We welcome Mohawk actor James Dallas Smith to the cast of Native Earth’s new production of Ipperwash by Falen Johnson. Having been part of the first production at Blyth Festival, and Weesageechak Begins to Dance, our annual development festival of Indigenous work, this production will be J.D.’ first full production at Native Earth, as well as his second time working with the acclaimed Six Nations playwright.
“Humour is a defining quality in a character with real depth and dimension. Good writers make it seem natural and not forced. Falen finds a vein of humour for most of her characters that has the rare combination of being both unique and universal. Sometimes tender, sometimes awkward, sometimes biting. She wields humour as a weapon, uses it to dissolve tension and always employs it beautifully to give clear glimpses of what’s going on below the surface.”
“You can’t abuse, poison, and take from someone or something for three quarters of a century and then expect it to heal in less than ten years.”
Ipperwash follows Bea King, an Anishinaabe veteran of the Afghanistan war, who returns to Canada in search of a new life, and soon discovers the devastating history of Camp Ipperwash, the former Canadian military base built on appropriated land.
“Ipperwash has a lot of history. Parts of it are well known, but parts of it are strangely unknown. The biggest surprise for me was how far this community has to go before they and their land are healed. The majority of folks I talked to about this – who live off Stoney or Kettle Point – believe the situation has been solved. But that is not true.”
For over 70 years, the government’s promise to return the land after the war went unfulfilled, and the land is still dangerously contaminated to this day.
“You can’t abuse, poison, and take from someone or something for three quarters of a century and then expect it to heal in less than ten years. Irrevocable damage has been done to these people and this land. There are things that are gone forever.”
Upon watching Ipperwash, J.D. hopes people will understand the scope of the harm done to the communities and their land, and how much more we – as a country and a “civilized society” – have to do to help them get better and ensure this does not happen again.
More tidbits about James-Dallas Smith
What was your first job in theatre?
Heart of a Distant Tribe. Started the week after I graduated Ryerson.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Let go of what you don’t need.
What are your thoughts on addressing political topics through Indigenous art?
I was taught and believe that art – regardless of form or cultural background – is the mirror we hold up to society to examine ourselves. We, as artists, are supposed to tackle uncomfortable ideas that articulate difficult truths or concepts. It’s one of the fundamental reasons good art endures. It challenges us and makes us ask hard questions so we can try to better ourselves.
Who is your Indigenous role model? How do they inspire you?
Jay Silverheels. A pioneer who championed our right to tell our own stories.
What are you reading/listening/watching right now?
Reading: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer.
Listening: U2 [Songs of Experience]
Where is your favourite place to be?
At home with pizza.
What does Indigenous art mean to you?
The distilling of a complex, difficult and spiritually rich history into a single moment.