Theatrical performance seeks reconciliation through the story of residential school survival

Students at the Rosebud School of the Arts have been perfecting their performance for weeks.

Audiences are drawn to the small Alberta hamlet for a production that promises more than just entertainment.

“New Blood” tells a story of survival, following a child forced into boarding school.

The play is performed at the Rosebud Opera House and the scenes draw heavily on personal experience.

Some of the Blackfoot cast members play their own parents or grandparents.

Eulalia Running Rabbit’s daughter is in the room.

Running Rabbit says she was bused daily to and from a boarding school.

She remembers a friend waiting for her to get off the bus before running upstairs to look out the school windows.

Eulalia Running Rabbit narrates and performs in the play she helped create. (Submitted by Lauren Hamm)

“One day I asked him, what are you paying attention to? Because there is nothing,” Running Rabbit recalled.

“And she said, ‘No, I come here every morning because I want my parents to pick me up. “”

Windows is a central part of the performance, an ode to Running Rabbit’s childhood friend who she says made her feel lucky.

“That kind of a blow knowing she’s never going home for the year,” Running Rabbit continues.

“I think I was very lucky to come from home and know that I will be going back to my parents.”

Running Rabbit began working with director Deanne Bertsch on “New Blood” about eight years ago.

Bertsch says the concept for the piece was inspired by a family visit to the Pictographs at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

It was there that she says she learned about the erasure of Blackfoot culture and history.

“I was really saddened and horrified, and I decided to go do something at the school where I teach, which is Strathmore High,” Bertsch explains.

Director Deanne Bertsch also choreographs the students who perform in “New Blood.” (Submitted by Lauren Hamm)

“So my dance class at the time, combined with Eulalia Running Rabbit, who’s in the show with her Blackfoot class, we collaborated and created New Blood.”

The student performers hope the production can give audiences a new perspective on the residential school experience.

Nikko Hunt has a lead role in the performance.

“I’m half blackfoot and half white so I kind of have both worlds and sometimes I feel like they don’t really match up at all,” Hunt said.

“But with ‘New Blood,’ I could see, like the Blackfoot world and the non-Indigenous world, a kind of collision.”

Kenzie Baker is a dancer in the production.

She says it’s important to recognize that residential schools are a very recent past.

Nikko Hunt says starring in “New Blood” helped her understand her grandmother’s experiences. (Submitted by Lauren Hamm)

“I learned about residential schools in school, and I’ve been to museums and seen things like that. But this is the first time I’ve been able to speak with people who have been touched on a personal level,” says Boulanger.

Bertsch admits that she was initially intimidated by the task of telling a story about residential schools.

But she felt supported in her efforts by the community, including Running Rabbit.

“She talked about healing and that was my most important goal, is that the show can somehow help heal all of us and move us towards some kind of reconciliation.”

Although this particular series of performances only lasts for one weekend, from March 18 to 20, “New Blood” is a traveling production.

Anyone who wants to bring the show to their own community can contact the production team schedule a performance.