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Happy New Year!

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 29, 2020

Well, wasn't that a year? It was a year more to be survived or endured than really lived with any joy or contentment. I've heard it described as building the airplane while you're flying it, and that seems pretty accurate. Do we wear masks or not? What about gloves? Can we congregate or must we isolate? The messages changed as the year we went on, and most of us tried to adapt and do what we could to remain safe ourselves and protect those around us.

How many times did you wash your hands this year? I lost track sometime in March.

For those of us involved in the Stardale girls' program, the year was a balancing act, to put it mildly. How do you support over twenty different girls spread throughout the city during a lockdown? Two lockdowns now, in fact. How do you continue to foster a sense of community, and keep the circle strong, when you cannot physically get together? It would have been easy enough for Helen and her staff and volunteers to shrug their shoulders and throw up their hands and give up for the year (better luck in 2021!) but in fact, just the opposite happened.

Knowing that lockdowns and the resulting isolation would be particularly trying for the girls of the program, they set out on an ambitious program of home visits (of course, following all of the distancing protocols, etc.), along with curbside drop offs of various and sundry goodies and necessities - all of this activity aimed at making the girls feel loved and supported during these very lonely and isolating times.

For those of us working on The Road project, it was a particularly challenging time. There we were, about to embark on the production of a new stage play at the very moment that theatres around the world were shutting down. Making matters worse, the production of the play was to be the cornerstone of a gala fundraising event that was sorely needed to help offset some of the operational expenses of this perennially underfunded organization. No play. No gala. No funds.

I think for those of us who work at Stardale who are not Indigenous, we are driven by a very strong ethos not to be part of the problem. You know, the problem. And so, we do what we can, come hell or high water, to make good on our promises, and to never let these girls down. It's one of the Four Agreements, after all: be impeccable with your word. It's high time (actually, it's way beyond time) for mainstream society to stop making excuses and to honour our commitments to our Indigenous people.

With this in mind, cancelling was never an option for us. Anything but. Adaptation was the key. Fortunately, we had the right people on hand to switch horses midstream, as they say, and create a short film from what started out as a stage play. The text came from the girls - we had created it together in January and February. The film featured girls from the program, along with a very special person in Stardale world, our Elder, Wanda First Rider.

So, in that horrible year that is now mercifully coming to an end, we created the text for a play, we adapted the play for film, we shot the film, we completed the film and released it as well as we could on the Zoom format, and we even won a few awards for our efforts. All of this in a year known more for cancellation than completion.

The best thing about it was that we honoured the work the girls did as well as our promise to have their words heard, and we brought an important subject - the girls' reaction to the sad ongoing situation of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women - to light.

Despite all odds, we seemed to have a pretty good year, considering everything!

As for next year, well - onward and upward! We will find new ways to grow and adapt and we will create a companion piece for The Road. Failure, quitting, giving up, turning our backs, walking away - none of these have ever been options for us. We will meet the challenges of 2021 by using the same spirit with which we faced the uncertainties of 2020.

That said, wouldn't it be great if 2021 was just a little bit easier?

Happy new year, everyone!

No Excuses Given

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 17, 2020

With the warm weather and the lack of snow and being in the grips of a total lockdown this year, it's hard to believe as I write this that a week from now it will be Christmas Eve. If you're like me, you might well be wondering just what joy there is to be found in Christmas this year. Wouldn't it be better just to get the whole thing behind us so we can move and get on with our lives?

Bah! Humbug!

That would be easy enough, just to cancel the whole thing. There's always an excuse not to do something. There are plenty of excuses this year. But excuses don't bring a smile to anyone's face or joy to anyone's heart. If we are going to give up on the value of a smile or the importance of joy this time of year, then I don't know what's left for us as a society. These are not luxuries, these are true essentials.

Helen and her staff and volunteers at Stardale don't subscribe to the theory of excuses. Don't forget, we're the ones who MacGyvered a stage play into a film script and made a movie with a cast of young, inexperienced girls (whose words we used to create the script) and came up with an award winning film! This year, of all years! We had a thousand excuses to give up on the whole project. Who would have blamed us? Yet everyone involved with that film kept it moving forward because we did not accept that letting the girls down and not validating the work they did all winter was a viable option.

Our Indigenous people have been living on a steady diet of excuses and apologies and broken promises since the ink dried on the treaties. We don't agree with this at Stardale. We don't accept a policy of inaction over action. We like to think of our program as one place, at least, where our participants won't come away empty handed, disappointed, fed another excuse of why something didn't happen.

You see the photos we have posted from our visitation to many of our girls' homes. What do you notice the most? The smiles? The joy written plainly across their faces? It's the look anyone can have this time of year, no matter who you are, when you realize that Santa came after all despite the dire circumstances our world finds itself in.

I would submit that the joy you see on our girls' faces has not so much to do with the things they received as with the fact that someone took the time and the trouble to bring them. Maybe that's all any of us needs to be able to feel: some sense of joy and contentment, knowing that someone cares about us. That someone took the time, went to the trouble, drove through the night to do something special for you. Just for you. And that can come from anywhere, from anyone; from family, from friends, from a random act of kindness from a stranger.

What's important is that it comes from someone. This year, as in other years, it came from Helen and her wonderful staff and amazing volunteers.

No excuses given. None needed.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Thank you for reading these blog posts all year and for your ongoing support of the Stardale Program!

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 7, 2020

As our pandemic-weary world lurches towards Christmastime, I hear again and again people saying things like, "Man, I really need Christmas this year, more than ever," or even "Thank God it's Christmastime, I really need a break from the madness!"

Quite right. We all need a break. We all need something good to happen, more than ever. Something special. In the words of Leonard Cohen, "Everybody wants a box of chocolates and a long-stemmed rose," and given that we live in a prosperous city, most people will get what they are hoping for, and more.

But not everyone. Most of the girls of the Stardale program won't get what they were hoping for. A lot of them won't even have a tree in their house, or if they do have one, there will be precious little under it. Why would Christmas be different from any other time of year? Sad to think that there may come a day when they just give up hoping entirely.

Of course, there are the "haves" and the "have-nots." It seems that mainstream society in Canada has learned to live with the fact that in our cities such as Calgary, our Indigenous people will fall into the "have-nots" category - and can live with the fact that even at Christmas, nothing really will change.

When I was young, growing up in Regina, a First Nations family moved onto our street. It was a tough situation. They had a lot of parties, the police were called a lot in those early days, and there was a lot of tension that still exists there today.

One day, I came home from school and found my mom at the kitchen table wrapping some Christmas presents. She didn't try to hide them from me, so I assumed they weren't for me. I asked her who they were for.

"Oh," she said casually, "the people down the street."

"What people down the street?" I asked.

"The Native people," she said.

I could not comprehend why she would do that. She could tell.

My mom said: "You see our beautiful tree there? And all those presents under it, most of them with your name on them? Did you ever stop to think that they don't have any of that in their house?"

What could I say? I obviously hadn't. But I did argue against it by saying, "But mom, it's the party house? Why should we help them?"

My mom had been a school teacher, and was a very patient woman. She said something I have never forgotten. She said, "They came here with nothing. No one ever bothered to show them our customs and traditions, or how we live. So if we don't do it, who will?"

Another time, I caught her going into their house with a pumpkin and a couple of bags of candy at Halloween. That day she taught them how to carve a jack o' lantern. Most people on our block would never have gone into their house. She was quite a lady, my mom Stella. We weren't a wealthy family, but she taught me we can always find it in our hearts to share what we have with others.

I think of her as the Ghost of Christmas Past. I try to live up to her lofty but simple ideals of sharing and welcoming others who are different from us, knowing that deep down inside, we are really all the same.

Back to present day Calgary, Helen and her staff and volunteers are trying to mitigate against this very sad situation that our First Nations girls find themselves in. The good women of Stardale are willing and able to deliver the kinds of things to these girls this year that most of us take for granted: some special things to eat, some brightly wrapped gifts - you know, all those things that taken together create the magic of Christmas. A respite from the grind of these pandemic times.

It's been a tough year for organizations like Stardale. Funds for operations are increasingly scarce and yet I have learned over the years that Helen will carry on, come hell or high water. She is determined to do what she can to give these girls some kind of Christmas, but it won't happen without donations from the people like you who believe in and who support this program.

If we don't do it, who will?

If my mom were still here, I know she would help.

Will you?

Attention Must Be Paid

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 1, 2020

A month out as we look ahead at the holiday season, no clear image appears and we find ourselves faced with a great degree of uncertainty. Not only that, some of us are also feeling a whole range of emotions we don't normally associate with Christmas - fear, dread, frustration and even anger.

Helen and the staff and volunteers at Stardale are aware that during this Christmas season in particular, our girls may find themselves in extraordinarily vulnerable situations. Let's just call it for what it is - a lot of our girls live in houses that Santa seldom finds on his big night out. It's bad enough when things are good with the world; this year feels like a looming disaster.

With this in mind, the women of Stardale are looking for ways to mitigate against the uncertainty of the times and to help give our girls the best Christmas possible. It's a tall order, but it's what we do.

In talking about this the other day, Helen reminded me of a blog post I wrote a number of years ago, back when things were "normal," about the Stardale Christmas party. (It is titled "Attention Must Be Paid" and the original version can be found on my personal blog at eugenestickland.com)

When I wrote it, I was teaching a contemporary drama class at St. Mary's University in Calgary. On the reading list that term was Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman. The expression "attention must be paid" comes from an impassioned speech by the salesman Willy Loman's wife Linda towards the end of the first act:

. . . I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person . . .

