By Gaeil Farrar
About 200 people turned out for the premiere showing of the film Squaw Hall: A Community Remembers and the play Damned If You Do: What If You Don’t? presented in the Gibraltar Room Tuesday evening.
Among those in the audience were Mayor Kerry Cook and Coun. Laurie Walters along with several chiefs from area bands, as well as some of the elders featured in the film.
During the question and answer period following the presentations Cook and others praised the project and several people said the productions should be presented in schools.
George Keener, one of the elders in the film, talked about how he wasted some of his youth in addiction to alcohol and how alcohol and drugs had destroyed the lives of some of his friends.
He encouraged young people to care for one another and not be afraid to be themselves without alcohol and drugs.
He also said that a person’s word is something that is truly their own. “Your word must be firm as stone and last as long,” Keener said.
The film and play are the result of the two-year Squaw Hall Project that has provided youth and some adults with training in performance, writing and media skills. The productions are co-produced by urban ink Productions of Vancouver and Twin Fish Theatre Collective of Nelson in partnership with the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake and the Canadian Mental Health Association — Cariboo Chilcotin branch.
Damned if You Do: What If You Don’t? was written by Mason Rankin, Bobby Rankin, Raeanne Elkins, Taylor Salanski, Chantuu Stump, Taylor Myers, Larissa Myers, Gary Stieman and Juanita Street under the mentorship of playwright and former Williams Lake resident, Nicola Harwood, together with Bessie Wapp, both of the Twin Fish Theatre Collective.
In praising the cast and thanking them for all their hard work, Harwood said it often isn’t easy for people to stand up in front of an audience and put on a play.
Actors are Taylor Myers, Charles Cecil, Conlan Sprickerhoff, Raeanne Elkins, Mutya Macatumpag, Juanita Street, and Gary Stieman.
Words of inspiring First Nation leaders were recorded by Gene Cooper, Bonnie Myers, Sage Birchwater and Jimmy Lulua and incorporated into the sound of the play, which is a powerful story about two First Nations teenagers struggling with family problems and peer pressure.
In the film Raeanne Elkins, Taylor Myers, Larissa Myers, Mason Rankin, Bobby Rankin, Taylor Salanski and Chantuu Stump interviewed and videotaped elders Cecilia De Rose, Doreen Haines, Joan Gentles, Roberta Gilbert, Virginia Gilbert, George Keener, Ken Johnson, Lloyd and Selena Myers, Ralph Phillips, and Roger William about their experiences growing up.
Their interviews are interspersed with historical pictures of elders when they were young, and scenes from early stampedes and the old First Nations dance hall popularly known as Squaw Hall, which originally inspired the project.
The messages from the elders are ones of hope for a brighter future for First Nations youth in spite of past societal wrongs of segregation and residential schools.
The messages encouraged youth to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol and drug abuse, be true to themselves, and find strength in their heritage.
Joan Gentles encouraged First Nations youth to pursue their dreams and goals through education.