What does reconciliation look like in Canada today?

In July of 1764 near what the Anishinabek called “the crooked place” – Niagara Falls – Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for British North America, met with some 2500 Chiefs and headmen to create an alliance that would be key to they creation of Canada. – illustration by Charles Hebert
In July of 1764 near what the Anishinabek called “the crooked place” – Niagara Falls – Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for British North America, met with some 2500 Chiefs and headmen to create an alliance that would be key to they creation of Canada. – illustration by Charles Hebert

Thunder Bay – ENTERTAINMENT – What does reconciliation look like in Canada today? That’s the idea behind Magnus Theatre’s upcoming student-led Collective Creation Project. The Collective Creation Project is an annual cooperative effort between Magnus Theatre and local high school students from across the city to create a play around a relevant social issue. Students are guided by professional theatre staff in all aspects of creation, including writing, staging, and performance.

“This play – which in itself is an act of reconciliation – highlights a few of the struggles Indigenous people face because of the colonial attitudes and violence that has been ingrained into our society for hundreds of years,” said Keira Essex, 18, a 12th grade student and long-time Collective Creation Project participant.

“It is a call to action for the public to think more deeply about reconciliation and to work harder to achieve it. Reconciliation is the responsibility of everyone. It is something Indigenous and non-Indigenous people must work on together so that we can begin healing,” she said.

Titled Stolen, Azhen, which translates into “Stolen, Returned” or “Stolen, Taken Back” in Ojibwe, the play is set in the present day and tells the story of a teenager named Aurora who leaves her First Nations Reserve to attend high school in a large urban centre. Through her relationship with her mother and grandmother, Aurora confronts the ongoing impacts of residential schools on both her immediate family and her community. The story explores themes of racism, colonization, and cultural appropriation and highlights the staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

“It is important to tell this story because reconciliation is too often approached in a way that is too general, too surface level, and too colonial to be successful,” said Essex. “Institutions and individuals alike treat reconciliation as boxes to be ticked instead of as a process of healing that must be taken by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Though some tremendous strides have been taken by governments, institutions, and individuals, all things Indigenous are generally seen as lesser in Canada. Our cultures are seen as lesser, our traditions are seen as lesser, our history is seen as lesser, our knowledges are seen as lesser, and our people are seen as lesser.”

Under the guidance of Cultural Consultant Elliott Cromarty and Magnus Theatre in Education Director, Danielle Chandler, students worked on the script from November 2019 to March 2020. The production was originally slated to be staged in June 2020, but rehearsals and performances were pushed back due to the pandemic shutdowns. After consultation with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, students, and staff, it was decided that a filmed virtual read through would be the best way to realize this project at this time.

“This project has gone through several different progressions due to the pandemic,” said Chandler. “There have been many interruptions along the way, but we were always considering how best to serve this story that’s so relevant not just to our young people but to all Canadians.”

The cast, writing and production crew combines both new and returning Theatre in Education students, including Joshua Audley, Keira Essex, Emma Kaminawash, Brook Malone, Jasmine Mcguire, Asia Polhill, Alexa Sagutcheway, Calli Thompson, Chase Lester, and Cornelius Beaver.

Stolen, Azhen is presented in partnership with the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre and is supported by a generous grant from the Thunder Bay Community Foundation with additional funding from the Ontario Arts Council.

Previous Collective Creation Projects at Magnus Theatre have included Good Time Charlie in 2018/2019, a story examining the issues around consent; Migration Paths in 2017/2018, featuring stories about the experiences of refugees coming to Canada; Invisibles in 2016/2017, about the challenges of living with an invisible disability; and Blocked in 2015/2016, focusing on the detrimental effects of bullying on young people.

Stolen, Azhen will be released to the public on Magnus Theatre’s Facebook, YouTube, and website on Friday, June 11th at 7pm.


Stolen, Azhen is a youth-created production that explores the subject of Reconciliation and includes mentions of Indian Residential Schools and Assimilation. Themes of Ongoing Harm and Colonial Impacts are present throughout, and there is reference to physical and mental abuse.
The production is meant to be informative and thought-provoking and is intended to contribute to important conversations about Canadian history and the ongoing impacts of institutional abuses; however, the content may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts about past abuse. If you need support, please contact the 24 Hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or visit the website for more resources at https://www.fnha.ca/what-we-do/mental-wellness-and-substance-use/residential-schools. For young people, support is also available 24/7 from the Kids Help Phone by phoning 1-800-668-6868 or by visiting their website at www.kidshelpphone.ca to learn more about how to access other free counselling services.

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