee members and are hoping to move forward in the near future.

The Wall Scholars have connected with an Indigenous elementary school teacher who is currently engaged with the BCHRT regarding harmful experiences with systemic racism experienced across her entire career. She has generously agreed to have her story serve as a model of the complex issues at play for Indigenous people when engaging with the Tribunal – from every day acts of violence of micro-aggressions to outright censorship and ostracism.

Using the tools of Systems Theatre, this project will highlight the importance of making space not just for stories of personal injury, but also of intergenerational trauma and resilience in cases brought forward by Indigenous applicants. 

The process began in the first week of March 2022 with a smudge and ceremony to open up a good space for the storyteller to begin to share her difficult journey and engage in collaborative dramaturgical discussions to map out a trajectory of scenes for possible inclusion in the final play.

“Her bravery and generosity have been truly humbling and has inspired an ever-deeper commitment on my part to carry her story with great care,” says Dr. Scholte.

This initial process brought the casting needs for the play into sharper focus, including the need for non-Indigenous ensemble members of various identities to meet the storyteller’s courage with a willingness to step into and embody the self-justifying logics of entitlement that directly, or indirectly, oppress Indigenous people on their own territories.

“This is the work required of settler participants in this project if we are to adequately model the complexities of systemic racism – from the structures of our systems down to the, often unspoken, mental models that built them and continue to hold them in place.”

“It is an act of service,” Dr. Scholte continues. “And one small way we can begin to honour the courageous and resilient spirit of Indigenous people who have consistently carried the burden of repeating their stories of harm and mistreatment so that we may, together, build a more just future.”