These lines rang true for me that year when I attended the Stardale Christmas party, and the rest of my blog post reads as follows:

Attention must be paid. Surely one of the reasons we go to the theatre or study literature is to come across lines like these that transcend their context and possibly become dictums that can influence our behaviour and how we go about living our lives.

But it won't surprise my readers to learn that I am not here to talk about Arthur Miller or Death of a Salesman, at least any more than I already have, other than this idea that attention must be paid.

Last night, I attended the Stardale Aboriginal Girls Christmas party. (I wrote about my teaching experience with the girls in October in the post titled "Do No Harm." You can find it in the archive section on the left side of the screen on eugenestickland.com)

The girls actually got up and performed some improv games. They've been working on theatre and acting with the folks from Verve Theatre and it was impressive that they could get up and perform in front of a bunch of people the way they did. Of some of them, an old theatre gentleman like myself could actually say, "She's got it!"

Their confidence and charm came through in all aspects of the evening. So much care and preparation went into the Stardale Christmas party that when I arrived and saw that all them had dressed up to the nines, I almost felt like running home and putting on my best suit. (If I had a car, I probably would have.)

Many of the girls end up at Stardale after a horrendous journey earlier in their lives that would simply debilitate many of us. I'm sure they have their own bleak moments same as the rest of us. And I know they have many rivers to cross yet as their lives unfold. You have no idea how much I admire them for their courage. But last night, at least for a few hours, everything in the world seemed right.

Looking around the room at the staff and volunteers who help make Stardale work, my eye was always brought back to Helen McPhaden, the Director of Stardale, whose energy and enthusiasm for this program is nothing short of infectious.

I realized last night - and this is why Death of a Salesman and Linda's speech was going through my mind - that Helen more than anything pays attention. Stardale is not a government initiative or a program run by a board of education. It is, more than anything, one extremely well-intended and generous person paying attention to a group of girls that we, as a society, tend to ignore. To our shame. To her credit.

Attention, attention must be paid. And in this case, it is.


I wrote that in a year that was much more hopeful than the year we are in. Of course, there will be no fancy party this year. That doesn't mean that we can stop caring, or stop paying attention. This year more than ever our girls are in need of Christmas and all that it represents.

You can help by making a donation to Stardale, or by offering your services as a volunteer. Or both!

Thanks for reading.

Talking Circles

Written by Eugene Stickland - November 1, 2020

As you know, the Stardale organization created a film this summer called The Road that was awarded "Best Short Documentary" at the Montreal Independent Film Festival. One thing that might be easily overlooked and that I am particularly proud of is the fact that we actually completed a project during a summer that was in so many ways challenging and difficult for all of us.

I suspect not a lot of projects have been completed this year due to the protocols in place and the distracting low-grade anxiety that most of us have been living with since February. Many artists of my acquaintance have complained that it is hard to focus in these pandemic times, given the fear that weighs on all of us, which gives rise to frustration and isolation, even loneliness, fatigue, and a sense of despair that it may never end. We are all dealing with these emotions every day, not just artists. And so we ask ourselves, how are we meant to cope? How do we rise above and keep moving forward?

Creating The Road in this difficult year was, for those of us who had the chance to work on it, a beautiful distraction from the day-to-day drudgery of the pandemic. Receiving an award like we did prolonged the experience. But now that distraction is over. We have patted ourselves on the back and given each other air high-fives. That can only go on so long. And now, it's back to reality.

A few weeks ago, Helen McPhaden took a look around and asked herself, 'How are our girls in the Stardale class coping with this reality, day in, day out? What is it like for them?' In order to find out first hand, Helen, along with our Elder, Wanda First Rider, arranged a talking circle as a way for the girls to talk openly about how life is for them right now.

A talking circle is a deceptively simple idea - at the heart of it, obviously, you sit in a circle and you talk. Chances are, many of our readers will have found themselves in a talking circle somewhere along the road for any of a variety of reasons. It is a very old and time-honoured tradition among Indigenous people, predicated on the energy that is derived from sitting in a circle and the respect given to the person who is speaking. In traditional speaking circles, a sacred object is passed around the circle and held by the person whose turn it is to speak. In our case, this was a beautiful eagle feather provided by Wanda. When the person holding the feather speaks, all the others provide support for the speaker by listening respectfully.

It's quite amazing how simple and effective this is - not to mention how emotional. All of us have a lot of pent-up emotions these days. When given the chance to flow, they really flow. You can only believe that it is a tremendously cathartic experience for all involved.

One of the tenets of the talking circle is that what is said in the circle, what is shared, goes no farther than the circle. It would not be cool at all for me to share anything I heard that night. But I would offer that the experience made me acutely aware of just how fragile and vulnerable these girls really are.

If you are tired of the pandemic, experiencing "pandemic fatigue" as it is known, living as you do in a stable home, with a bit of money in the bank, food in the fridge, bills all paid, well then, imagine how exhausting and depressing this time is for people, like a lot of our girls, who have none of that. Every day, they face the great uncertainty in an often hostile world. It was bad enough before. These days, it can be almost unbearable.

A talking circle won't change any of that. But by hearing and sharing stories that come from the heart, sharing tears even, maybe it will help provide the courage to carry on, knowing we are not alone, we are all in this together. It may even provide the one thing that world is so desperately short of these days: Hope.

Another talking circle is being planned for the near future.

What's In An Award?

Written by Eugene Stickland - October 18, 2020

We were all very thrilled and gratified and maybe even shocked to learn that our film The Road had won an award: Best Short Documentary Film at the Montreal Independent Film Festival. As the reality began to sink in, I think all of us must have offered some words of thanks to the Creator for such recognition.

I have been working in the arts for forty years now. My first play was done in 1978, I believe, in my hometown of Regina. I have won awards before in different areas - theatre, literature, journalism - and I have come to realize that each award comes with its own specific reward. It could be money, or fame, or some extra credibility on your resume - you never know.

And that's all well and good. Life can be tough and there's no crime in stoking your ego or padding your bank account from time to time. But once I began to get my head around the significance of this particular award, I came to realize that its significance goes far above and beyond anything I have been involved in before.

First and foremost, for all of us involved, we are so happy for the girls. That's what it's all about at Stardale - the success and empowerment of the girls who take part in the program. To see the look of pride on their faces, to see them see themselves on the screen, to see that dream of being a movie star come true even for a split second is reward enough in itself. I don't know what effect this project will have on these girls in the future, but I can only believe it will help them believe in themselves a little bit more and maybe even make them believe that they can accomplish anything in their lives that they put their minds to.

Secondly, we have to acknowledge the artistry of Venessa Wenzel and her company, Prairie Kitten, along with Helen Young who directed the girls' performances. Kudos all around. I remember back to our first meeting about this project last summer. Helen and I talked about it and came up with a rough game plan. Helen mentioned that she was interviewing some young filmmakers and asked if I would stick around for the first interview. I did and that's when we met Vanessa.

After she left, I suggested to Helen that she cancel the other interviews and hire Vanessa ASAP. Gut feeling, totally. I had no idea about the quality of her work, but I could tell she was a good person with integrity, and you can never go wrong with that. As it turns out, her work is fantastic.

Third, this award is surely some kind of vindication for Helen McPhaden, along with Dr. Linda Many Guns and our Elder, Wanda First Rider. Helen has been working with Aboriginal women and girls, first in Saskatchewan and now in Alberta, for over thirty-five years. I know there have been times of great frustration and hopelessness, even anger, that after thirty-five years there are still so many deaf ears to this important issue. Finally, it would seem that the world is ready to listen. Finally, it would seem, Helen's dedication and perseverance has been rewarded.

And finally, and most important of all, I feel that this award somehow vindicates the memories of all the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada over the decades. The voice of our girls is strong. They actually say, in the film:

A mass, vast group of native women.
My sisters, my mothers, my daughters.
You will never be forgotten.

The ultimate award, for all of us involved, would be the remembrance of these women, their dignity restored, and the hope that through the words of the Stardale Girls Class of 2020, this intolerable situation will become a distant if unpleasant memory.

The Road Ahead

Written by Eugene Stickland - September 15, 2020

On September 24, 2020, we will present the world premiere of the short film The Road. This presentation will be the culmination of about fifteen months of work for Helen McPhaden and I, going back to an initial brainstorming session at Caffé Beano in June of 2019.

It was at that first meeting, listening to Helen talk about what she hoped to accomplish over the winter, that I had the moment that all artists dream of having but don't always get: the 'Aha!' moment. Helen said that the piece should be some kind of reaction to the findings of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Something clicked inside my mind.

I thought back to a play a friend wrote years ago that had as its subject the "Highway of Tears," that notorious stretch of the Yellowhead Highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia. So many Indigenous girls and women have gone missing or been found dead on that lonely stretch of highway it goes beyond reason.

But then I realized there is also a more symbolic Highway of Tears - it runs through Calgary on the various streets our Stardale girls walk each and every day. It runs through my old neighbourhood in Regina on streets that Maclean's magazine has called for almost twenty years the worst and most dangerous in Canada. It runs through every city and town throughout the country.

Most chilling of all for me, in the split-second of that 'Aha!' moment - the realization this has been going on for a long, long time, and the way things are going, it doesn't look like that situation will change any time soon.

