Welcome to this week's episode of #ForWhatitsWorthwithBlakeMelnick called #TruthRegeneration&IndigenousWaysofKnowing with my guest Lee Jay Bamberry of the #YOUTheatreMovement
My guest on #forwhatitsworth is a member of the #Micmac Band
His recent desire to probe more deeply into his #indigenousheritage has resulted in a remarkable personal journey of #discovery, #truth, #healing, and the desire for #Praxis - to make tacit knowledge explicit through action; to begin the healing process, and foster #regeneration among #firstnationcommunities across this country.
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[00:00:00] Blake Melnick: In 2021, we were all made aware of the discovery of mass graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The discovery was made possible through the use of advanced ground radar technology. An estimated 215 remains of children were discovered. The discovery prompted global shock and outrage.
[00:00:54] And much of this anger was directed at the federal government and the Catholic church, who [00:01:00] the public felt were complicit in hiding the truth about residential schools. On Friday, April 1st, 2022, the Pope made a historic public apology, acknowledging the role of the church in the atrocities which occurred at the residential schools.
[00:01:17] “I wanted to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry,” Pope Francis said. “And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking for your pardon.” Many First Nations leaders and survivors of the residential school system felt uplifted by the apology. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the BC Indian Chiefs, stated that “Friday's events made it a great day for all Canadians,”
[00:01:44] saying, “all the issues of anger, guilt, resentment, and shame now have a chance to be dealt with through the apology and forgiveness. Today is a day for celebration, “Phillip said.” I think that the apology and what that represents [00:02:00] is an opportunity for all Canadians to begin to know and understand we are truly family. We are in this together and we need to lift each other up, hold each other up, and create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
However, many survivors said the apology didn't go far enough, and must be followed by action to help intergenerational survivors of the residential school system.
[00:02:25] The Truth and Reconciliation Committee was established in 2008 and ran until 2015. It was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. Their mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee documented the truth of survivors, their families, communities, and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience.
[00:02:57] The Truth and Reconciliation approach is a [00:03:00] form of restorative justice. Restorative justice aims to heal relationships between offenders, victims, and the community in which an offense takes place. But what does this all mean? What concrete steps do we take as individuals, and as a nation?
It is common for us all to hear in advance of every public event [00:03:23] the acknowledgement that we sit on unceded land of First Nations. Is this acknowledgement enough? How do we begin the healing process within the First Nations communities themselves? We can't change the past, but we can help shape the future. As someone who has devoted his career to education and knowledge, I was particularly taken by the following part of Pope Francis’ address to the First Nation leaders: “First, you care for the land, which you see not as a resource to be exploited, but as a [00:04:00] gift of heaven. For you, the land preserves the memory of your ancestors who rest there.
[00:04:06] It is a vital setting, making it possible to see each individual's life as part of a greater web of relationships: with the Creator, with the human community, with all living species and with the earth, our common home. All this leads you to seek interior and exterior harmony, to show great love for the family, and to possess a lively sense of community.
[00:04:32] Then too, there are the particular riches of your languages, your cultures, your traditions, and your forms of art. These represent a patrimony that belongs not only to you, but to all of humanity, for they are expressions of our common humanity.”
[00:04:50] Pope Francis is recognizing the value and importance of community, achieved through the preservation and transfer of knowledge and know-how [00:05:00] that's captured within cultural rituals, stories, theater, music, natural health remedies, food and conversation with elders.
[00:05:10] My guest on For What It's Worth is a member of the Mi’kmaq Band.
[00:05:14] His recent desire to probe more deeply into his Indigenous heritage has resulted in a remarkable personal journey of self-discovery, healing, and the desire for Praxis: to make tacit knowledge explicit through action; to begin the healing process and foster regeneration amongst First Nation communities across this country.
[00:05:37] Welcome to this week's episode of For What It's Worth called “Truth, Regeneration, and Indigenous Ways of Knowing” with my guest, Lee Jay Bamberry of the Youtheatre Movement.
[00:05:48] Lee Jay, it's so nice to have you on the show. I'm really excited to talk to you about your new initiative. But before we get to that, I always like to give our listeners a bit of background on our guests.
[00:05:59] So [00:06:00] I'd like to begin there. When we first connected, I think we shared a commonality of backgrounds. You and I both have a lot of experience in theater, and teaching, and writing. So, tell me about your career as a writer, as a teacher––you were in television and film for a long period of time as well––let's talk a little bit about that.
[00:06:20] Lee Jay Bamberry: Blake, it's really great to be here––super fantastic that we connected the way we did. A little bit of background on where I come from: I was born in Vancouver, raised in Montreal; theatrically trained; spent summers in New Brunswick with my grandmother and grandfather in Mi’kmaq Nation there in Burnt Church, New Brunswick, and studied as an actor and writer; then came out west to pursue my career in theater and film and television, and soon got, I guess, disenchanted with the film and TV industry, despite a decent run, and have reverted to [00:07:00] my original love of theater and of story. And I've years of teaching senior youth, young adults, the oldest art form that I know, storytelling, and wanting to just invest in the future by somehow encouraging them and inspiring them to uncover their story, and perhaps take a look around at the world and see how we can respond to the call on our life.
