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Train journey aims to spark First Nations dialogue

Whether your ancestors arrived from the 13 states during the American Revolution or emigrated from overseas last year, all Canadians have reconciliation work to do with First Nations people, says Will Weigler.
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Will Weigler at the Mungo Martin-carved totem poles near the Royal B.C. Museum.

Whether your ancestors arrived from the 13 states during the American Revolution or emigrated from overseas last year, all Canadians have reconciliation work to do with First Nations people, says Will Weigler.

The Victoria playwright, originally from Oregon, hopes to get non-aboriginals across Canada to acknowledge the ways they have benefited from centuries of colonization.

“We make assumptions that we may not even be aware of, based on myths and misunderstanding,” said Weigler, who is part of the Train of Thought, a six-week journey mostly by Via Rail to 20 communities from B.C. to P.E.I., leaving in mid-May. He’ll be joined at various points by 60 members of community-based theatre groups across the country during the journey, funded by various philanthropic groups, along with the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

Participants will have meals and conversations with other artists, native and non-native, about “decolonization” and improving the relationship between First Nations and settler/immigrant cultures.

The Train of Thought builds on the 2013 show From The Heart: Enter into the journey of reconciliation, staged in a 14,000-square-foot indoor labyrinth at Uptown.

In the show, which Weigler co-produced with Kwakwaka’wakw writer Krystal Cook, about 100 non-aboriginal people rotated through 17 songs, performances and shadow theatre.

Weigler hopes his new book on the production, to be launched Thursday at 7 p.m. at First Metropolitan Church, will allow community groups to build their own labyrinths and tell their own stories.

The book is called From the Heart: How 100 Canadians Created an Unconventional Theatre Performance about Reconciliation.

“The point of the show is what we learned in building it,” Weigler said. One performer was a seventh generation Canadian descended from United Empire Loyalists who came to Canada during the American Revolution. She came to understand that her ancestors were given the land of First Nations people who went to fight for Canada against the U.S. “Her family did well because right from the get-go, they were on this land.”

The performances were not about lecturing the audience about what they need to do or their country should do, he said. “It was always about being witnesses to the stories that moved us.”

Weigler said he was originally inspired by Paulette Regan’s 2011 book Unsettling the Settler Within, which argued for the need for non-aboriginals to own up to the way their culture dismissed aboriginal experience.

There is much to be acknowledged, Weigler said. “Reconciliation isn’t a tick box that we’re going to achieve. It’s an ongoing process. It’s a matter of figuring out what we need to do. An invitation to start walking down that road.”

kdedyna@timescolonist.com