My thinking was pretty clear: we would create a piece about this road, this place where Indigenous girls and women live their lives, and in some cases lose their lives, and we would tell it across time, going back pre-contact (with European culture) into the future. I calmly laid that vision out for Helen and she was right on board. We had an idea. We had a project. What could possibly go wrong?

How we went about creating this story, using the voices of the Stardale participants, was for me to come in for a number of writing sessions where I asked the girls to write down their thoughts on a number of topics. For example, I reminded them that according to recent archaeological discoveries, First Nations people arrived in North America over 14,000 years ago. (The pyramids of Egypt are only 5,000 years old, to put that number in context!)

That was a hard thing for them to get their heads around. Life before cell phones and tablets and TV and electricity and malls and all the rest of it was at some level unimaginable. But we still got some good writing that we were able to use for the piece. Present day problems, realities, bullying, prejudicial attitudes towards them, fears of being raped and/or abducted were sadly much easier for them to talk about, and I hope that process was cathartic for them. I never feel comfortable pushing them too hard for material to use. Many of them are still in junior high school.

What was originally meant to be a stage presentation had to be altered on account of you-know-what. We were determined to tell these stories; letting the girls down and not honouring their work throughout the winter was never an option. We turned to our talented videographer Vanessa Wenzel, recalibrated the writing from stage to screen, and along with girls from the program included appearances by our elder Wanda First Rider and singer Chantel Gagnon. With the help of Helen Young who was our acting coach and the locations and costumes/makeup people at Prairie Kitten Productions, Vanessa created the short film that we will present on September 24.

I saw a rough cut of the film last week. I don't know what I was expecting. I wasn't expecting to cry, but I did. Even though I knew what was coming, even though I had typed every word those girls say in the film, it hit me hard and I cried. I cried for the whole thing of it - this intolerable situation that has gone on far too long, for the spirit of our girls who, untrained as they are, do such a fantastic job on camera, for the determination of Helen and (little) Helen and Vanessa and all the Stardale staff and volunteers who worked so hard throughout the summer holding it all together, not allowing things to fall apart, and in the end having this little gem of a film to share with all of you.

It's quite overwhelming and emotional and very humbling. September 24 happens to be my birthday and sharing this film with the world is the best birthday present I can possibly think of.

The gala premiere of The Road will be presented virtually on Thursday, September 24, 2020 from 4:00PM - 5:30PM (MST). Click here to register.

Countdown To The Premiere!

Written by Eugene Stickland - August 16, 2020

As you may know by now, last summer Helen McPhaden and I got together and envisioned a new project for the Stardale girls to work on over the winter and then present in the spring. The theme of the piece was some kind of representation of the journey of adolescent girls and women as a response to the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. What we hoped to create was a performance piece along the lines of previous pieces we had created over the seven years.

Did anyone's plans made last summer actually work out the way you thought they would this summer? Probably not. Fortunately for The Road project, Helen also hired a videographer, Vanessa Wenzel, to come on this journey with us. When it became clear that the pandemic would make it impossible for us to present a live stage performance, we rejiggered the script from stage to screen and at that point, Vanessa took over, with her company Prairie Kitten Productions. Vanessa was assisted by Helen Young who directed The Make Believer Project for Stardale two years ago.

I had the chance to catch up with Vanessa who has completed shooting all the footage for The Road: The Video and is now hard at work putting together the final version of the video that we will first share with the world at a "gala" screening on September 24, 2020. (Details below.)

Here are some of Vanessa's thoughts and observations on The Road project and the video she has created:

So, Vanessa, when we first started to get together back in January, what were some of your impressions about the Stardale program?

The first time I was there was in October. I was honestly a little nervous about it, trying to fit into the set up they have, coming to circle, and them eating their meal. I was wondering what's the dynamic here? I think I had honestly never met a First Nations girl before. They were all so different. They're kinda shy but they have their talents. Eugene and Helen are able to play to those talents and bring them out.

Before we changed directions, did you have a very clear idea of what you wanted to do to complement the stage play?

I had hired a writer, Kristina Fithern-Steele, to help me write the visual narrative. She is an Indigenous film maker. I wanted to make sure it wasn't just my white perspective. We worked together to go through a bunch of images the girls had given me and that are kinda Stardalesque. For example, representations of a circle. We had lots of water imagery; light, like firelight; and aurora borealis. This was to have been a poetic means of complementing what Eugene and the girls were creating.

What were your thoughts when we decided to shift from stage to video production?

I was excited because in a way I was glad there would be a permanent record. The heart-breaking thing about theatre for me is that once it's over, it's gone and you can't get it back. I was sad about not being able to do the original project Kristina and I had worked on, but I was still able to use some of what we had written in the video.

How was the process of filming?

The pandemic changed the script and the shoot because I was trying to keep the cast and crew to the smallest number of people possible to keep everyone safe. It involved some extra trips to Canadian Tire to get extra disinfectant and masks and gloves and all that. I hired a person every shoot day for safety supervision.

Did you enjoy working with the girls?

It was interesting to see the girls grow even within the filming process. There was a difference even from one day to the next, from someone being quite shy to absolutely nailing it the next day. The girls are great! I want to be their friend and I hope that they can find their way in film or anywhere else in life. I hope this film allows them to have a credit and get a start. They have such a unique perspective!

Anything you'd like to add?

I hope the film does justice to the seriousness and complexity of this issue. And to the girls' perspective of it, through their own words and their portrayal of themselves in the film.

So there you have it. We are excited to share what we have created with the world in September. And we are very pleased that the hard work the girls put into the project over the winter has been captured and will now be seen by a wider audience.

The gala premiere of The Road will be presented virtually on Thursday, September 24, 2020 from 4:00PM - 5:30PM (MST). Click here to register.

We Are Our Stories

Written by Eugene Stickland - July 15, 2020

Hasn't it been an interesting year so far? I use the word "interesting" deliberately, thinking of the old (supposedly, but not) Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times!" Wherever it comes from, it seems appropriate for the year 2020. These are interesting times, and sometimes I wonder whether we are really living or merely surviving.

And yet there have been some developments that may bode well for the future. One of these is surely the advent of the BIPOC movement. From tragic events, including the murders of George Floyd in the US and Chantel Moore in New Brunswick (during a "wellness check" of all things), it feels like a collective and powerful sense of outrage has overflowed like a spring creek gone wild. People are raising their voices and their fists. Old attitudes are being challenged. Racists are being called out, even those who hold positions of power.

BIPOC of course stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. It was heartening to see the inclusion of "Indigenous" in this acronym. You get no argument from me whatsoever that black lives matter. That should never be qualified in any way, shape or form. Yet at the time of those killings which happened only a few days apart, while I was not surprised at the intensity of the rage over the death of George Floyd, I was somewhat dismayed that it so overpowered reactions to the death of Chantel Moore. She was a Canadian, after all. Ah, but an Indigenous Canadian, and a woman at that, and therein lies the problem.

As a nation, we have somehow become inured to violence inflicted upon Indigenous women. Inured even to their violent and often mysterious deaths. The figures are alarming and depressing. For example, murders of Indigenous people in Canada account for over 20% of the total, yet they only account for 5% of the population. It's worse for women than men. Everyone knows it. But it never seems to change.

Will it change now? Does the BIPOC movement have enough momentum and courage to end all kinds a racist activities and attitudes? Or will we be asking these same questions next year, and the year after, and on and on and on?

One way, strategy, if you like, to subvert a race of people is to take away their narrative. Hard to do, you have to be organized and have the resources as well as the diabolical will to do such a thing. But that's exactly what the government of Canada set out to do, with the help of the churches, through the residential school system.

One way to help instill a sense of cultural pride, if not restore the culture itself, is through narrative. We are our stories. One way to end racism is to listen to the stories of all people, whatever their skin color or ethnic origin.

I think that's the reason I get hired by Stardale to work with the girls: I seem to be able to get them to share their stories, their thoughts and their worries, their sense of place in this mad world of ours.

This is what we did this winter. We gathered stories from the girls for a piece titled The Road. We thought the girls would perform this piece back in May but of course, a little pandemic laid those plans to rest.

We are determined that those stories will be told, and that they will be heard. Silence no more. Our girls' voices will be heard. We are transforming our live performance piece into a video which we will eventually be able to share far and wide.

You can look for that in the fall. And that's all from me, for now.

Stay strong, stay safe!

Blog #20

Progress Update

Written by Eugene Stickland - June 29, 2020

Sometimes when bad things happen, we see only the immediate consequences. We realize we are going to have to change our plans and adapt to the new reality. We talk about making the best of a bad situation. We start again. What else can any of us do?

This is the situation people all over the world have found themselves since mid March. All sorts of plans have had to change all over the place! The first one I noticed that made me realize that things were going to be quite different was when the NBA first postponed and then cancelled its season. And then all the other professional leagues followed suit. Four months later and they are still trying to figure it all out.

Closer to home at Stardale, we had to face the same conditions, the same reality, and come up with a plan of our own. Our timeline was that until the end of February, I was working with the girls, encouraging them to write about their own experiences with the end result envisioned as a performance piece that the girls would have presented at a gala evening (and fundraiser) in mid May.

I had just started to edit their words and was busy creating a coherent script for them to perform. We had retained the services of Helen Young (known around Stardale as "Little Helen") to direct the girls. Helen had directed The Make Believer Project two years ago and the girls like her (we all do!) and respond well to her direction.