[00:07:27] Blake Melnick: We talked about this, but you are of First Nations heritage. But that was a fairly recent discovery for you, was it not?
[00:07:34] Lee Jay Bamberry: I've always known that my grandmother was of the Mi’kmaq, full-blood. My grandfather was a third, so it makes me somewhere in between a third, maybe a little bit less than a third, Mi’kmaq. And so the summers that I spent on the, what is called the reserve or community, showed up as the white boy from the mainland. I spent about seven to [00:08:00] ten years there. I remember my grandmother and her sister were separated, with the residential schools. And at the time I didn't tune-in, being a young boy and all, but later on learned that they were separated. And it was about 15, 20 years before they were reunited again.
[00:08:16] And it was quite the celebration. My grandmother, Sarah Bernard, is one of the last princesses of our nation,
Blake Melnick: Wow.
Lee Jay Bamberry: there. So, when I would show up, I was off limits. Anyone who touched me would have to deal with the Bernard family.
[00:08:31] Blake Melnick: It's fascinating because––the residential schools and the horror that we've all been made aware of with the mass graves at various residential schools across the country––my own experience growing up, a lot of this was never really made clear to us. Certainly, it wasn't to me. In school I knew about the residential schools, we knew about reservations, but it just seemed so far removed. It's almost as if it was pushed away and we really didn't [00:09:00] know what was going on.
[00:09:00] Lee Jay Bamberry: It's true. We also kind of put it from us. The fact that I did not receive my full status until about 5, 6 years ago- I was standing in my kitchen and opening this letter because we needed to get signed off by the Chief- So, we tried to get my full status for a number of years and I kind of gave up on it. In fact, some First Nation people think that they don't need to have status, that the white people need to have status cards-
[00:09:29] Blake Melnick: -That’s interesting.
[00:09:31] -Finally, I'm in my kitchen. I opened up this package from First Nation Indian and Northern Affairs, and I'm standing in my kitchen and I have this full-status card in my hands. I guess my mom had gone through the whole process of long-form birth certificate, a lot of red tape, and I felt like a mantle had come over me when I was looking at this card at the ripe age of 45.
[00:09:53] And thinking to myself, what are you going to do now? I felt that there was this voice saying, “What of [00:10:00] it?” And so I did what any writer would do, is start to investigate. So, I went to investigate what it was all about. And downtown Vancouver, they have a public library.
[00:10:12] I never knew there was a seventh floor to this public library. For me, it only went up to the fifth floor. But, if you actually end up going to the seventh floor of the Vancouver Public Library, you have to go through two sets of doors. And you go through one set of door, and then you make sure that door is closed behind you.
[00:10:28] And then behind the second set of doors is a hermetically sealed area, where there's a person there and very happy to see you walk in because no one's there. And I was introduced to reels and reels of microfiche files that were found online and then other sections.
[00:10:44] So I started digging into the research of what was really going on, the untold story, and found reels of stories tying into Mackenzie King, tying into his involvement with eugenics, [00:11:00] exchanging ideas with Berlin at the time, and just started feeling this overwhelming sense of grief.
[00:11:09] And, I had to do something. I had to show up with my two fish and loaves of bread and have a contribution to the world somehow. And the only way I could do that was through writing. So, after my weeks of research, I started writing a play. And that's where we sit today: finally, producing and touring this play called Complicit.
[00:11:29] Blake Melnick: Yeah. Let's talk about that. You just opened that at the Jericho Theater.
[00:11:33] Lee Jay Bamberry: Yeah. We had three-week run. Just to kind of backtrack a little bit, I go to different coffee shops and do writing, and I was in one coffee shop back in 2019, and I came up for air, and there was a lady sitting at the end of the table. And I just started talking with her. She didn't look like she was from these parts. And she said that she was from Texas. And I'm like, oh, Texas, you're a long way from home. She goes, yeah, she leads a team of what, 23 people, with a certain technology that our government didn't [00:12:00] have. She was spearheading this team.
[00:12:02] So I kind of stopped the story that I was writing, which at the time was Complicit. And I started listening to her story. And the technology that she was working with our government officials and RCMP, was a technology that determines if there's human remains underground. And for about a half an hour I listened to her, about what she was doing with this technology.
[00:12:24] And, two years later when Kamloops story broke, the 215 unmarked graves, I went back to my notes of that conversation and lo and behold almost verbatim was the entire scenario that was uncovered. And I have it in my journal of stories that I need to write. And that's one of them.
[00:12:41] So, that for me was confirmation that this is a story that needs to be written. The play itself is not a true story as such. It's actually twelve true stories, weaving stories that I've found in my research. Actual accounts, actual names, places, and just [00:13:00] wove an “untold tale,” as we call it, that is meant to raise awareness and conversation with all types of audiences––First Nation, non-First Nation. Jericho run was amazing. We just finished it; had three weeks there, and now we're embarking upon a two-week tour within schools and churches.
