Ontario funds Debajehmujig Storytellers to expand its reach

MANITOWANING – Core funding is the lifeblood of any arts organization and theatre companies have been among the hardest hit by the restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic. Debajehmujig Storytellers recently received $265,000 from a $25 million provincial fund for arts organizations that will flow through the Ontario Arts Council.

The funding will not only help the veteran Indigenous theatre organization continue its groundbreaking focus on land-based activities, but also transition into recovery from the pandemic’s impact on their operations, according to executive director Lynda Trudeau.

“It means we get the same level of support,” she said. 

Members of the company have largely been working through the pandemic in isolation, explained Ms. Trudeau. “We have been working on projects in our ‘isolation booth’ as the Creation Centre doors were closed last spring.” The pandemic restrictions had forced the postponement of a number of projects, including ‘Introduction to the Petroglyph Traditional Teachings,’ a papermaking workshop and messaging to youth about cannabis (just to name a few).

The latter is one of the projects that is currently once again underway, in partnership with Rainbow Lodge (Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre Inc.), and the annual presentation of the Passion of Christ has underwent some digital reworking to make it accessible during the pandemic.

“We have created something we can present to a hybrid audience,” she said. Combining an online access to the company’s works as well as a much more limited in-person component.

“I am really proud of the innovation and improvisation of our company,” said Ms. Trudeau. “It has been extremely challenging and they have risen to meet those challenges and beyond. Even though we haven’t been able to do the type of live theatre we are used to, we have harnessed that creativity and continue to hone their skills.” She said the company hopes to be able to return to some form of live presentations this summer, “probably outdoors.”

Debajehmujig is currently in talks with the Township of Assiginack, exploring those possibilities, said  Ms. Trudeau. Debaj is the second largest employer in that community, after the public school, she noted.

“We are also reaching out to United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising about utilising some of the treaty property here,” she said. 

The Rainbow Lodge cannabis project is aimed at educating youth and is currently in its second year of development. “It will be launched in April,” said Ms. Trudeau.

An international collaboration is also in the works, utilizing federal funding. Although the current travel restrictions continue to put challenges in place on that effort, the Debaj team is continuing to collaborate on the epic trilogy with its international partners.

“Our students will be returning starting April 1,” said Ms. Trudeau. That program includes an intensive land-based set of Indigenous teachings.

Thanks to the infusion of funding from all levels and a strong community support, Debajehmujig Storytellers continues to thrive and grow in its role as a beacon of Indigenous theatre not only here on Manitoulin Island, but across the globe.