And then came early March. Suddenly, things started closing. The city, the country, the entire world started to shut down. Do you remember? Schools closed. Restaurants closed. Theatres, cinemas, hockey arenas and on and on. Initially we were told this would last for two weeks. Two weeks! And here we are in July and things still haven't opened back up entirely.

And so, at Stardale we did what we had to do and adapted. Fortunately, we had had with us throughout the winter Vanessa Wentzel, a young (and award-winning) videographer. Some nights, Vanessa was just there to watch our process unfold, to get a sense of how I work, and then how (Little) Helen works with the script and the girls. The initial plan for Vanessa was for her to create some kind of video complementary to the stage play we were creating.

It's rather strange now, looking back, that Helen McPhaden ("Big Helen") and I were never able to tell Vanessa what we wanted her to do, exactly. This turned out to be a blessing. Had we been able to tell her exactly what to do, she might have been off doing that. As it turned out, it was much more important in the long run that she was able to spend time with the girls, and get to know them and generally get a feel for the essence of The Road project.

Last weekend, Vanessa and both Helens along with a team of artists began shooting the video version of The Road. Obviously front and centre are the girls, who are now acting on camera the words they wrote back in the winter. I have included a few stills from that shoot. When I see these amazing photos, you can imagine I get excited about what's yet to come. And I dream ahead to the day when we can all gather for the premiere presentation of this piece.

I mentioned above that these times call for us to make the best of a bad situation. I believe at Stardale we have done exactly that. In fact, given the immensely talented team that has built up around this production, I believe we will if anything come out ahead.

Funny how it works out that way.

Blog #19

Blog #19

Racism In Canada

Written by Eugene Stickland - June 15, 2020

It hardly matters where you go these days or whom you talk to, the hot topic in the month of June is racism. In the United States, the murder of George Floyd seems finally to have unleashed a series of protests unlike anything seen in the USA since the 1960s. Where it will end, it is impossible to say, but surely all of us, whatever our skin colour or ethnicity, are hoping for some kind of meaningful and lasting change to come of his tragic death.

Naturally, Canadians are quick to point our collective fingers at our American neighbours with our usual holier-than-thou attitude. Suddenly we became preoccupied, and rightfully so, with the plight of black people in the United States and closer to home. We saw protests in cities across Canada, including Calgary; tens of thousands of people marched in peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter. And rightfully so.

And then, a gunshot from Edmundston, New Brunswick could be heard, and it was like for a moment the entire country held its breath. A young BC First Nations woman, Chantel Moore, had been murdered by the police, during of all things a "wellness check."

Another murdered Indigenous woman in Canada.

We have known about this tendency in Canada for some time, for Indigenous women to be murdered or go missing, without a lot ever being done about it. But now, here we find ourselves in the midst of righteous indignation about the fate of George Floyd in Minneapolis - would that same fire burn all the brighter and hotter for Chantel Moore in Edmundston?

How many more Indigenous women have to die until we turn that finger we point at the racists in the USA back at ourselves and admit we have a very serious racism problem in our own country?

The girls of Stardale have been examining aspects of their young lives through the prism of the report of the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada. It's not a university level sociology class - these are young girls, some of them still in junior high, none of them yet graduated from high school.

We have been endeavouring to create first a staged performance and now a video using the girls' own words and experiences to raise awareness in the larger community - the mainstream, as our elder Wanda calls it - and for people to take ownership once and for all of the situation and admit that we have a deplorable problem with racism in Canada. Surely the death of Chantel Moore, coming at this extremely charged time, will put to bed once and for all the lie that we don't have a problem.

One of our girls who is likely only about 14 years old wrote the following words that we have incorporated into our video:

My life is anything but amazing . . . I don't see what's amazing for being called a burglar and getting told to F-off just because you ask for help.
I don't see anything amazing about being discriminated against and hated just because I'm a different skin colour. All of a sudden, I become the enemy, cops and other higher authorities killing the minorities and the innocent.
It doesn't do much for my confidence when I see a person of colour getting smothered in a cop car or a gun pointed at their head accused of a crime they didn't commit.
I don't see anything amazing about worrying every day if I'll be another victim of sexual assault, nothing amazing about being another missing or murdered and the stories not being heard, because I'm not of the white ethnicity.

How sad, how unacceptable, that someone so young could write of such painful experiences.

Are we getting ready to do something about this anytime soon? Or will this girl end up just another statistic that we conveniently ignore?

Racism: what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again. And again. And again.

The time for change is now.

The Red Dress

Written by Eugene Stickland - May 31, 2020

One thing we all are becoming used to throughout this pandemic is Zoom and other platforms like it. It's probably fair to say that most of us don't really love communicating this way, but it serves its purpose of keeping us all connected.

Like everyone else in the world, the people involved with Stardale are having regular online meetings to check in and see how everyone is doing. Some of the girls don't live in the best of circumstances and Helen is anxious to stay in touch with them, to remind them they are not alone.

It goes beyond that, even. Last week Helen and staff dropped off Crave cupcakes and materials to decorate them with to all the girls (and even to yours truly) and so while we had our online meeting last week, we all decorated our cupcake. (I didn't win any awards for my efforts, but the cupcake was sure good!)

While the Stardale program usually isn't offered in the summer, Helen has decided to keep going as long as isolating is the order of the day. She doesn't want to leave the girls high and dry, as they say, so we will continue on with our weekly meetings for the foreseeable future.

Ongoing, videographer Vanessa Welzel, director Helen Young and I will start working with the girls as we prepare to shoot the video version of The Road. As you likely are aware, The Road began as a script for live performance back when we had such things.

Using this technology, we will have the chance to hear different girls read different parts - not really an audition as such, just to find out who is best suited for the various voices.

In this way we can keep moving forward without compromising anyone's need for social distancing. Hopefully by the time we are ready to start shooting the video, there will be further relaxing of the rules around congregating to ensure everyone's safety.

As you likely know by now, The Road is our response to the findings of the Commission on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. One important symbol that has emerged in the past few years, also a response to the findings of the commission, is the red dress.

This was originally an art installation created by the Métis artist Jaime Black at the University of Winnipeg's Institute for Women's and Gender Studies. Hundreds of dresses have been donated to an art installation that has gone way beyond the walls of any gallery.

The dresses are empty, obviously in reference to the women who should be wearing them but who are no longer with us. They are red for a number of reasons: red is thought to be the only colour that spirits can see. It also symbolizes not only vitality, but also danger, even violence.

One way Stardale staff have been keeping the girls engaged through this isolating time is through art; not only their participation in the creation of The Road script, but through painting as well.

In closing, we are proud to share with you this week an interpretation of the red dress by one of our immensely talented girls, Summer.

Stay well, friends.

Stay safe.

Blog #17

Uncertainties Of The Road

Written by Eugene Stickland - May 15, 2020

Had things unfolded according to plan, we would be preparing for a gala event on Thursday May 14, featuring the premiere of the performance piece The Road. No doubt this would have been a fantastic event; rehearsing, rewriting, finalizing costumes, taking care of a thousand little details - all part of mounting a live theatrical production.

It doesn't matter who you are, or where in the world you live, nothing is unfolding according to plan these days. So what can you do but adapt and try to make the best of a bad situation?

As you probably know by now, this winter I worked with the girls, giving them writing prompts to create a performance piece, their reaction to the findings of the Commission on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. The way we work together is that I take their words and then edit and assemble them to create a script for them to perform. As far as possible I try to use only the words they have written.

Over the last couple of months, we came to realize as the rest of the word (including Broadway) came to realize that it may be some time until we can enjoy live theatre again. We understand now that in order to have something to show for our efforts this year, we will have to shift formats, from live theatrical performance to video. This means reimagining the words the girls have written from a play script into a video script.

Basically, the fundamental different between a play and film is that a play is a story told with words, a film is a story told with images. We have no shortage of words - the girls were very eloquent and industrious throughout the winter and I have literally hundreds of recipe cards which they wrote their thoughts on.

What we need now are images and that's where our videographer Vanessa Wenzel comes in. What words we do have will have to be edited and pared down, refined and precise.

It's exacting work. Vanessa and I have our work cut out for us this summer. And that's only the beginning. Once we have the script, we will need to film the girls in a variety of settings and yet we don't know as we move forward how that will even be possible. As is the case with the rest of the world, we are at the beck and call of the virus.

There's no road map, no rule book, but we will manage as best we can.

Meanwhile, Helen and her staff continue to adapt, working with the girls in any way they possibly can. They drop off goodies and supplies to the girls' houses. You can see from photos they take the joy this brings them.

Every week, we have a Zoom-style meeting to check in and see how everyone is coping. Using the same format, staff are encouraging the girls to express their feelings though art - some of them are really amazing artists. We will share some of their art work with you in future blogs.

And they are writing, which makes me all kinds of happy. I am a diarist myself, and at such times I think I would go quite mad if I wasn't able to express myself in my diary. I highly recommend it to all of you.

One of our girls, one of my rock star writers, Kris, shared this with us this week and I will leave you with her words.

Stay well, stay safe!

Kris wrote:

Child, you say you know me but you don't know all of me. You only see half of what I am. You cannot see all of me. I have things hidden deep within everyone's mind. I have many scars with different lies. I hide in your mind and you don't even know I'm there. I'll eat you up within a few years. Your body will be covered with scars and your eyes will be glass. Dear child, I'm death in disguise. I'm your depression and I don't plan on letting go. You can act like I'm not there but I'll grow. And grow. And grow. Till I'm all that you can see. I'll disguise myself as you. And you'll hate what you see. I'm your mirror. But you can't break me. I BREAK YOU!!!