[00:13:18] Blake Melnick: And so, what was the reaction from the audience that saw the play at the Jericho Theater, what was their reaction? Do you get a sense of how they were impacted by what they saw or what they heard?
[00:13:29] Lee Jay Bamberry: There were a number of types of audience members. There were the First Nation people that were young that wanted to see what was all about. There was a First Nation people that were older that actually were residential school survivors and they came, and then non-First Nation people. I found that, the First Nation people, the Indigenous, older generation elders that would come; I would speak to them after the show, and they weren't triggered so much as they were remembering [00:14:00] some of their own memories. And I didn't know how it was going to be received.
[00:14:04] We have a senior Elder on our board who was a residential school survivor, Bill Beauregard, and we ran the whole play through him. He worked for the government and processed 1200 applications of residential school survivors. So, he heard 1200 stories and had to process those applications.
[00:14:23] So we ran our play through him just to make sure that the historical reference and account and the characters were lined up, that it was sound. I didn't want it to offend anyone. Anyways, the elders that did see the play, it was kind of a pregnant pause; I didn't know what to expect. And this happened on a couple of nights.
And they actually ended up thanking me. Not because I was opening their eyes to anything, but that I was opening the eyes of those who don't know. It was like, we're taking ownership of what happened. And many Indigenous––and I'm connected to Musqueam, Squamish, Tseil-Wau-Tuth, Coquitlam, here in the lower mainland in British Columbia––and time and time again, we hear about Truth and Reconciliation, the word pairing that's bandied about. The one thing that I'm hearing from First Nation elders and people is that before you can get to the reconciliation, we have to get to the truth.
[00:15:18] And I'm hearing that this play allows white people, for lack of better term, to take ownership of what went on; some of the historical accounts that were swept under the rug that no one knows about.
[00:15:33] We don't put the diabolical atrocity on stage; I don't think that's appropriate. And it was appreciated by some of our audience members. Even the white people, saw that and, “I never knew that, I never knew that.” And then the junior audiences; we've had some schools come in and they've been really appreciative.
[00:15:51] So if it spawns any conversation moving forward into homes and friends and families, then we're doing our job.
[00:16:00] Blake Melnick: Part of what you're doing is raising awareness about residential schools, about First Nations cultural heritage, and hopefully this will then lead to a change within Canada's education system. You know, we have Black History Month where we celebrate the history of Blacks in North America. And perhaps we need to do the same thing with First Nations.
[00:16:19] Young people need to have this as part of their education experience. I think that's something that's been missing; it certainly was for me growing up. We didn't spend a lot of time in history class talking about First Nations peoples, their culture, knowledge, experience, wisdom, or contributions. I recall in history textbooks, there was some grainy black and white photo of a residential school.
[00:16:40] My teachers talked about residential schools. But I think for me as a young boy, it was just that ‘First Nations peoples went to residential schools’. And that was really the only connection. There were no details about what was actually going on within these schools.
[00:16:56] I think what you're doing actually allows this to come to [00:17:00] the surface, and hopefully these stories, not just the horrors of residential schools, but the history and the positive cultural contributions of First Nations to the fabric of this country. And I hope this weaves its way into the curriculum for all children in Canada.
[00:17:15] Lee Jay Bamberry: That is one of the 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report that, in order for us to see change, we need to start seeing it in the fabric of our history books, to see it in the classrooms. And we are seeing it a little bit, on some level.
[00:17:31] But it's a weak attempt. It's like, Lord of the Rings when we're on the timeline of trees. We're waiting, we're waiting, and there's a war going on. Come on. But there is- there's a struggle going on. Because Canada has had its mask pulled off. That this nice nation that everyone has grown to love, with rosy colored cheek, and warm and fuzzies; there's actually the layers of––I don't know [00:18:00] what to call it without being critical, but- so the Truth and Reconciliation 94 Calls to Action seems to be more of: we've put it out there, but if we don't do anything, nothing will come of it, and it'll get swept under the rug again.
[00:18:14] That's one thing that people can take ownership of is start learning for themselves and start owning some of what they are pouring into their heads. And not allowing the media to simply tell them what they need to learn, or tell them what they need to know. Go and take the initiative; go to the seventh floor of the public library of the national archives and look into it yourself.
[00:18:35] So people like myself and others, who do feel the call on their life to preserve story, to preserve the culture, we are going into schools and we're doing a beading workshop, drum making workshops, wool weaving. We have a team of elders who we can get plugged into different schools for Aboriginal Day and have a series of workshops going on from lacrosse straight through to [00:19:00] tanning.
[00:19:00] So that's part of it. And I think we're taking steps in the right direction. Just need to get that momentum going a little bit further. And I do think that there's awareness, I think there is change going forward, and I feel hopeful for the future.
[00:19:14] Blake Melnick: Well, people like yourself, launching this initiative––and we're going to jump into talk about this in more detail––that's what it takes.
