Updated: Mar 24, 2022
“We need to find ways to uplift our youth – to inspire them with knowledge. By instilling them with knowledge, we’re letting them know it’s okay to be who they are. That’s how we ensure that we’re holding them close and doing our best to take care of them.”
– Marshall Vielle
Marshall Vielle is a Mohkínstsis-based (Calgary) theatre artist from Kainai (Blood) Nation. Theygraduated from the University of Lethbridge (UofL) with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts (BFA), specialising in theatre performance. Marshall has been pursuing a life in the arts their whole life – they had a childhood dream of becoming a popstar. Originally attending UofL for a degree in English education, Marshall discovered a love for stage acting and switched to a BFA in their third year.
Although Marshall only acted in a few shows while attending UofL, they have been working on the stage steadily since they graduated in 2017. Touring from Mohkínstsis (Calgary) to
Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton), Marshall uses performance and theatre as a tool to teach.
Building on a foundation of understanding, Marshall actively supports folx like themself who
don’t get to see themselves on stage. Starting with Making Treaty 7 (MT7) back in 2018,
Marshall performed in the Kaahsinnoniks (Our Ancestors) show – a reimagining of the original play MT7 has been performing since 2013.
“I remember being inspired knowing there were so many awesome folx involved in telling our story,” Marshall says. “I really wanted to be a part of that.”
Marshall worked on the Istotsi Workshop Series as a host – speaking about the background of theatre, including stage management and costuming. “This is what theatre actually is – it’s not just actors on stage under a light,” Marshall says. “It’s a group of humans coming together to fulfill a common goal – to create strong storytelling that does its best to open the eyes of folx who are here living in Treaty 7.”
Artists immersing themselves with the land is an essential teaching of the Istotsi Workshop
Series. Marshall chose St. Patrick’s Island Park, a spot in the city they have felt deeply
connected to since moving to Mohkínstsis, as their site to create a piece about.
“I’ve always been drawn to St. Patrick’s Island,” they said. It’s secluded and surrounded by
water, earth, and trees, but it’s also a gathering place for families.”
Marshall was inspired by Michel de Broin’s art piece Bloom – a massive, 24-metre-high
sculpture of lights and metal on the shore of the island – for their Istotsi piece. “It’s such a
beautiful piece of work,” Marshall says. “At nighttime, the way it shines ... to me, it reminds me of the stars. I’ve always been drawn to it, so I chose it as my place.”
During the process of creating their Istotsi piece, Marshall listened to stories about the stars
from Blackfoot Elders for inspiration. One of the stories was familiar to Marshall – they had
heard it many times while growing up – a story about mistreated children who decide to leave Earth to transform into stars in the sky.
“They weren’t loved, cherished, and respected in the way kids should be,” Marshall says. “They had to find their own meaning – which would give them peace. The reason (we were told) this story is that we have to take care of our youth.”
The story reverberated through Marshall’s summer – casting a shadow over the traumatic
events of uncovered burial sites. It was a painful comparison to connect star-children with the children of Turtle Island who never made it home.
“It was a heavy summer,” Marshall says. “It was really hard for me to create a story about that, but I think it was my way of processing ... (although I’m) not saying I found peace in that, but it was my way of taking in all that knowledge and finding a creative outlet to work through that healing.”
While visiting the St. Patrick’s Island Park site, Marshall offered tobacco, sat, and contemplated their Istotsi piece. They recall being sad and angry that Indigenous youth who were lost in residential schools couldn’t enjoy the park – to swim, laugh and have fun – like the settler children who were there now.
“There are families that get to live their lives without having to hold on to this trauma that
Native folx are dealing with,” Marshall says. “Learning to reconcile that connection with the
land and finding ways to heal from that trauma, for myself, and not necessarily being upset
about it ... I’m now aware of what I’m going into this storytelling with.”
While creating the piece, Marshall asked themself about their place on Earth and why we do
the things we do. For Marshall, theatre can answer these questions by showing us how to be human.
“Humans come from the stars,” Marshall says. “We think about it in terms of spiritual belief – of going into the spirit world and being able to live there once we pass on. More scientifically, we’re all made of matter and our energy and atoms slowly leave us and the world around us becomes the universe. I’ve always believed in being a part of that world.”
Although Marshall would have preferred a return to live theatre, working in isolation offered
them the chance to share an unfiltered, unique piece of art with the world.
“We were able to immortalize the stories we got to create,” Marshall says. “In many ways, it’s great that we got to have our stories recorded, so that whatever our connection is with the land in 2021 won’t ever be lost. I think it happened the way that it needed to.”