The Violence of Neglect

Our stories are medicine. And they will persist despite the violence of neglect. Our stories have and will continue to transform this country. Our stories speak to the interconnected-ness of all things. They are the cultural heritage of this land. I have seen the power of story to heal. I have seen the engagement with the creative process transform and empower at-risk youth into the brilliant, powerful and spirited human beings they always were. I have personally witnessed theatre bridge the gaps within families and between communities. – Kevin Loring (Artistic Director, National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre)

I was taking a break from working on a grant application when I saw the news on Facebook yesterday: that the department of Canadian Heritage has declined to fund the National Arts Centre’s new Indigenous Theatre section in 2019.  I said (out loud, alone in my apartment), “you have got to be f*cking kidding me.”

So this morning I did some research and then I wrote a letter, because writing is the tool that I have. I’m copying it here in case anyone finds it helpful; I know the reading I did of other peoples’ posts and articles (some links below) helped me cram yesterday’s flabbergasted anger into something more coherent.

I also made a donation to the NAC Indigenous Theatre section (see link below), because disposable income is another tool that I am privileged to have at the moment, even if I don’t have much of it.


To the Minister of Canadian Heritage & Multiculturalism Pablo Rodriguez; cc Hedy Fry (MP, Vancouver Centre)

I am appalled to hear that Canadian Heritage has declined to fund the Indigenous Theatre section of the National Arts Centre in 2019, putting its inaugural season under major financial pressure and casting the whole future of the program into doubt. This is so profoundly disrespectful to everyone who has worked for years to make this program a reality; all the artists and administrators and community members who consulted and fundraised and negotiated and dreamed it into being, and now have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to fulfill the commitments they have made for Year 1 on a budget that has suddenly been reduced by half.

This decision is also short-sighted, and incredibly tone deaf to conversations and movements towards equity, inclusion and reconciliation that are happening in theatre communities across Canada. There is a lot of work to do, and our national theatre should be on the leading edge. Public funds – my tax dollars – should support the NAC in this.

In a Canadian Press article that appeared today, a Canadian Heritage communications officer is quoted as saying that the government supports the performing arts and Indigenous art, having “recently invested $225 million to support the renewal of the National Arts Centre.” The quote continues: “The Government of Canada has never invested so much in the reconciliation process”.

No. Just, no. Unless that $225 million was specifically earmarked for Indigenous programming at the NAC – and it seems very clear that it wasn’t – you don’t get to claim it as an investment in the reconciliation process. The decision not to fund the Indigenous Theatre section this year is, in fact, pretty much the polar opposite of reconciliation, and it’s not just disrespectful and shortsighted – it’s dangerous. It’s “violence by neglect”, as Kevin Loring put it in his statement.

The Indigenous Theatre section at the NAC has the potential to do fundamentally important, healing work – not only in Ottawa but with artists, communities and theatre companies all across Canada. I sincerely hope that you will reconsider this funding decision, and work with everyone involved to establish consistent support for this very necessary program.

Thank you,
Melanie Thompson
Vancouver, BC

THINGS TO READ for anyone who wants to know more:

1. NAC Indigenous Section Artistic Director Kevin Loring’s statement on Facebook:

2. A blog post by Indigenous theatre maker Kim Senklip Harvey:

3. The Canadian Press article I referenced in my letter above:

4. A timeline with lots of good info on the development of the Indigenous Theatre section at the NAC:


Minister of Canadian Heritage & Multiculturalism Pablo Rodriguez
1-866-811-0055 (toll-free),
15 Eddy Street, Gatineau, QC K1A 0M5

Find your Member of Parliament here:…/…/constituencies/FindMP


Donate to the NAC Indigenous Theatre Section via the NAC Foundation here (you can specify where you want your funds to go):