On The Road Again

Written by Eugene Stickland - April 29, 2020

Wasn't I surprised to learn from the Stardale website the other day that it's actually been seven years since I began working with Helen McPhaden and the Stardale girls? Seven years is a long time for anything these days!

A lot had happened in that seven years. We had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wrap up in 2015 which examined the impact of the residential school system on our First Nations people. One result of the Commission's findings were "94 calls to action" to address the consequences of the cultural genocide that the residential schools represented.

Then, we had the National Enquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2016, whose purpose was "to increase awareness of disproportionate violence experienced by Indigenous women." The final report was released just under a year ago in June, 2019.

It's beyond the scope of this blog post to ask the obvious question, "Has anything really changed as a result of these commissions?" One can only hope so, but I'm sure many First Nations people will tell you, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Last year, just after the Commission on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women released their report, Helen and I met at the fabled Caffe Beano to see if there was a way for the Stardale girls and me to create a response to it.

I envisioned a series of workshops as I had done for our projects in the past, where I would discuss certain aspects the situation urban aboriginal girls find themselves in today. And that's just what we did.

I asked them hard questions. (Remember, some of them are very young, and the oldest girls are only 17 years old.) I asked, among other things, if they, personally, had been the victims of racial prejudice. Or violence. I asked if any of their relatives had been murdered or gone missing. These are all heavy questions to ask of young girls. Or of anyone, for that matter.

I envisioned The Road as a metaphor for Indigenous women and girls, stretching from the distant past to the foreseeable future. One night we spoke of the pyramids in Egypt being 5,000 years old, some of the oldest man-made objects on the planet. I told them that their ancestors had been in Canada almost 10,000 years before the pyramids were even thought of.

What was life like back then? What was life like before we had structures such as the one we were meeting in, and electric lights and central heating and cell phones and Instagram and Netflix. And was the women's status in the community different then, compared to after the arrival of the Europeans?

It wasn't easy for them to envision such a day and age. They were born into the post-digital world and it's all they have ever known. (Try to take away a teenager's cell phone, I dare you!)

I asked them to imagine the future. I asked them what kind of world they envisioned for their own daughters twenty years from now? Honestly, I don't think any of them had ever imagined that they themselves would be mothers some day.

That's the beauty of youth, I suppose: they live so completely in the present moment. Like the Zen Masters tell us we should.

Each night's prompts led to writing that the girls do for me on recipe cards in brightly coloured pens. In this way, I ended up with hundreds of cards which I then attempted to shuffle into order for a performance piece, using only the girls' own words. I am only the editor.

I was shuffling them one way to tell their story in a live stage performance. But then: COVID-19. So now I am trying to figure out how to shuffle them another way, so that with our videographer Vanessa Wenzel we can create a short film in place of the stage production that wasn't meant to be.

There is so much uncertainty these days, and no one has a crystal ball, so it's hard to know how to proceed.

Meanwhile, Helen and her staff continue to work with the girls remotely as well as doing their curb-side drop-offs of goody bags for the girls, lifting their spirits and helping them through this difficult time. Importantly reminding them they are not alone.

Truly we are living in interesting times.

"In These Uncertain Times"

Written by Eugene Stickland - April 15, 2020

How many times have we heard that this month? "In these changing times." "In these difficult times." "In these unpredictable times."

We even have the guy from A&W looking sad and gloomy as he vows to keep the drive-thrus open so we can still get some onion rings and a root beer. In these uncertain times.

Times of change are certainly troubling times for some - in particular those who were doing spectacularly well the ways things were. They ought to be mightily concerned that they are about to have the rugs pulled out from under their feet.

The way things were. Some people were doing very well the way things were, but not everyone. Many people had historically done very poorly the way things were, kept from the circles of power and wealth and influence that many others take for granted.

Our First Nations people were systematically pushed to the fringes of our society by the very systems that should have helped them - the medical system, the legal system, the educational system, and even as we saw last winter with the arrest and handcuffing of a First Nations grandfather and granddaughter trying to open a bank account in Vancouver, the banking and other financial systems.

In these uncertain times, can social and systemic upheaval possibly leave First Nations people in a worse position than they were before? It's hard to imagine. Sometimes, change is inevitable and sometimes it can lead to positive outcomes.

After all, Nobel literature laureate Bob Dylan was only paraphrasing the Bible when he famously sang, "The times, they are a-changing."

As we speculate on these larger questions and issues, and as we try to imagine what kind of world we might find ourselves in a month from now or a year from now, for an organization like Stardale, the good work continues. At a time when our participants need the support that Stardale offers more than ever, the women I am lucky enough to work with look for and find creative solutions to help the girls in their time of self-isolation.

Face it - there are people living in mansions and penthouses complaining about self-isolating. The homes these girls live in are not quite so grand, and when you add poverty and addiction within the home, the situation become particularly dire.

So, this has led this week to the Stardale staff doing "drive-by" or "curb-side" visits to the girls. They drop of goodies to brighten their days. They take photos of the girls and the smiles on their faces would brighten up even the gloomiest day.

As you know, I have been working with the girls to create a piece titled The Road which is a dramatic and poetic response to the findings of the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This piece was to have been performed live at a fundraiser for Stardale in early May.

Well, no fundraiser. No play. (No funds either, friends. Don't be afraid to help out. In these uncertain times.) We are now looking at the material the girls wrote over the winter with an eye on creating a short film instead of a live performance piece. What that should look like, exactly, I have to admit I'm struggling with. A prayer for these uncertain times, perhaps? That is my task these days and it is delicate work.

Meanwhile, though, during the time of isolation, one of my rock star writers Summer wrote down some of her thoughts, and we would like to share them with you here. And I promise that we will do what we can to ensure that her voice will be heard in whatever kind of presentation format we come up with.

Here is what Summer wrote:

Not attending Stardale has been a bit hard for me, because it's more than just a program. It's where I can be myself and express who I am without getting weird looks from people. It's helped me learn more about my culture, taught me how to be more open and less shy, and also helped me find my voice.
For example with The Road production we got to work with Eugene Stickland and he told us to write down about how we feel about either this topic or what have we experienced.
And the other girls and I put a lot of work and emotions into our words and we were hoping for other people to hear how we feel.
But since this pestilence, this pandemic, started it ruined everything from workers not having their jobs. To two of the major losses that I and everyone else will probably ever have: 1) The class of 2020 which is my year may have a chance of our graduation not happening; and 2) Our words, our stories, and our voices not being heard, it hurts so much because you put so much work, effort, and time into something that you created just to have it ripped out of your hands.
These are some things that I may never get back because this is my last year in school and Stardale. Plus for the other girls who might be leaving Stardale, them and I may never have our voices and stories heard the way we wanna tell them.

Stay safe friends and don't give up hope that we may come out of this in a better place than we were before!

A Fragile Time

Written by Eugene Stickland - March 31, 2020

It's hard to fathom how drastically and dramatically our world has changed in the few weeks since I wrote my last post. The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty that many of us find ourselves living with now are hardly new phenomena for our First Nations girls.

How their families are coping with it all remains to be seen. Although we are no longer able to meet with the girls, I know Helen and her staff are very concerned with their well-being. It's a troubling time. Our girls come from unsettled and often unstable homes. It's a fragile time.

I know the Stardale staff are doing what they can by phone and any other means to support the girls through this difficult time. You couldn't find another organization anywhere where the staff cares as much for their participants than Stardale.

This virus and our reaction to it as a society touches all walks of life and all of our endeavours without discrimination. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, stores, banks, dentists, tattoo parlours, health clubs - you name it, all have had to close their doors.

So too with groups like Stardale. And so too with theatres and concert halls and, well, anywhere people congregate in numbers more than - what is it today? 20? 10? 5? The number decreases every day.

Yes, we get it. We must stay away from one another. We must flatten the curve. And we are doing that. We've seen what's going on in Italy and Spain and New York City. None of us wants that to happen here and so we self-isolate.

This is inconvenient for everyone across the board. It's an unfortunate situation and it can't be helped. But it has put Stardale in a double bind, as we have been working all winter to create a new theatrical presentation, and that presentation was to have been at the centre of a fundraiser, funds from which are desperately needed to keep its doors open. (Even if currently they are essentially virtual doors, they must stay open.)

As you may or may not know, our performance piece this year is titled The Road. I have helped the girls create this piece as a response to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Commission's findings from last year. The girls have been writing their thoughts about this situation since the fall. We are exploring the metaphorical road the girls find themselves on at this place and time. We look at their traditions, their fears and hopes, the discrimination they face daily, and their perception of the future.

It's an important piece, and so we have looked for ways to salvage the work the girls have done so far so we can share it with an audience.

Fortunately, as I've been working with the girls and collecting their writings, a talented young film maker, Vanessa Wenzel, has been working with us, parallel to what I've been doing but in concert with the nature of the project.

Could we put together the text the girls have created with the images Vanessa has gathered? Could we still create a work of perfomative art created by and featuring the girls and their words in the form of a short film?

And when all this COVID-19 madness is over, could we then have a gala premiere presentation of that short film at a fundraiser and make some money to keep this amazing program running?

