I made a last minute decision to make a quick trip to Montreal from Ottawa because Divya, my eight-year-old niece, was excited about her end-of-year school performance at École Face. Divya felt I would be interested in this year’s water-themed show as someone who works on water policy issues. Although I was primarily there as a proud aunt, I was indeed quite impressed by the content of the show.
In the show titled “Magtogoek, le fleuve aux grandes eaux” or “Magatogoek, the Mighty River”, children from grades 1 to 4 narrated the history of the 1, 197 kilometre river that flows from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St-Lawrence. Myriam Blouin, their music teacher and mastermind behind the production, opened with the statement “Montreal is not 375 years. This land had a long history preceding the arrival of Europeans.” The musical performance began with the Iroquois villages of the 14th century. Throughout the show, the St-Lawrence River was referred to by its original name, the Magatogoek.
Through music, theatre and handmade props, the children conveyed the history of dispossession that began with colonialism, followed by the industrial revolution and pollution from the pulp and paper and various other industries that have settled along the river. The ecological and anti-colonial theme also included a few lighter moments when the children sang happy songs about their love for watersheds.
I was pleased to see a simple school show capture the reality that environmental problems in Canada cannot be divorced from the colonial context in which they are produced. The performance at FACE demonstrated how children as young as grade 1 could be taught to be critical of dominant narratives. I hope other children are sharing the message at home as enthusiastically as Divya.
Myriam Blouin says she hopes the Magatogoek will someday be officially recognized by its original name. There is a growing number of indigenous-led initiatives to reclaim and rename places and locations across Turtle Island. Blouin also hopes to continue to work with the children at FACE on water-related themes. Inspired by my niece's enthusiasm, I offered to help.