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A simple meeting at a local coffee shop becomes a turning point in the preservation and celebration of Indigenous story. One man’s passion and dedication inspiring others to continue his legacy. 

Storyteller statement: Jennifer Dawn Bishop

The gift of curating this memory has been a whole journey of its own. When first reading the memory, I was struggling with finding the artist to curate the memory of a man that has left such an important legacy. The more I thought, the more I had this inkling pulse to care for the memory. Because it’s true, we wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be here today. I feel so much gratitude for having Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre in my life, for the National Arts Centre to approach us with this amazing project. This was something I’ve never done before, and my biggest hope was to do this memory justice. I don’t think I can thank my memory holder Irene Oakes and the Tootoosis family enough. I also want to thank Wanita Singing Bird for gifting me her song in my piece, after listening to the song she suggested, it felt right. 
 

Story transcript

Whether you’re coming up Idlewild drive north, or 33rd Street West, please make your way to the lights and start your journey at the corner of the Central Industrial Street East. Across the street is your destination beside the pharmacy. I have a story I want to share with you. It’s not my own, but a memory that was a gift, to share with you. I will forever be grateful. This memory takes place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. More importantly, Treaty 6 territory. Thank you for joining me on this journey. It is a busy location so be sure to travel safely as we make our way there. Or if you were to simply listen in from the safety of your home or community. As we arrive here at the Tim Hortons on 33rd Street, Saskatoon, Tim’s may not seem like a location of importance. It’s a hub for coffee, eating, and chatting — or customers that can be quite vocal when their orders are wrong. So, why here? Here is where an important memory took place. Thank you for your presence and listening. The story here is called Gordon

I wanted to share a memory of the late Gordon Tootoosis and one of my many discussions with him. Late Gordon approached me in late 2010 or early 2011. We had been rescheduling a coffee visit for a number of days, and we finally got to have coffee here at Tim’s. He sat in the southeast corner. We chit chatted about this and that and then he told me the reason for the request for a visit. He shared with me about his involvement with the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company, and how he had always envisioned a place where Indigenous youth would be given the opportunity to learn about the world of theatre with lots of supports. He said he had been blessed with being given the opportunity in theatre and acting and eventually into movies. He wanted to ask if I would consider sitting on the board of directors for the theatre company. I was busy with my work and taking classes at the time and I told him I would have to think about it. We met again in a week’s time. I told him I would sit on the board for as long as he was on there as a board member. He agreed. He then went on to inform me that the reason he felt that I would be a good fit, because of my cultural background and my life experiences with the Cree ceremonies and teachings. He said that our youth need to understand that part of them and that this is the one area that was a priority for the company; that the circle of voices is central to the theatre company and that if that and the cultural component disappear, then we are not an Indigenous theatre company. I accepted that opportunity at the second coffee visit. He was so passionate about the stories of working with youth and how the supports from other theatre people or what made it a reality. 

In June 2011, we were at a board meeting and I kept noticing that he was looking pale and I asked for a break because he needed a breather. I spoke with him then and I told him that he needed to go home and get some rest. He said that he had been having problems with his breathing but that he would get better. Our Sundance was a week later and his daughter Alanna and her sons came to the Sundance and she got the call that her dad, Gordon, was in the hospital. I went to visit my daughter in Minnesota on July 10 and Alanna called me then, and said that her dad was back in the hospital, where he passed away the next day. I drove home that day and made it in time for the funeral. [Singing] 

The point of sharing this is that we must never lose sight of the fact that the cultural side of our Indigenousness must continue to be a priority is that was what Gordon always wanted. He said that this would strengthen their identity. I wanted to resign after Gordon’s passing. But I kept thinking of the reason for asking me to sit on the board, and I believe I’ve made it a priority, and that this is to ensure the culture and hopefully the languages in the future, and ceremony are central to GT and T. It is a really long memory and I could write a book on all the things he shared with me.  

I forgot to add, at the last board meeting he was in in June 2011, when he wasn’t feeling well, he said something to the effect of, “I’m so happy that you’re on the board, because if I can’t continue, you will have to make sure that our teachings are part of the theatre company.” He must have had an idea that he was sicker than he was letting on, and my response to him was, “You are going to be okay and the theatre company is you because without you, we wouldn’t be here today.” So it is so fitting that the company has been named after him. [Singing]

I think every time I go to Tim’s and especially in that area, I think of him and say a prayer and I know he is still watching over the theatre. [Singing] 
 


Credits

Interpreted from a Memory from Irene Oakes 
Wanita Singing Bird, “Memorial Song” 
Cory Dallas Standing, Audio Editing 

GORDON TOOTOOSIS NIKANIWIN THEATRE (Saskatoon)
Ed Mendez, General Manager  
Jennifer Dawn Bishop,  Artistic Director  
Cory Dallas Standing, Marketing Coordinator  
Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, Assistant Admin 
Cheyanne Lemaigre, COV Coordinator 
Elizabeth Ahenakew, Cultural Knowledge Keeper 
Lois Hardy, Finance 
Consulting (Indigenous Cities), Heather Cant 

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