That's the dream as it stands now.

Do We Have Enough Toilet Paper Yet?

Written by Eugene Stickland - March 18, 2020

We are sadly on a hiatus with The Road Project at Stardale. Like the rest of the world, we have been forced into "social isolation."

It's frustrating because we are getting close to finishing the script, and last week we had a good evening working with our wonderful director, Helen Young. It's never a straight line working as we do, but we have faith that we will have an entertaining and provocative show when we are done.

Our deadline for our first performance has been, and hopefully still is, the Stardale Gala which is scheduled for May 14 - almost two months from now. Yet the way things are going it's impossible to predict what the world will look like on May 14.

It's fair to say, our sense of reality is shifting, it is being shifted for us by the virus. None of us knows for sure what is waiting out there on the other side of the pandemic. In a very abrupt fashion, our whole way of life seems threatened. Many of us are being taken out of our comfort zone, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety in the air.

I wrote a funny post on my Facebook page the other night about the fact that so many people are comforting themselves by buying vast quantities of toilet paper. People are even hoarding toilet paper, making something that we hardly ever think about a treasured commodity.

But not just toilet paper. Meat. Water. Produce. Cleaning supplies. Hand sanitizers. You name it, it's being bought up and stockpiled against a perceived apocalypse right here in Calgary. We've all seen pictures of the empty shelves in Superstore and Walmart. It feels like the end of the world as we know it.

But what is this world we know? What is our reality? What is our sense of comfort if we feel we need 24 rolls of toilet paper on hand so that we can fall asleep at night? And is that the same for all of us, in our society?

I believe I can say with some confidence that none of the Stardale girls' families are stockpiling, let alone hoarding toilet paper, or anything else. They live in urban Aboriginal families and you don't need a degree in sociology to tell you that by and large that means they live below the poverty line. Well below.

When you live below that line, you don't stock up on anything. You can't. Basically, you survive. As a child, you might well be sent to school without any breakfast, without a lunch. You might come home hoping for supper but find none. For those urban Aboriginal families, the apocalypse is already here and always has been.

That's the reality that some toilet paper hoarders must be imagining for themselves, but sadly one that many of our girls already experience, day in, day out, every day of their lives.

The same with the uncertainty. And the sense of disconnect from an ominous future that holds no assurances, let alone hope. This is the day to day reality of our girls, which the toilet paper hoarders fear for themselves.

So what can you do? Well, it's pretty basic but Helen always makes sure that they have a hot meal when they arrive. And she has a few little gifts for them when they depart. And she runs a beautiful program to help mitigate against the privations they have come to take for granted in their young lives.

And for my part, I make sure their stories will get told.

Hey! Have We Reconciled Yet?

Written by Eugene Stickland - March 3, 2020

Those who have been following these blog posts this year will be aware that I am working with the girls of the Stardale Women's group creating a performance piece based on the "Highway of Tears," a response to the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, which is titled "Reclaiming Power and Place."

Like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that came a few years earlier, "Reclaiming Power and Place" surely demands a response from mainstream society. If there is no reaction, and therefore no action, then we will be right back where we started from. Which was not a good place, by anyone's estimation.

Helen McPhaden, through the Stardale program, has quietly been taking action and making a difference for a long time now. Stardale was founded in Saskatchewan in 1997, then in 2007 began to establish itself in Calgary. To date, 1011 girls have been involved and have benefited in innumerable ways from the program.

From what I've observed over the last six years that I've been involved, the raison d'être for the program has been to address in a holistic manner the well-being of the various and numerous participants. Everything from a warm meal to start the session, to discussion about various issues (drug use, sexuality, relations with the police, spirituality, racism to name a few), to working with experts from many different fields; from long distance running to finance and everything in between. That's how I first got involved, I taught a one-off poetry workshop.

For most of us, all of this just happens through our families and teachers and programs and classes outside of school that our parents can afford to pay for. It's not quite as simple as that for most of girls who find themselves at Stardale.

Far too often, where there should have been support, there was neglect. Many of their parents are survivors of the residential schools who simply don't have the skills or the means to support these girls properly. These 1011 girls may have fallen through the cracks, but Helen and her amazing staff were there to keep that from happening.

It's wonderful that this happens, and has happened for so long. But it doesn't just happen. Obviously, despite Helen's amazing ability to attract volunteers and gifts in kind, it costs money to run such a wonderful program.

This is where you come in, friends. You believe in reconciliation? You want to do something for our First Nations? You want to empower young women? Want to help create some change to alter the outcomes in this ongoing saga?

It's pretty simple, and probably enjoyable. Come to the 2nd annual Stardale Gala. It's Thursday, May 14, 2020 at the Polaris Centre. If you are with a company, you can sponsor a table. Or you can donate to the silent auction.

You can do a lot of things, beyond sitting at home and hoping against hope that things will change for the better. They won't, ultimately, without your involvement. Our involvement. All of us.

As the saying goes, we are all treaty people.

I'll see you in May.

At The Feast

Written by Eugene Stickland - February 17, 2020

Last week, Dr. Linda Many Guns and the good people from the National Centre for Collaboration for Indigenous Education descended upon us and instead of having our usual working session, we were treated to a feast.

The food, prepared and served by volunteers, was all, as we say, pre-contact. By contact, we mean contact with European culture. Depending on whom you talk to, contact with European culture has not exactly been beneficial to First Nations Cultures.

It's an ongoing saga that continues to play out on a daily basis. Events in BC and around the country are forcing the question, do we really want reconciliation? Is Canadian society prepared to embrace it, or is it just so many empty words?

Certainly, eating a pre-contact meal consisting of buffalo and corn stew, carrot salad, blueberry cake with maple syrup and blueberry and mint tea gives one occasion to reflect back to a simpler time than the one we find ourselves in today. In many ways, for many reasons, it was one of the finest meals I have ever had.

You might think that with a feast going on and all, I might have had the night off, but not really. I took the time to seek out the girl who wrote the piece I included in my last post. I called her over to my table and she approached warily.

I said, "I just wanted to thank you for the piece you wrote last week." Maybe she was waiting for me to add a "but" or "however" but there was no qualification coming for me.

In fact, I continued, "I teach creative writing at universities and the piece you wrote last week is at least as good as I have ever seen, if not better."

Bear in mind, I was saying this to a young teenage girl. But I really meant it. And I thanked her for writing it and then she went back to her table and sat down.

I was sitting beside Vanessa Wenzel, our videographer, when this exchange went down. We both watched as the girl returned to her seat with what could only be called an enigmatic look on her face.

"That," I said to Vanessa, "is the look of a person who has been given a compliment, but has no experience of it, or frame of reference for it."

Through the four pieces I have worked on with these girls, I remember the things they have written for me, and the constant theme that runs though all of it of the horrible things people say to these girls. They get called fat, ugly, worthless, lazy stupid and more. Routinely.

Such horrible, damaging things to say to a little girl, or anyone else for that matter, but that is their experience of living in this culture.

To try, at least, to balance all that hate and stupidity with a much-deserved compliment seems like a small but necessary thing to do, and was probably the best thing I did all night.

We're back to work this week as we get closer to finalizing our performance piece, The Road. I know, in my heart, that once again I will be dazzled by these wonderful young women and the stories they share with me.

Some Days

Written by Eugene Stickland - January 31, 2020

Artistic creation is always an act of faith. Whether you're working alone as I usually do, or involved in collective creation like at Stardale, all you can do each time out is hope for the best and take what you are given. As with anything else some days are better than others.

I'm a trained and experienced author. I have better days than others. In working with the Stardale girls, all I can do is give the best prompts I know how and hope I say something evocative that will spark some writing from them on that particular evening.

Some of them are as young as eleven years old. Over my time with the girls (new girls each year, some continuity, but none of the original girls I worked with are still in the group) we have covered some very difficult subjects - suicide, broken dreams, now murdered and missing indigenous women. What makes me expect that they will come up with the goods night after night? I would hardly expect such consistent performance from a university class, and these are just children after all.

There's something I tell them that I think makes a difference and causes them to take our work very seriously. I tell them when I was their age, no one took what young people had to say very seriously. I grew up in the era of the adage, "children should be seen but not heard." But now, in this age, they are being listened to.

Further, I tell them that as bad as it may have been for me, a boy, it was far worse for girls. No one took them or what they had to say very seriously at all, if they even listened in the first place. I tell them for all kinds of reasons and thanks to the energy and passion of many strong women (such as Helen, such as Wanda, our elder) more and more people actually want to hear what girls have to say.

And finally, I tell them when I was young, our indigenous people were essentially invisible. Think of it: they weren't even allowed to leave their Reserves until 1967. Everything was separate, everything was kept quiet.

Honestly, I had never even heard about the residential schools until a few years ago.

I was recently reading about the 75 anniversary of the liberation of the inmates at Auschwitz, and that the people even in the immediate vicinity had no idea what was going on there. I don't think it's too hard a comparison to make. Governments tend to keep quiet about their attempts at genocide.

So I tell the girls, for the first time in memory, people want to hear what young First Nations girls have to say. They don't know anything about what their experience is like, and if thing are ever going to change, now is the time to share their thought and feelings.

A few months ago, Helen and a few of the girls and I did a performance of our piece titled Committing for an older and extremely white audience. I looked around the room and thought, "Oh man. We are dead in the water here."