[00:19:20] It takes a lot of people making those efforts, making a contribution, raising awareness. You've talked about the play, Complicit, that just launched, and it was a series of vignettes––12 of them you said––but- stories are really important, right? They're important to you, I know, as a writer and as a creative, artistic person; but they're also really important to First Nations communities. It's one of the key ways knowledge is transferred from one generation to the other. So, let's talk about stories. Why are stories so important, both to you and to, again, raising awareness of First Nations culture, history, [00:20:00] knowledge, so that we can actually use that knowledge collectively. When I say we, I mean the country; we can use all of this valuable knowledge, which I think a lot of us are just unaware of.
[00:20:10] Lee Jay Bamberry: Definitely. Storytelling is the oldest of all the art forms. It predates written history, and it's no different with First Nation culture. We believe that every time an elder dies, a library dies with them. And how are we going to preserve this culture? Each area has a unique landscape for Indigenous people. The herbs and bushes and shrubs and all of that,
[00:20:39] there's an innate genius: they know how to heal and how to preserve themselves medicinally, and spiritually as well. So, that needs to be preserved. Also, unique to the area is the type of food that was historically in the area; some tribes didn't hunt moose because there was no moose.
[00:20:59] Each [00:21:00] area has certain herbs, certain animals that they would hunt and use, the full animal. And then folklore, and how these stories, were translated down the centuries. Kind of why we want to take it to the 21st century- of course, orally is always the best way, and then writing it down.
[00:21:21] One day, if someone pulls the plug on the internet any kind of media is like, where is it? So, writing it down is still very important. I believe that preserving stories with elders and communities, so as we travel with this play and we meet with First Nation communities, we're going to hopefully empower the youth of these areas to take an interest in elders' stories, the stories that have been brought down, and preserve them through media. So, filming or just recording grandmother, grandfather, and because I can only be in one place at one time. But really if we leave [00:22:00] behind some equipment and some wherewithal and some inspiration, then youth and young adults, even a student of 50 years old, can take an interest in these stories and preserve them.
[00:22:13] Blake Melnick: I want to provide a bit of an overview before we move into talking about Youtheater. You've discovered your First Nation status. You got your First Nations card status card. What's it called? What's the document called?
[00:22:25] Lee Jay Bamberry: It's the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs. So, the word Indian is still on that card
[00:22:31] Blake Melnick: Still on there? Isn’t that interesting.
[00:22:32] Lee Jay Bamberry: It's still on there. And it's referred to as “Full-Status”
[00:22:36] Blake Melnick: So you get this, and of course your background as a writer and a teacher, and, in film and television, and then you say, okay, well now I'm delving into my history. I'm learning a lot, I'm going to the library, I'm reading about things that I was unaware of. So, from that, you created this organization, called Youtheater, correct? [00:23:00] What is the name all about and why did you choose that name?
[00:23:04] Lee Jay Bamberry: Well, we had spent some time in Prince George. For the last 10 years, I write people plays.
[00:23:10] So we wrote a play about the opioid crisis and toured that that throughout the lower mainland in 2017, when BC declared a public state of health emergency.
[00:23:18] And then we toured a play to Prince George surrounding trafficking and abduction. And that was right throughout the Highway of Tears. While we were in Prince George, I was inspired to write a play about the residential schools and that whole chapter.
[00:23:33] And so we had spent some time north of Prince George in a small little community called Tsay Keh Dene. There's only one road up; it's a 247 kilometers, I think, up a dirt logging road. You need 10-ply tires and a CB announcing your way up every two kilometers, because every two kilometers coming down, there's a logging truck that you need to get out of the way for.
[00:23:57] It was kind of a dangerous road up there. Finally get up there and I'm just making dinners and just having a drama workshop. Met with, about eight, eight children. And then by the end of the two weeks, there were about 25 kids there. So, I met a lot of kids that were bright-eyed and they had passion and they wanted to tell a story. And that was like youthful exuberance. And I met a lot of women, and we did a lot of cooking and a lot of singing. And then it dawned on me: where are the men? And “oh, they're home.” And, “oh, okay.” And so I finally met some of the men and I realized what was happening was in an identity crisis because having spoken to them, they're like, “Well, we used to hunt. We used to take our youth and we used to hunt moose.
[00:24:40] And now the moose has moved on. So anyways, the general store sells the meat now.”. And then, Tsay Keh Dene owns the logging company there. And they were known for making log homes. Little Wolf is growing up and he needs a home, he's going to marry, and they build him a home. And they build them a home, and then another home, and then they [00:25:00] build homes. And that was part of their identity.
[00:25:03] So, they don't have to hunt meat and they don't have to build homes. And so there is an identity crisis. So they stay home and they drink. And then it starts to perpetuate itself, as you can imagine. I had a hard time getting through to the 40, 50, 60-year-old men and women that were disenchanted, who were holding onto something that they were not willing to let go.
[00:25:24] And then vice sets in, and then I realized, you know what, the 25 kids that come out to our drama story-based workshops every day were the ones that I wanted to invest my time in. And so that's why we called ourselves Youtheater.
[00:25:40] Blake Melnick: That makes complete sense to me. They’re the next generation, and now that we have more knowledge about what was going on in the residential schools, having young people actually looking at that, talking about that, trying to figure out how to make sense of that going forward.
