Picture of the real-life boys featured in the play, they called themselves Club 13. (Contributed photo)

Picture of the real-life boys featured in the play, they called themselves Club 13. (Contributed photo)

B.C. residential school survivor’s indomitable human spirit centre of school play

Terrace theatre company plans to revive Nisga’a leader Larry Guno’s Bunk #7 next year

The story of late Nisga’a MLA Larry Guno and his life at Edmonton Residential School in St. Albert , Alta. is taking centre stage in northern B.C..

Bunk #7 follows Guno’s experiences as a student at the residential school during 1959 and 1960.

His recollections weave remarkably positive memories of friends, a family away from home and music of the era that kept the boys’ company, with the strained and darker events they endured at the residential school, which all come to a boiling point over the course of the play.

Its revival is years in the making after Native Earth Performing Arts’ original production of the play halted in 2005. Guno died suddenly at the age of 65 in Terrace as the script was going through its final revisions.

Though Guno had been working on Bunk #7 for more than four years, the play was not yet ready to be produced, director Marianne Brorup Weston says. People were shaken with news of his untimely death.

“Larry was this really charismatic person…he was a brilliant man. He was cultured, he was a nice person, he was inclusive in his world view,” she says. “Everyone was grieving — we were all very upset.”

Guno was born in 1940 and grew up in the Nisga’a village of New Aiyansh (now Gitlaaxt’aamiks). He spent four years at the Edmonton Indian Residential School and watched as his culture and people were shunted aside and violated through a colonial, racist system.

After leaving the school, Guno lived in Prince Rupert before moving to Vancouver to attend the University of BC, where he pursued a law degree. In 1986 he became the NDP MLA for the former Atlin district, where he served for five years as an instrumental voice for Indigenous representation in legislature.

He also had a pioneering role in designing the Nisga’a Agreement, Canada’s first modern-day treaty. On May 10, B.C. Premier John Horgan acknowledged Guno’s work during celebrations of the treaty’s 19th anniversary in Victoria.

READ MORE: Nisga’a celebrate 19 years of self-government in B.C. legislature

Over five years, Guno began documenting his time at the Edmonton Residential School, using theatre as a vehicle to tell his story.

The characters in Bunk #7 were modelled after his own tightly knit group of friends who found friendship and strength together within the crushing void of the residential school system. The number seven refers to Guno’s bunk number in the dorm.

With the help of Brorup Weston and Indigenous playwright Yvette Nolan, Guno’s play was workshopped by the Native Earth theatre collective and was slated to debut in Toronto in 2006.

Though it never made the stage as a full production, the play was read to audiences in Toronto with Guno’s family members present. Since then, it’s been read to other residential school survivors and Indigenous communities, including a 2014 Truth and Reconciliation event in Edmonton.

Detailed within the play is the positive relationship the boys had with their English supervisor, Mr. O’Keefe. He was suddenly fired, possibly because he raised allegations that the vice-principal was a child predator. One of the boys the vice principal had abused ran away and froze to death on the Prairie, Weston says.

The decision outraged the boys and they rioted, causing the staff to lock themselves away in their rooms.

“It’s a story that demonstrates resilience through the worst kind of adversity, that’s the most important thing. These boys had to form their own community even though they were from different cultures,” Weston says. “The human spirit in the face of adversity can demonstrate unbelievable resilience to get to a good place.”

In an excerpt one character reflects on the beauty of his home, the one he was taken hundreds of miles away from.

“Oh God, at this moment, we are all thinking of home, of our families, of the places that we miss, we thank you for all the beautiful things, like the sea, the sound of the breakers rolling in, the call of the raven, the quiet murmur of the rivers, the sound of the voices of our forefathers from the forest, and most of all, God, the mountains and all our relations.”

READ MORE: Larry Guno’s story inspires to this day

Brorup Weston picked the project up again with the intention of keeping her promise to Larry Guno that she would direct and stage the play for his people. She and the Guno family founded the theatre company Raven Collective in Guno’s memory with the dedication of staging Bunk #7. Their goal is to perform the play across Canada and to foster the development of Indigenous theatre in northern B.C.

The Collective recently announced the project had received its first funding through the First People’s Cultural Council. The Nisga’a Village of Gitlatx’daamiks has also announced their support of the project through training support for emerging northwest BC First Nations actors working on the project.

Bunk #7 has also been selected to participate in Native Earth Performing Arts’ Weesageechak Begins to Dance, an Indigenous new play festival in Toronto this fall.

“There’s some very serious interest in moving this play forward. Indigenous theatre is only going to get bigger, there are just too many stories to be told.”


 


brittany@terracestandard.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Photo of the Edmonton Residential School where Larry Guno spent four years. (Contributed photo)

Photo of the Edmonton Residential School where Larry Guno spent four years. (Contributed photo)

Larry Guno in his later years. (Contributed photo)

Larry Guno in his later years. (Contributed photo)

Just Posted

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

Brent and Craig Lelleau of Lebleau Brothers Logging star in Mud Mountain Haulers on Discovery Canada. (Photo submitted)
Mud Mountain Haulers shine light on forest industry

New TV show, featuring Lebeau Brothers Logging and shot in the Cariboo, premieres tonight.

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Map of EnGold sites in Lac la Hache. (EnGold Mines Ltd. image)
EnGold contemplates future of possible mining project

There be gold in Lac La Hache- or at least the promise of substantial deposits.

Colour brings literacy alive (Black Press Media).
Literacy: ‘Endless realms of literacies’ still to discover

For many of us, the definition of literacy means knowing how to read and write texts.

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Kamloops This Week.
48 COVID-19 cases and one death associated with outbreak at Kamloops hospital

One of the 20 patients infected has died, meanwhile 28 staff with COVID-19 are isolating at home

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

Most Read