But then when we started to read, a curious thing happened. They leaned forward in their chairs. They took in every last word. They asked good questions at the end. They wanted to learn, and they did learn from the girls. It turned out to be one of the best shows we ever did.

And so, these young girls and I carry on, with them telling their stories, sharing their experiences, making their voices heard. Me, just trying to give some shape to their ideas and some form to their expression.

Some days, I can almost believe we are making a difference.

And The Beat Goes On

Written by Eugene Stickland - January 16, 2020

The Stardale Women's Group began 2020 with a special expanded circle which welcomed several special guests including our elder, Wanda Fast Rider and special guest Dr. Linda Many Guns from the University of Lethbridge Indigenous Studies Department.

Wanda began the evening with a Blackfoot prayer and by lighting some sage, describing to the girls what she was doing, and why. Helen began the discussion by asking about the traditional place of women in First Nations cultures. And what has happened since early times to create the situation where indigenous women are much more likely to be the victims of violence than any other group of women in our society.

It a tough history to listen to, shameful and brutal. Especially when you hear about the whole residential school debacle from people (like Wanda, and another guest, a Cree woman from Saskatchewan named Eva) who survived it.

The continuous generational progression was fractured for at least 100 years. Traditions and stories and even languages were lost. Linda spoke of systemic racism that did nothing but alienate and destroy a culture. It was a very heavy evening, to put it mildly.

I was thinking of the concept of systemic racism, all the various systems involved in making integration virtually impossible for indigenous people when I came upon a story the next day that was in the news - the sad (pathetic, really) story of the first nations man and his grand daughter who tried to open an account for her at a BMO in Vancouver and who ended up being handcuffed on the street outside the bank. And then the subsequent defending of police actions by the Vancouver Chief of Police.

Helen had asked Linda when this systemic racism had begun and Linda replied, "As soon the ink had dried on the treaties."

And the beat goes on.

The next week I spoke with the girls about what Wanda and Linda and Eva had talked about the week before. I asked if they would share any thoughts or experiences they have of prejudice, either because they are First Nations or because they are girls.

The writing the girls do when given such prompts will eventually, with some editing, become the script for our performance piece titled The Road, which we will be presenting this spring at various venues around Calgary.

Here is one response I received from one of the girls this week. Of course, I never know what their life experiences have been, or how much they are willing to share, but this piece I guarantee will make the final edit:

The fear of being forgotten with all the other women and girls, left behind under water in a garbage bag because to most people we're not human we're just another piece of trash . . .

I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's difficult but important work.

And so we carry on.

Heading Into 2020

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 30, 2019

We are living in an interesting time, which as you may know is a curse in China, as when they say "May you live in interesting times." In many ways, the world seems out of joint. The economy is perilous in Alberta and beyond, the climate is both fragile and volatile, many of our leaders are reviled, not revered. And on it goes.

We may sing of "Joy to the world," but joy - and faith and hope and peace and love - all seem in short supply. I've talked to so many people since Christmas who tell me the only good thing they have to say about Christmas is that they survived it. They endured it. It was a grim, bloodless experience.

I think most of us can relate to these sentiments. I know I can. It's a dark time, deep in the dead of winter. The days are short, the nights long. How can we manage to rise about this and find true happiness?

The people I know, the friends I have who find this to be a tough time of the year would seem, on the surface, to have little to complain about. They all live in nice places, they drive nice cars, they have money in the bank. In short, they are safe. There are no real threats to their way of life.

Yet as we all know, depression and other mental problems can strike anyone at any time, regardless of their circumstances. No amount of money, no architecture no matter how vast and ornate, no set of wheels can keep it away if it sets you in its sites.

I try to imagine just how it is for some of the Stardale girls at this time of year. I think my own sadness probably arises from my memories of magical Christmases when I was young. But that was so long ago. My parents have both passed away, as well as my brothers. I have sister far away and my daughter is in another country. It feels so empty that I don't even try.

But I wonder if some of our girls ever had a good Christmas at any time in their young lives. Some of them survive in very dysfunctional family situations. Many of their parents are survivors of the residential school debacle. And the sad assumption that we can make in this country: because they are First Nations we can assume they live in, or at least not far from, poverty.

These thoughts propel me forward into a new year. I'm sure I speak for Helen and all of the wonderful women who work at Stardale when I say this cycle must be broken. We must do what we can to help shape a better future for these girls and their families.

In the immortal words of playwright Arthur Miller, "attention must be paid."

And so I head into 2020 with renewed energy and strength to help these girls tell their stories, with the hope and prayer that someone is listening, and that we will help make a difference in our world.

Happy New Year.

How We Work

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 13, 2019

In generating a collective script for performance with the Stardale girls, perhaps the most delicate part is creating a comfortable and safe environment where they feel they can share their thoughts and stories. I'm only too aware that writing is not a positive activity for everyone - for some it can be terrifying or even impossible. I never put any pressure on the girls to come up with the goods. I guess my philosophy is that it will happen if and when it's meant to happen. Gentle encouragement only.

We know what our subject area is. In the case of our current project, The Road, we are creating some kind of response to the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, which is titled "Reclaiming Power and Place."

At the beginning of each of our sessions, I speak about some aspect of the piece we are creating in order to get the girls thinking imaginatively of how life has been and how it is now for indigenous women and girls. We had a quick look of how life was hundreds, even thousands of years ago. We spoke about how we feel when someone in our life dies or disappears from our life for one reason or other. We will return to these themes when we resume work in the new year.

From our larger discussion, the girls break into small groups to write down their thoughts and feelings and observations. They are given index cards and coloured markers. My direction to them is to write down whatever comes to mind. If they can't think of anything, then they can draw a picture. Under no circumstances do I want them to sit and torture themselves with this. The larger goal for the evening, in my mind at least, is for everyone to have a pleasant time.

After an hour we come back to the circle together. If any of the girls have written something that they particularly feel like sharing, they are invited to read out what they have written. Given that we are writing about people who are missing or who have died, this can be a very emotional experience, but we like to think it would be cathartic for the girls who share in this manner. It's possible that in some cases, they may not have anyone else in their lives with whom they can share in this manner.

Finally, I gather all the cards. The girls don't put their name on any of their work, thus ensuring a certain degree of anonymity. Even if what they share is extremely personal, it goes into the script as just another part of the collective creation. It's entirely possible that in performance, a girl will never even have the opportunity to say the words she has written herself.

In this way, the girls create one unified voice to speak of their experience as young, mostly urban, First Nations girls. From the many comes one.

It is a voice we all need to listen to.

From The Inside Outward

Written by Eugene Stickland - December 2, 2019

Helen reminds me that our current work with the girls on The Road project is actually the fourth time we have all worked together: first, we created the full version of Committing, and then the scaled down version titled Committing to our Futures; finally, last year we created the Make Believer Project. And now, The Road.

I'm not sure what prepared me to oversee such projects. Most if not all of my experience of leading writing workshops and creating collective theatre has involved only adults. The Stardale girls are still very young, anywhere from twelve to seventeen. They are, as the expression goes, just coming of age. With that comes an increasing awareness of the world around them. Surely that is a common aspect of adolescence that we all have gone through. And yet, to express that awareness in words is never easy, and as we all know, teenagers can be quite reticent at times.

So how do we do this? How do we work?

Typically, we begin the evening in a circle and I talk a little about one particular aspect of the current project. For example, with the Make Believer Project, this basically fell into two broad categories: what do you want, what do you dream of; and what do worry will prevent you from realizing what you want and fulfilling your dreams?

The Road is in its largest sense meant to be a reaction to the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, which is titled "Reclaiming Power and Place." This is obviously a very charged and political subject. It's also an area that the girls really know nothing about.

As I mentioned in the last blog, it's not my goal to traumatize these girls with the horrible truths that came to light as a result of the inquiry. I have taken some of what I feel are the important aspects of the report and am asking the girls how these things make them feel.

For example, although they may never have had someone go missing from their lives in the way that was revealed in the inquiry, is it possible that at sometime in their young lives they lost a friend whose family suddenly moved away?

And how does that make them feel? How does it make any of us feel?

Is it possible that they have lost a grandmother or grandfather through natural causes? And how does that make them feel? One girl last week shared with us the feelings she had when her grandfather died. It was very emotional and I hope cathartic. Everyone there could relate to what she was feeling. Along with the tears, there were lots of supportive hugs.

I have a card with that story written on it. I have many cards. Some of them would break your heart.

In creating such work, we like to move from the specific to the universal, from the inside outward. To make a broader statement about Stardale's reaction to the inquiry, and to show our support for our indigenous sisters, will be left to me, which I will do mainly through the editing and arrangement of the girls' words, with maybe a little added narration. As far as possible I try to work with the words the girls provide themselves.

In my next blog, I will share some of the words and images the girls have written thus far . . . without revealing too much, because after all we hope you will come and see this work for yourselves when we present it in the spring.

A Writing Exercise

Written by Eugene Stickland - November 21, 2019

After a break, I was back with the Stardale girls last night for another writing session for our 2020 performance project, The Road. As we hadn't worked together for a while, I had prepared a rather safe plan, a descriptive writing exercise to gather some more imagery about the road, or path, or city streets the girls find themselves on.

But as I sat listening to Helen and the girls talking in their circle, I had time to reflect on the past week, during which time four people in my life passed away. It's a tough reality about getting older, more and more people will die, but four in a week seems a little excessive. And then that made me wonder just how much death these young girls had experienced in their brief lives.

