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Michelle Thrush’s O’kosi is a Love Letter Between Parents and Children

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

“This is a philosophy I carry – that, as artists, we are channels bringing medicine through our voices and bodies to the audience. There is a transfer of medicine that happens between the actor and the audience – to me, that’s sacred.”
- Michelle Thrush, MT7 Artistic Director

O’kosi (pron: oh-goh-see – Blackfoot: ‘in the fall, when we gather’), directed and co-written by Making Treaty 7 (MT7) Artistic Director Michelle Thrush, is a multi-disciplinary, multi-generational, and multi-dimensional expression of the legacy of Treaty 7 on Indigenous families performed by an all-Blackfoot cast.

Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples have gathered in kitchens to laugh, tell stories, and learn from one another. Along with her brother-in-law, Harley Bastien, an Elder from Piikani Nation, Michelle Thrush and five other members of MT7 met in her kitchen to envision O’kosi.

“Children in our communities were traditionally raised in the centre of our villages and camps,” says Michelle. “We surrounded our children as aunties, uncles, and grandparents – we all invested in raising our children. That’s what this show is truly about – how we place our children in the centre, protect them, and love them. That’s what we need to remember – the importance of healing our families so that we can raise our children in a better way.”

innaihtsiiyi (Treaty) didn’t begin on September 22, 1877, when the Crown met with the Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, Stoney-Nakoda and Tsuut’ina Peoples to sign Treaty 7. Blackfoot Peoples have been making innaihtsiiyi with the land and animals for thousands of years – coexisting in peace with Turtle Island. When Peoples signed Treaty 7, they walked into it just as they walked with the buffalo and the water, not anticipating the unimaginable trauma Treaty 7 would bring.

Changing the future for Indigenous children starts with breaking colonial systems, reuniting families, and healing communities – O’kosi is a love letter between parents and children. Characters cross through timelines, meeting once a year in Mohkínstsis (Calgary) on September 22 until 2077 – 200 years after the signing of Treaty 7.

As a professional actor and director for 30 years, Michelle is attempting to bring O’kosi to a wider audience – an Indigenous audience that can often feel uncomfortable in the world of theatre. Along with MT7 Executive Director Neil Fleming, the pair have introduced a three-tier, pay-what-you-can pricing model.

“It’s been a huge goal of ours – enticing Indigenous Peoples to feel comfortable in the theatre,” Michelle says. “We’re giving different options for ticket buyers. If you can afford $75, that’s wonderful. If not, there’s another tier. We want to make sure that theatre is accessible to Indigenous Peoples.”

Inspired by her previous work, Michelle wrote O’kosi as a series of thematically connected vignettes. Actor Garret Smith (Piikani Nation), an MT7 alumnus, brought his piece kitsikakomim (Blackfoot: I love you) to the production. Joined by actor Mary Rose Cohen (Siksika), kitsikakomim explores the connections between a father and daughter. Expanding on kitsikakomim, Michelle gathered five actors, including Garret and Mary, and spent a week in a lodge outside of Waterton fleshing out new scenes with the cast.

“This has been a really interesting journey for [Mary Rose Cohen],” Michelle says. “We flew her in from Vancouver – she just graduated from Studio 58. This is her first big production and we brought her back to where her mother’s People are from. She’s learning throughout this production about who she is as a Blackfoot youth, and I think that’s cool.”

Garret and Mary are joined by spoken word poet Alanna Onespot (Tsuut’ina), Siksika Nation drama teacher Janine Owlchild (Siksika), and actor Dusty Frank (Kainai).

O’kosi isn’t just a stage play – MT7 utilizes projection, video, poetry, and live music. Andy Moro, the projectionist and set designer, filmed a video for O’kosi in Fort Macleod with Elder Harley and Blackfoot actor, Telly James. As the final portion of O’kosi takes place in 2077, after a water-war apocalypse has occurred, Andy’s footage shows a desolate planet, ravaged by decades of climate change.

“I’ve been invested in this story for a very long time,” Michelle says. “It’s like a love letter between a parent and a child who have never spoken to each other – speaking the words on stage that I wish our families were able to speak. I want people to walk away from O’kosi feeling love – for Indigenous Peoples and for what we’ve been through in our healing.”

O'Kosi is playing at the Pumphouse Theatre September 22 - October 1, 2022 - find out more and where to buy tickets here.

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