Drew Hayden Taylor is one busy guy. He bounces into the Jet Fuel, bike helmet in hand, blonde rocker hair flying. He knocks back a huge glass of water, grabs a latte, and then we sit down to speak: quickly.
There's a lot of joking and teasing. When I tell Hayden Taylor that I'm a Metis from Manitoba, he retorts, with a grin, " You know what you call thirty-two Metis in a room?" "No," I reply, knowing I'm being set up. "One full-blooded Indian." I'm laughing.
It's a trope of Native culture. We tease each other, sometimes pretty mercilessly. It's a sign of affection or, as Hayden Taylor calls it, "permitted disrespect."
"I've got three shows on right now," he informs me. "Roseneath Theatre is touring SPIRIT HORSE in south-western and central Ontario. It's the fourth production of that play in six years. Then, GOD AND THE INDIAN opens with Native Earth here, in Toronto on Thursday. Then, I've got a new comedy opening in Saskatoon, CREES IN THE CARIBBEAN."
"What's that about?" I manage to squeeze in a question.
"So a Cree couple is having their 35th wedding anniversary, and their kids pool their money, and send them to a resort in Mexico. It's their first trip abroad: they've never been out of the country. It's a two fish out of water story: classic comedy." He continues: "I write four kinds of plays: theatre for young audiences, comedies, dramas and intellectual satires."
"What kind of play is GOD AND THE INDIAN?"
"It's a drama. Yvette Nolan came to me a couple of years ago, when she was AD at NEPA and said, "I want you to write me a play (for Native Earth) and not one of your comedies. I want a drama: write something darker, more serious, more challenging."
"So I decided to write a play about residential schools and the aftermath."
"Why? Was this part of your experience or your family's?"
"No. I grew up in Curve Lake, just outside of Peterborough. The rez had its own DIA (Department of Indian Affairs) school. I went there, and so did my mom. My mom raised me at Curve Lake. My dad, who was a white guy, took off when I was a baby."
He pauses. "Some kids from Curve Lake did get sent to residential school. It was a punishment for so-called difficult kids. Residential schools have had a universal effect on the entire (1st Nations) community. We still struggle to define normal."
My Metis father also went to school in his own community. He and my mom sent us to Catholic school, which is private in Manitoba. As Hayden Taylor is speaking, I recall the threat, when I was a kid, of being sent to the Christian Brothers, if you were extra-bad. Those kids came door to door, in winter, selling meat. Not all of them were Native, but they all looked cowed, broken, terrified.
In our house, it was a joke. I knew it wouldn't happen to us, but it did happen to people we knew.
Hayden Taylor explains, "Johnny Indian is a woman outside a Tim Horton's in Vancouver. She's an unreliable narrator, a woman who is a substance abuser, who lives on the streets. When she spots her childhood abuser, she follows him to his bishop's office and confronts him. She puts him on trial. He of course, denies he was the one who sexually abused her, he denies everything. She tries to obtain privately, the thing the courts will never get her: the truth, and justice."
He raises the case of Greg Furlong, the former head of the Vancouver Olympics, who was accused by three Aboriginal women of sexually abusing them when they were children. None of the charges could be proven in court. We don't speak about the Gladue case in Alberta, or Pickton, or the missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
There's been a lot of talk in the media this year, in the wake of Ghomeshi, about the difficulty of proving sexual assault allegations. The rest of the country is finally beginning to cop to something Aboriginal people have known for a very long time: a trip to the courts is unlikely to bring much justice, when it's your word against the word of someone with more power.
The play sold out its run at the Firehall in Vancouver, and is going back there for a remount after its Toronto run.
Hayden-Taylor has to go. In addition to his opening night in Toronto, he has a book launch for ME ARTSY, published by Douglas & McIntyre taking place Native Earth's lobby, this Saturday afternoon. It's the third book in a trilogy of essay collections about what it means to be a Native person in contemporary society.
Hayden Taylor is a very reliable narrator on the subject. He has lectured in over 18 countries, at more than 300 universities, "Spreading the gospel of Native literature," he says, with a big smile. ME ARTSY is his 26th book.
At the end of our time together, he goes back to GOD AND THE INDIAN. "I'm excited to see the discussion this play generates: around blame, around the legacy of the schools, around reconciliation."
Then he's off on bicycle to his next meeting. Like I said, he's a busy guy.
I can't wait to see the play this weekend.
ME ARTSY has a book launch open to the public from 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM, Saturday May 9th, in the lobby of AKI STUDIO THEATRE, 585 Dundas Street East. Free.
GOD AND THE INDIAN produced by Native Earth Performing Arts, and The Firehall Theatre continues in the AKI STUDIO THEATRE, in the Daniels Spectrum Building ,585 Dundas Street East, Toronto, until May 17th, with performances Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 PM and matinees Sunday at 2:00 pm. For tickets or further information: http://www.nativeearth.ca/