In 2004, researchers from the First Nations University of Canada and Concordia University entered into a research partnership with the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) Health Services. Working with the Health Educator, our shared goal was to facilitate “Forum Theatre” workshops (Boal, 1979; Diamond, 2007) for Indigenous youth in the FHQTC area in order to utilize the power of theatre to create a space in which youth could critically examine the choices they made that affected their health.
Our view of health is a holistic one that looks at health issues in Indigenous communities within the context of colonization, which has oppressed and damaged Indigenous peoples’ economic and social systems. Colonization is not just a process that happened in the past, but is ongoing in the present, enacted in relationships of power and privilege that have been constructed historically through many means including war, law, policy, theoretical constructs and the media to name a few. The process of decolonization is central to addressing health issues in Indigenous communities. We see health for Indigenous youth as a decolonizing process in the political act of healing: self through the restoration of autonomous decision making and agency, peer group through development of healthy relationships and shared leadership, and community through co-determined leadership among community members.
We have conducted a number of theatre workshops with the youth in the FQHTC area to address issues of socio-cultural health. The workshops use theatrical processes, both to tell the youth participants’ stories and to represent them in images. Their stories describe how Indigenous youth feel constrained by forces of social control within, and external to, their communities and perceive themselves to lack agency to effect change. We’ve learned that theatre can support decolonization by creating a safe, creative space in which Indigenous youth can free their minds and bodies (Goulet, Linds, Episkenew, and Schmidt 2011).