Murder at God's Lake: Victoria theatre figures help shine light on remote Cree life

ON STAGE

What: God’s Lake
When: Thursday to Saturday
Where: Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra St.
Tickets: $22/15
For more information, visit: castlereigh.com

Francesca Albright was scanning the news when she came across a story about an unsolved murder of a Cree girl in a remote Manitoba community.

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“I’d never heard of God’s Lake or knew much about fly-in First Nations reserves or ice roads,” said Albright, co-founder of Castlereigh Theatre Project, a Victoria theatre company that produces documentary-like plays with dialogue from real interviews.

This week, the company will stage and workshop God’s Lake, a four-person play that explores the mysterious death of Leah Anderson in 2013 and addresses safety issues for young women and girls in remote Indigenous communities.

The 15-year-old was found murdered along a snowmobile trail outside God’s Lake Narrows, where she lived. She was on her way to skate with friends when she was brutally beaten and left in the snow, and her murder, like those of hundreds of other Indigenous women in Canada, has never been solved. Police said they believed her killer was known to her and likely someone living in the community of about 1,400.

“I was looking for a story idea and was really captivated,” Albright said.

There was an interactive feature with the story that she wanted to watch, but she couldn’t get it to work, Albright said. So she tracked down the filmmaker who created the piece, Kevin Lee Burton, and sent him a message on Facebook.

It turned out Burton, who is from God’s Lake, was also developing a story idea around his community and justice. The two started talking and decided to work together.

Burton was born in Winnipeg, but raised in God’s Lake until he was 15. “That’s when we all have to leave because there’s no high school there,” he said.

He finished school in Winnipeg and later completed the Indigenous filmmaking program at Capilano University. Now an award-winning filmmaker, he has used his community as subject matter before, wanting to share what the small reserve is like for those who would likely never see it.

“A lot of people don’t visit because there are no resources and no access. The only white people there are the ones that do ‘white people jobs,’ like teacher or nurse,” Burton said.

Multimedia projects give a sense of the people in the community and the struggles they face — everything from meeting basic needs such as food and water to dealing with the effects of residential-school abuse.

“I started to build a story about the resilience of the people, how they make the inhabitable habitable and really can turn shit into gold.”

Burton connected Albright with members in the community, whom she spoke to by phone, and then visited in the God’s Lake region three times over the past year.

“It was crucial to connect with Leah’s family and get their permission,” said Albright.

“I met dozens of people and did a lot of interviews.”

The pair also brought in Victoria theatre director Britt Small to work on the project and received development funding from the province and capital region, as well as through a social-media campaign.

“We started to look at the context of Leah’s story, what happened to her, the role of caregivers and the systems and institutions that disrupt communities,” Burton said.

The result is the four-person play, featuring young First Nations actors from across the country, and dialogue based on interviews with people from the community.

Albright said she hopes the play reflects the experience of being in God’s Lake Narrows and the people there. “It opened my eyes to Indigenous issues,” she said.

As with all his creative endeavours, Burton said he hopes the play humanizes his community as “a collection of individuals with a lot of strength.”

They hope to continue working on the play for future presentations in B.C. and beyond.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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