[00:25:57] I agree with you. So, your focus [00:26:00] is really on young people, yes?
[00:26:01] Lee Jay Bamberry: It really is. We do story workshops where we invite. a collection of people; some are shy and they don't want to be there, but they're interested to see what's going to happen. There's other people that are bold and passionate and they're the ones that try to get the limelight all the time.
[00:26:15] And then you've got older people that just want to sit in just to make sure that this is all cool. And so, we draw on the talent of those participants that show up. “You know what? You don't have to say anything you like painting you paint. You're going to paint the backdrop here.
[00:26:30] Oh, you don't want to act? Maybe you drum.” So we'll get one person painting, one person drumming, and that person's going to start moving. This person's bringing some regalia ,and this person's going to sing and that person's going to act. And we're going to weave together, a collection of stories and we're going to pull together what we call a collective creation, and it'd be a 15 minute presentation that we're all going to feel good about ourselves.
[00:26:51] We're all going to build one another up in great morale, but we call it Praxis because it's not meant to just stay within our four walls. And [00:27:00] that's why there's a touring element. So we pull together this collective creation. 15-minute presentation, pulling together everyone's talents. And then we show it to the community:
[00:27:10] this is what we've been working on all week. And it's amazing. It instills confidence and morale within the group. And it instills morale within the community.
[00:27:18] Blake Melnick: And it creates value for the individuals involved. They've committed their time and energies to doing this, and there's an outcome. And you and I have talked about this, the transformative nature of theater, it truly is remarkable.
[00:27:32] And I love the term Praxis, by the way; I used it in a meeting today, because I think it's that outcome that's really important. Without the outcome, it just becomes an exercise. If there's an outcome, it's almost like having skin in the game because you know that somebody is going to be looking at it.
[00:27:51] Somebody's going to be listening to what you say or what you play or looking at what you draw. I think that's really important for young people. It's a [00:28:00] validation process and so I love that. I think that's absolutely critical. And of course, it's a wonderful knowledge transfer strategy, because we've been talking about stories and the importance of passing along that knowledge, but you're doing it in a way that it's more tangible, or more archivable. You're able then to take these things and push them out to a broader audience that can learn from them as well. And I think that is super cool.
[00:28:28] Lee Jay Bamberry: I'm just going to interject there and piggyback off that: our senior youth, young adults, we're a part of the solution. We're a small cog in the wheel, but we feel like we're part of something that's larger than ourselves.
[00:28:40] That means something, right? So ot taking anything away with that TikTok dancers and all that sort of thing, but we feel like we're a part of something significant, something profound. We're involved in moving forward. And that gives young people hope.
[00:28:56] It gives young people the knowledge that they have a voice, a [00:29:00] voice that can be used. And it's also community. That is so huge; community, communitc community. Back in the day, we had social media––it was called going outside.
[00:29:11] Blake Melnick: I forgotten that part.
[00:29:13] Lee Jay Bamberry: In community, you can't be left to your own devices, dejected in the corner with social anxiety or depression. Because you're in community, you get pulled up, saying “Johnny, what's going on?” “Well, I'm dealing with this.” “Well, you've got to talk to Blake. Blake, he's dealt with that sort of thing.” And we help process our problems.
[00:29:32] We help to deal with it and bring understanding in community. That's so part of what we do is we bring together people that are for the community and by the community, and give people this sense of, “I belong and accepted for who I am. I don't have to have it all together.
[00:29:51] I don't have to be wonderful, talented in this area. Only I can participate and contribute in my way.” And it's bit of the fabric, man; the [00:30:00] fabric of community is weakening. I see it when people are walking around on their cell phones and devices, and we're feeding ourselves a newsfeed that may not have any interal value.
[00:30:11] Blake Melnick: Right.
[00:30:11] Lee Jay Bamberry: So when we see young adults, senior youth, come together, they're alive. They will move forward with an experience and a memory, and they'll change their life.
[00:30:22] Blake Melnick: I couldn't agree with you more. What you're doing is quite cathartic for people within that community as well.
[00:30:27] Recognizing that there are others that may share their pain or have different issues or different pain points than they have, but making that visible, transparent, allowing the community to come together to help to heal is super important. So, let me ask you: what's your vision for Youtheatre? What does ‘good’ look like? If you could have it go any way you want it, what would the result be?
[00:30:51] Lee Jay Bamberry: You know, the reason why we chose the word “movement” is because it's not just an event, it's not [00:31:00] just an activity, it's not just a fleeting time together. We want there to be a movement. And we've driven in a stake into the ground here in British Columbia on the Pacific shores of the unceded territory of Musqueam, Tseil-Wau-Tuth, and Squamish. And there's actually going to be 94 stakes. One for each Call to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation. But the stakes themselves signify Truth and Regeneration.
[00:31:30] And our vision basically is to drive stakes into the ground into kindred communities. Here, we've got invitations to Prince George and Alberta and Saskatchewan, Manitoba. We actually have vision to visit the Atlantic shores of this country. The shores where my relatives are buried and still reside.
