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Stories of the Northwest Territories

by Pauline Nesbitt November 17, 2015
Stories of the Northwest Territories

Akpik Theatre presents Tumit, a northern Indigenous play performed in English and French

Tumit, a northern Indigenous play that combines memory, poetry and traditional storytelling as a means of dealing with the curve balls life can throw your way, opened on Friday. This is the first northern play that was inspired, written, translated and performed by Indigenous women to be presented in Montreal in both English and French.

Reneltta Arluk both wrote Tumit and stars as Sarah in the English role. Photo by JProcktor Photography & Chris Randle Photography.

Reneltta Arluk both wrote Tumit and stars as Sarah in the English role. Photo by JProcktor Photography & Chris Randle Photography.

“Tumit,” the Inuktitut word for tracks, is used as a powerful metaphor in this one-woman play to signal both the geographical location of the action as well as the path Sarah, the main character, takes as she struggles with life. She is a woman in her thirties living in the Northwest Territories who discovers she is pregnant after having kicked her husband out. She is broke and has to move out of the apartment. While packing for the move she reflects on the different cycles of her life and gains a serenity that fortifies her determination to confront the challenges she faces.

Tumit was written by Reneltta Arluk, who lives in the Northwest Territories. She said that the inspiration came “from the gut”—a need to tell northern Indigenous stories to a wide audience. “We are a small population on a large land mass, and I think our stories should be shared with each other, with other people … Our young people’s voices are important,” said Arluk. She added that although the story could belong to any woman anywhere, it is the manner in which Sarah deals with the situation that makes it a unique northern story. For Arluk, Tumit “offers an opportunity for communities to come together … it’s a way to show and share.”

Jessica Abdullah considers directing this play as a social experiment, in that the actors used the same script in two languages. She added that while the performances are distinctly different, the actors came up with similar elements for their character development without her guidance, which she attributes to a successful French translation. “It was crazy at times, to be going from one [language] to the next, but fascinating,” said Abdullah. She mused that the play evokes a motif of perfection, but Sarah’s tracks show that accepting life as it unravels, “warts and all,” makes us stronger.

Arluk assumes the role of Sarah in English, while Emilie Monnet, a French-speaking Montrealer and Indigenous woman, plays this character in French.

Although the action takes place in the apartment, an interesting mix of recorded sounds and music track Sarah’s life. A soft, haunting music filled with bird song recalls her childhood when she accompanied her grandparents as they followed the tracks of rabbits out on the ice. Pieces of popular music situate her as a young adult and the Indigenous voices heard throughout the play stamp its location.

After Friday’s performance in English, Arluk shared her culture by offering a tasting of bannock—an Indigenous flat bread—that was served with stew.

Tumit is produced by Akpik Theatre, which develops and produces northern Indigenous stories. Performances continue until Nov. 21 at Mainline Theatre, 3998 St. Laurent Blvd. Student tickets are $20 and can be purchased at akpiktheatre.com/tumit.

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