Tale follows 3 generations of Indigenous women’s art, activism, survival ‘through acts of love’

Play by Cree-Saulteaux artist examines resistance to ongoing colonialism, impacts on family

Produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange in the fall of 2021 and now being published as a book, Cree-Saulteaux theatre artist and playwright Darla Contois’s play The War Being Waged is a multidisciplinary, multi-generational work exploring the roles that art, activism, and family play in the lives of Indigenous women resisting ongoing colonialism in Canada today.

Contois, who lives in Winnipeg, explains, “By doing the work it takes to relearn our new languages, cultures, and traditions we are step-by-step reclaiming our voices. Fighting back with love. We survive through acts of love for our children and families.”

The book opens with a paragraph explaining context for the play, which is structured into three sections, each following one of three generations of female characters. Creative freedom is given to production designers to add visual and sound elements.

The first section is a storytelling monologue from the grandmother who, as a young woman, leaves the reserve to learn about colonial injustice at university in Toronto. With no interest in being a “Good Indian,” she becomes a mother and front-line activist who is forced into an intimate and tragic faceoff against a familiar Armed Forces soldier.

For Contois, activism is a means of communication with the power to bring large groups together to relay messages that could otherwise be ignored.

“As an artist, it teaches me how tenacity and relentlessness are key parts of telling a story and being heard,” she says. “I use my writing now as my voice and believe that with a larger audience I may effect greater change.”

The second section features the daughter, whose voice is expressed through spoken word poetry in short emotional vignettes where she both grounds and empowers herself by connecting to her heritage and the inheritance of love, community, and cultural identity brought by family.

Darla Contois
Darla Contois

The play ends with a dance performance by the granddaughter, Lillian, who is the only named character in the play. In her, the narrative comes full circle as she is faced with the same questions, anxieties, and hopes of the previous speakers. The dancer playing Lillian responds to prompts that indicate an emotional journey and expresses them through movement, in the end somehow showing the audience, as the final prompt suggests, “The only thing that makes sense to me is home.”

“Lillian has, in my opinion, the greatest mountain to climb,” says Contois. “I don’t think I could have put what she has in front of her into words, which is why her part is mostly dance.

“My only intention was for the audience to feel what she feels. Completely lost and outweighed.”

In The War Being Waged, and in the face of continued struggle on the front lines, in the home, and within oneself, what survives for Contois is also what is most sacred to protect.

“This play at its heart is about family,” she says. “It’s about how modern-day colonialism still comes between us. The best way I knew how to tell that story was through the women because no matter what we’ve been through, we will always fight for our families.”