[00:31:55] And we picture an invisible thread joining [00:32:00] all the communities from Pacific coast to Atlantic coast and every stake in between, calling people to stand together under one common bond for Truth and Regeneration.
[00:32:12] Blake Melnick: You know, I love the term regeneration as opposed to reconciliation. Reconciliation feels passive, you know? Okay. We've reconciled, it's over. Whereas regeneration is active and ongoing with purpose. Like you're moving towards a more positive future.
[00:32:26] Lee Jay Bamberry: Yeah, we do too. It's growing; it's reviving; it's rejuvenating. Reconciliation implies forgiveness.
[00:32:35] And you can't demand forgiveness. Like we said earlier, you can't get to the reconciliation until you get to the truth. And I think the Indigenous people that I've been speaking to, they've been saying, “we are healing. We are forgiving. We are restoring, on our part, but how are you owning it?
[00:32:54] Where is the remorse on the other side?” Reconciliation implies two parties coming [00:33:00] together and making amends and having forgiveness and atoning for something that went wrong. I believe in reconciliation, but it's not something that is just going to come. Because we can't force someone to forgive. So, what regeneration is, we're going to stand together with our brothers, our sisters. One of the initiatives of Youtheater is having Bannock Fest. And Bannock Fest is going to create community. Bannock Fest is simply a friendly competition amongst some tribes that get together to see who's going to make the best bannock that year.
[00:33:34] We're getting calls going, “Hey, I hear you're having Bannock Fest, don't forget about us.” And is it Bannock or is it fry bread? And what about Indian tacos? And so, it starting to blow up a little bit, but this is part of how we do the regeneration.
[00:33:48] We're moving forward with community. We're celebrating, Indigenous cuisine, culture, and community.
[00:33:54] Blake Melnick: Let's talk about that, because you're about to embark, or I guess you already have started, this remarkable [00:34:00] journey. And, as you talked about moving from the Pacific Ocean over to the Atlantic Ocean. So, let's talk about that. How's that journey going to unfold? What do you expect to do? You're going to visit First Nations communities along route, and you're going to plant the stakes, but tell us what these events are going to look like. What can people expect? And I know that a lot of what people might see from this will be what you produce in your videos, but what can we look forward to, seeing what's the Praxis?
[00:34:30] Lee Jay Bamberry: Youtheatre is just about to become a charitable organization recognized as a charity of the educational variety. We have three areas that we stand on. One is a live performance, one is Praxis workshops, and the other one is community events.
[00:34:47] So our live productions, our play that we bring, and we raise awareness. It's an evening of drama and discussion. Because there's always a Q&A talkback forum afterwards, and we don't only want to have a [00:35:00] one-sided conversation. So, we're going to be inviting other communities that we're going to be going to saying, “Hey, we're going to be there in two or three months.
[00:35:08] We have a story that we'd like to share, but we'd like to sit in on your story. Do you have a choir or a presentation or a play that you'd like to share with us, and we call it an exchange?” So that's the live performance aspect. The other aspect is the Praxis workshops. Praxis being a bit more than practice.
[00:35:29] It's writing a book so that it's published. It's music ensemble so that it's actually recited or seen by an audience, or “we're doing this play so that it's going to be produced.” So, the Praxis workshops allow us to have hands-on training and inspiring and encouraging and bringing people's talents to the forefront artistically.
[00:35:49] And then thirdly, the community events are events like the Bannock Fest. Going, “Hey, while we're here, let's have some Bannock Fest, because Judy makes some great bannock and [00:36:00] so does Mary and Vern and Fred, and we're going to have a little friendly competition.” So, that's an example of a community event where people are coming together and celebrating.
[00:36:09] So we're hoping to roll this out in the fall. It's got a school component, so we go to schools, and we have our play and our talkbacks at schools, and then we visit the communities where we're going to be doing some filming and some media archiving for our documentary process, and training young people there.
[00:36:28] And then we're going to be partnering with whoever wants to stand with us for this Truth and Regeneration, and probably have a stake ceremony.
[00:36:38] Blake Melnick: So, you're going to go to communities, and you're going to basically act as an archivist, a curator of their knowledge. You're going to actually film music, you're going to do a walk with the elders, you're going to focus on herbs and medicines, food; all of this elements of the culture of that [00:37:00] community. And then you're going to take what you've got there––and of course you're not going to be able to get it all because in a lot of the things you just talked about, it's going to take them some time to write the book or produce the play. How are you going to pick up afterwards? In other words, you've gone to a community, you've started them down this road; you're going to film, I gather, at each of these events, you'll take that forward to the next community you visit, I assume. But how are you going to pick up the stuff that you can't get right then and there at the event? How are you going to go back?
[00:37:31] Lee Jay Bamberry: Yeah, that's the ongoing support. It's great to come in and be that Iceman cometh that brings forth some temporary refreshment; it's got to be sustainable. And, I think envisioning people along the way to continue the story. I want to envision people to tell their story, to inspire story, to be their story.