What we are setting out to explore is the effect of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Commission's findings on our girls' lives. I was thinking how, sadly, we can get used to that language - Missing and Murdered - and not feel the full impact of the sorrow and hurt that goes along with that. I understand that in a political sense there is justifiably outrage as well, but in working with these girls I can only ask that they share their personal experiences and hardly expect them to speak to a broader societal perspective.

And so, death - the preferred field for writers of all ages and cultures to dig their shovels into. While still in the circle we spoke of loss, of how it feels to lose a friend who suddenly moves away, or how we feel when a loved one actually dies. I spoke of my own experience last week, how it made me feel, and then asked them to share their own thoughts and experiences on paper.

It's a tough thing to ask of these girls, and so as always I told them that if they didn't have any such experience or just didn't feel like going there to draw a picture or listen to music of whatever they felt like doing. It's never my desire to traumatize anyone.

And so off they went to their various tables in the space we meet at, and wasn't I pleasantly surprised to see most of them actually writing, filling in some cases card after card with their brightly-coloured markers? I had mentioned that when we lose someone, when we are grieving, and maybe don't really have anyone we can talk to, that writing can often be very therapeutic and comforting. I think we saw some of that last night.

When the girls came back to the circle, one brave soul read out what she had written. The first part of it was about losing her grandfather who had had Alzheimer's at the end of his life. Young as she was, she still wrestled with the fact that there was no closure for her, he was simply lost to her. When she finished, there were tears and many hugs. And it hit home not just to me but to all of us how terrible for someone to go missing and not to have the chance to say good bye, clear the air, make up from a fight, say "I love you" or whatever the case may be.

It's hard work. It's deep and it's emotional. But come the spring, these girls will stand on a stage somewhere with a powerful and eloquent message to deliver.

Looking Down The Road To The Past

Written by Eugene Stickland - November 3, 2019

Blog #3

Helen McPhaden and I met this summer to discuss creating a new performance piece with the girls, for them to perform at various locations around Calgary as we have done in the past with Committing and The Make Believer Project.

The timing of our meeting was just after the Commission on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women had released its report, so that was certainly on our minds when we sat down to discuss a new project.

As we all know, sadly, one important element of the whole messed up situation is the Highway of Tears in British Columbia. The big question for Helen and me is what exactly do the Stardale girls make of that situation? How does it make them feel? What would they have to say about it that I could help shape into a performance piece?

The tricky part is, it's a very delicate subject and you have to be sensitive to the girls and find a way to talk about such painful realities in a way that won't leave them traumatized. You need to create a larger platform for the story to be told in, to provide a larger context, so in that regard we settled on the idea of The Road, used as it often is as a metaphor for life, which may at some point encompass the Highway of Tears.

With this wider focus, we hope to be able to explore the girls' sense of history of their people - where they came from, how they lived, problems they have faced; then the present - what is the road (or city street) they now find themselves on like; and then the future - what kind of road do they envision for themselves as they grow older, and for their children and grandchildren.

Here's the thing that I hadn't thought about when we began this, and I suppose a reality that is generational. Because I grew up in the pre-digital world, I can envision a time when things were very different than they are now. I'm what's known as a digital immigrant.

Not so for the girls. They are digital natives, so to speak. They don't really know any other way of life or of interacting with the world around them. So, I asked them to imagine a world that has none of the things that we take for granted. Take away the building we were working in, and with-it electricity and heat and plumbing and the chairs we were sitting on and everything else.

This they could do, by and large. But then I asked them what they would do, how they would occupy their time in this natural world, and that became a little more difficult to envision. No smart phones, no tablets, no iTunes or Spotify, no Netflix, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat - none of what we all take for granted now and spend most of our time engaged with. What then?

There were a lot of blanks drawn on that one. Suddenly the world seemed like a big vacuum with nothing in it. Nothing they were used to, nothing that mattered to them, nothing they could really talk about. It's probably an interesting exercise for anyone these days: how would you spend your time without and of these things we are all now so terribly addicted to?

So, little by little we will creep forward in time. When I think they are ready to learn more about the Highway of Tears and share their feelings about it, we will go there, and it will be an important part of our journey down the road and an important element of our performance piece.

Of course, in creating a piece like this, it's all about the journey, after all.

Committing Again

Written by Eugene Stickland - October 14, 2019

On October 11, three of the Stardale girls (Nicole, Kris and Brook) and I performed our presentation piece, titled Committing, at the beautiful central library in Calgary.

Committing was first developed at Stardale in 2013. Director Helen MacPhaden had become alarmed at the statistics being released at the time pointing to the fact that where was a real suicide crisis among First Nations youth. She thought that developing a piece exploring the subject could be beneficial in terms of creating awareness and helping to foster some discussion about causes and possible solutions. She asked me to facilitate this process and that was my introduction to the Stardale girls' program.

It was, to put it mildly, an unusual process. Imagine a room of teenage girls, about twenty-five of them between eleven and seventeen, suddenly in the presence of a much older white man who's asking them how they feel about suicide. It took some doing to get them to open up and even say "hi" to me, let alone share their thoughts on such a personal and emotional subject.

Not long after we started, Helen received an invitation to present our "play" to hundreds (even thousands given an extended webinar audience) of professionals and policy makers in Edmonton. We had about ten words on paper at that point. I began to develop a twitch in my left eye and was seriously questioning my decision ever to go into the theatre.

But we soldiered on. Eventually I gained the girls' trust and they began to open up and describe their experiences (for example, one girl said one night, "I hung myself the other night") and slowly but surely a script emerged. As far as possible, I tried to use only the girls' words in the text, but I may have added a few bits as needed. We were blessed to have the multi-talented Genevieve Pare work with us and help finalize the script and then direct the girls at our one and only performance in Edmonton. (Others had been booked in Calgary, but it was the time of the flood and in this case, the show did not go on.)

We had twenty-five girls on stage in Edmonton. It was a recipe for disaster but the theater gods were smiling on us and we pulled through. And received an enthusiastic standing ovation for our troubles.

In my mind, there was no way we could hope to duplicate that success, so a few years later, Helen and eight girls and I revisited the script and came up with a pared down version for three girls and a narrator. The way things have gone, that narrator is usually me.

And so that's what we presented at the library.

It was a small audience - they often are when we perform this piece. And yet, whenever we are invited, Helen jumps on the occasion to present the play. She and I are of the same mind on this, I guess. You never know who might be listening, and you never know if hearing this piece might help change the mind of a vulnerable young person who has been thinking of taking her own life.

If one person is listening, then it's all worth while.

Stardale Update

Written by Eugene Stickland - September 30, 2019

I am back working with the girls of the Stardale Women's Group this year. We are developing a performance piece titled "The Road" which came about following a conversation between Helen McPhaden and myself this summer. We had gotten together, as usual at Caffe Beano, shortly after the findings of the Commission into the Inquiry of Missing and Indigenous Women. I was reminded of the Highway of Tears, about which a friend of mine wrote a play a number of years ago. I thought the idea of the road, as metaphor of our girls' lives, as well as that of the history, present and future of their First Nations could lead to an interesting and compelling presentation. And so off we go!

This is the third time I have worked with the girls. (By "the girls," I mean the participants of the Stardale program generally. The girls I first worked with six years ago have moved on and are young women now, though there is some continuity year to year. None of the girls I worked with the first time out are in this year's batch.)

Helen hired me six years ago to create some kind of performance piece examining the issue of youth suicide in First Nations communities. It will probably come as no surprise that the instances of suicide among First Nations youth are markedly higher than in any other community in Canada.

Stardale had been invited to present this piece (whatever it would be) to about 400 policy makers and "experts" in the area at a conference in Edmonton. The room was booked, the audience (an influential one at that) would be there. The only thing we didn't have was something to present and that's where I came in. Helen invited me for coffee at Caffe Beano.

"So I need you to get the girls' thoughts on suicide and from there write a presentation piece that we can do," she likely said.

"OK . . .how many girls are there?"


"25. Gee, that's a lot. Do they have any acting experience?"


"How old are they?"

"Between ten and seventeen."

A wiser man than I might have walked away, but I could sense Helen's sincerity and who knows, if we could come up with something that might shine some greater awareness on this situation, maybe even help save a few lives down the road, then it would obviously be worth while.

It was tough sledding, at first. The girls didn't know me. There are very few men involved with Stardale, and what am I if not a white man? A very tall one at that. Some of them really didn't know what to make of me.

Somehow, we got something down on paper. I tried as far as possible to use only the words the girls gave me. We hired a good young theatre maker named Genevieve Pare to direct the piece, and thanks to her good efforts we were able to put together a final script. It was called Committing.

Twenty-five First Nations girls on stage at the same time, right there in flesh and blood, speaking to an audience of over four hundred people who had been talking about them and their problems all morning - it was a very strong statement.

We have been invited to present this piece on many occasions since that day in Edmonton six years ago. A few years ago, Helen and I and several of the girls got together and pared it down to be presented by 3 girls and a narrator (i.e., me).

As I write these words, we are preparing, while in the middle of a snow storm, to present this smaller version of the script at the "Orange Shirt Day" activities in Calgary, "an event that started in 2013 . . . designed to educate and promote awareness about the Indian residential school system and the impact this system had on indigenous communities for more than a century in Canada, and still does today."

Their Motto: Every child matters.

That might well be the motto of the Stardale groups as well.

Eugenius 1 and the story journey begins.

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