Photo: Vernon Museum and Archives
June is National Indigenous History Month, as well as an opportunity to highlight the history of the Sen’Klip Native Theater Company and its contributions to the advancement of Indigenous theater in Canada.
When the Sen’Klip Native Theater Company was founded in Vernon in 1988, it was one of few across Canada.
The company was based on ancestral storytelling practices and provided an outlet for the expression of Aboriginal cultural values and social concerns.
The company’s founder, Lynn Phelan, had previously worked with an Aboriginal theater company in Vancouver before returning to her hometown of Vernon.
In 1987, she founded the Native Youth Summer Theater with Okanagan Indian Band member Ruby Alexis.
The company later changed its name to Sen’Klip Native Theater Company, after the nsyilxcen word for “Coyote”. For the Syilx and Secwepemc peoples, Coyote is considered a trickster, creator, teacher and artist.
In 1989 the company produced its first professional play, “Shadow Warrior,” which toured British Columbia. Around this time, the company also began developing its “Coyote Tales” series, based on the legends of Sen’Klip. This series continued over the years and was based on the themes of respect for the Earth and its creatures.
The following years saw the company’s continued growth, both in size and popularity. 1992 was a particularly successful year and saw the company embark on a valley-wide tour of primary schools, develop an experimental traditional summer camp (later presented at PNE) and attend a conference on ecotourism in Whistler.
The Sen’Klip Native Theater Company operated for a decade, and during that time they continually demonstrated the power of the performing arts to serve as a major method of cross-cultural communication.
There will be an exhibition of costumes from the Sen’klip production of “How the Turtle Frees the Animals”, based on the captik Syilx??, at the Vernon Museum in June.
The costumes and masks were created by the founding director of Sen’klip, and renowned Syilx artist, Barbara Marchand.
Gwyn Evans is the Research and Communications Coordinator with the Vernon Museum and Archives.