[00:37:53] And when we do that for ourselves, we're doing it for everyone around us. We liberate others to be inspired. [00:38:00] And so, we will check back. I think that where there's chemistry, where there's relationship- like right now, there are brothers and sisters right across this land that you'll never meet unless they come to you, or you go to them.
[00:38:15] Unless we get out of the boat and actually start walking on water. We want to meet our brothers and sisters. I expect to be in kitchens of spiritual moms and dads who are going to be hugging us and wishing us well and praying for us, for our journeys and introducing us to the next city. “Oh, you're going to Revelstoke? You’ve got to look up Nancy.” We're going to meet so many people that once we connect with someone who's kindred, as you know, once you're in, you're in for life. And through love, we're going to go back and say, “how's it going?” Like Bannock Fest is actually intended to be an annual thing.
[00:38:53] So we're hoping that we can raise enough funds to be able to leave some camera [00:39:00] gear and some editing gear behind. We're hoping to raise enough funds so that we can help cultivate that talent that's there, even when we're not around, and that accountability of coming back and saying, “Hey, we left you at Camera and some great ideas and some inspiration.
[00:39:16] What do you got?” Sometimes people need some further prodding and encouraging, and that's what we're there for. It's accountability. We want to walk transparent. We know- you'll have haters, there'll be people that don't jive with you.
[00:39:27] We can't please everyone. And that's fine. But by and large, I think people at the core just want what's best for mankind. And we're just bringing community to a hurting world through food and art and culture.
[00:39:41] Blake Melnick: As you're going to be recording this and capturing a lot of these things that are going on within the community, is there any thought about getting that knowledge out to a broader audience as part of this regenerative process? I keep thinking about the issues we've had around climate and [00:40:00] fires and certainly what has become pretty apparent, and has been talked about extensively in the news, is the management of forests. Indigenous peoples managed our forests for generation upon generation,
[00:40:13] and it's only been recently where they were cut out of the process as ministries took over that, and it's been disastrous. And so there has been a real call to bring the First Nations peoples back in and become directly involved and part of the management of our forests, because their lore, their knowledge far exceeds our own.
[00:40:36] So, that's something that I think most Canadians can relate to the fact that we've done a horrible job of managing our forests. First Nations people did a much better job. They have knowledge that we need. We have to make them part of the process, not some adviser at the side we call when we get into trouble.
[00:40:53] But, we have to turn over a lot of that responsibility, give it back to First Nations. And [00:41:00] so as you're going to go through this journey across the country, you'll invariably come across some incredible nuggets of knowledge, from plants and herbs, to medicines, to foods that people would love to know about. How are you going to make this, all of what you're doing, available? We talked earlier about one of the things that you would love to see happen is that First Nations culture becomes part of the education system, part of the curriculum for every Canadian student. And it seems to me that what you're doing is actually providing a lot of that content that then could be repurposed and integrated into the education system.
[00:41:44] Lee Jay Bamberry: Most certainly, from one standpoint of art. You've got multiple art forms, a one standpoint of ecology. That's another through-line. Politics and law lawmaking is another, teaching is another. I believe that every person has a call on their [00:42:00] life and we want people to be in their lane, in their through call.
[00:42:05] And so my call is to inspire other people and to help, even if they have to stand on my back to get where they need to go. This is what we do. I want to inspire people to go into their field, you know? You're going to look after the environment. I want to inspire you to do that.
[00:42:24] You need to go into practicing law and in politics perhaps? Then how are you going to do that? And so we want to help people to explore and discover who they really are, how they were designed to be. An amazing eye doctor or an amazing arborist, so important. But really, I can't do it for them.
[00:42:42] All I can do is just ignite them, just inspire them, set them on a different tangent. When you look at a compass: north, south, east, and west, or a nautical compass, when you're on one side of the Atlantic ocean, and you're going across the ocean to the Europe side, and you change your [00:43:00] compass one degree; it may not make much of a difference when you get out a few miles off the coast. It's not until you get to the other side of the ocean that that one degree becomes of paramount importance.
[00:43:14] So if we can somehow help the younger generation to adjust their compass even one degree and stay the course and have some accountability and have some inspiration, and a network of people in your corner cheering you on and helping you get there and becoming the best that you can be.
[00:43:34] I don't have stars in my eyes to make a film and touch millions of people. I'm really more grassroots than that. I just want to speak to one community after another. And then if there's three or four people touched to really go into the call on their life then it starting; it will spawn
[00:43:51] I mean our website, we can direct people to our website, and direct people to our Twitter and Instagram, which needs it overall. We never seem to have time to [00:44:00] keep up with that because we're busy putting keys and ignitions and driving into uncharted territory, pioneering.
[00:44:07] Pioneering is a lonely place.
[00:44:09] Blake Melnick: Maybe we can help you with that. I would love to be able to do some regular check-ins with you as you go through this journey from coast to coast. And if there's something that, that you see that's remarkable, or if there are some musicians in a community and you’d like to get them some exposure we can do a short episode on the podcast, a story, anything that we can do to support this oral tradition. I know our listeners would love it. We can have some regular checkpoints and do an update so we can keep our listeners apprised of your journey and what's going on and some of the exciting things that are emerging. I think that would be fascinating for me. It would certainly be fascinating for our listeners, and hopefully drive some broader recognition of what you're doing and bring more support to it.
[00:44:54] Well, we're fast approaching the end of our interview. Lee Jay, how can people find out more about [00:45:00] what you're doing more about Youtheater, and how can people get involved?
[00:45:04] Lee Jay Bamberry: We have our website is at youtheatersociety.com. It should be pretty easy to find. On that website we have links to all of our social media, so if you wanted to follow us on Instagram, that's great, as well as Twitter. But on that site there too, there's ways that you can make a donation if you wanted to; like I say, pretty soon we'll be a charitable organization. And if we're a charitable organization at that point, then we can issue a tax-deductible receipt, and we'll be able to access funding through foundations so you can partner with us and then stay tuned and receive a regular correspondence.
[00:45:39] Blake Melnick: And we'd love to create some visibility for all of the people that you're meeting along the way and anything that they would have to say, or to share some of their arts or as best we can on the show. We'll be more than happy to do that. Are people from outside the First Nations communities able to visit and bear witness to some of these events as they unfold?
[00:45:58] Lee Jay Bamberry: Definitely. Now that we're [00:46:00] opening up a little bit, schools are open to have matinees in their schools. We’ll perform in theaters and that's when the mass public will come.
[00:46:07] We also have church shows, which are live performances. And churches are really wanting to get communication amongst themselves and amongst their congregation. I feel like there needs to be some ownership on their part as well, and the churches that I've been speaking to are very open and kind of a raw nerve.
[00:46:26] So I'm treading lightly, but 95% of the churches that I'm speaking to want us to come and do a public show on a Friday or Saturday night, where we're going to have an evening of drama and discussion. The next one is at Pemberton Christian Fellowship just outside of Whistler.
[00:46:44] And then there might be another one downtown Vancouver at Ward Memorial. We're working the details on that on April 9th. But on April 2nd, we'll be at Pemberton Christian Church and then April 9th at Ward. We just finished one. And then as we [00:47:00] go traveling, churches are opening up their doors. And that's really a great way for people to kind of step in and have a conversation, a non-combative conversation and a way of regenerating, just human connection, human first and foremost.
[00:47:17] Blake Melnick: Let's say I'm a teacher and I hear about what you're doing, and I want to have your group come into my class or to the school to start these conversations. Are you open to that kind of thing?
[00:47:28] Lee Jay Bamberry: Yeah, we do that. We have the green light in the Vancouver School District. We spoke to the Indigenous point person there and we’re getting into the North Vancouver School District. Vancouver Island, too, has an Indigenous point person that is inviting us in there. We just have to get there.
[00:47:44] Doors are opening. So schools, school performances are primary; church performances are secondary. And then the theatrical run at a theater space is tertiary, but schools is our primary focus because that’s where our youth is.
[00:47:59] Blake Melnick: That where it all has to begin. Well, listen, Lee, I really appreciate your time and coming on the show and discussing your initiative, it's really exciting what you're doing. We'll do our best to raise as much awareness around this as possible. I think it's important that people know that these types of initiatives are going on, and that you are at the forefront of Regeneration within the First Nations communities themselves.
[00:48:20] But clearly your longer-term view is to go beyond that and bring that truth to all Canadians, through various public institutions. That's super important. So, I think you're absolutely right. Everything starts with the truth, and I love the idea of a regeneration. So again, thanks so much for your time today and I'm looking forward to following your journey, and we'll provide our listeners with updates as you're able to do, while you're making your cross-country tour.
[00:48:47] Lee Jay Bamberry: Fantastic. Thanks, Blake, for what you're doing and the mantle that you carry in supporting people like us to have a voice, to have a platform.
[00:48:56] And just knowing that you stand with us. It means a lot to us, and that we're able to check back with you and your team. That makes us feel like we're not alone. We've got people in our corner that support what we're doing. And that means a lot; that there, my friend is community. Well, we'll talk to you real soon.
[00:49:13] Blake Melnick: You bet.
This concludes this week's episode of For What It's Worth, “Truth, Regeneration and Indigenous Ways of Knowing,” with my guest, Lee Jay Bamberry. We'll be checking back with Lee Jay as he continues his journey to create community and build knowledge within and between First Nation communities across this country.
[00:49:33] And for those of you that are interested in finding out more about Lee Jay and Youtheater, please visit our show blog at forwhatit'sworthpodcast.com.
Well, once again, it's time to Pass the Jam. We've been playing songs from our current artist in residence, Heather Gemmell, for all the intros and outros to the show for the past month.
[00:49:53] I hope you've enjoyed her music as much as I have. On the next episode of The Space in Between called “Long-Haired [00:50:00] Country Girl,” the setlist will be playing all of Heather's tunes in their entirety. So, make sure you tune in for this and following that, we'll have the official passing of the jam episode, where Heather will be joining me as a cohost to Pass the Jam to an exciting new artist.
[00:50:16] Join us For What It's Worth.