Tla-o-qui-aht member reconciles with family history in Scenes from the Nanaimo Indian Hospital | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tla-o-qui-aht member reconciles with family history in Scenes from the Nanaimo Indian Hospital

Nanaimo, BC

Tla-o-qui-aht’s Hannah Frank takes on the role of Mary Robins in Scenes from the Nanaimo Indian Hospital, a play which marks a “confluence” of Nuu-chah-nulth, Hul’q’umin’um’ and Kwak’wala languages as the audience follows a friendship between three girls in attendance at the hospital.

“To represent Nuu-chah-nulth is to show that we're still here,” said Frank, who is a Grade 11 student at Shawnigan Lake School. “The schools or the hospitals didn't take us away.”

According to the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue centre, the Nanaimo Indian Hospital, open from 1946 to 1966, was among three larger-scale institutions that racially segregated First Nations people throughout the province. To stop the spread of tuberculosis, the “Indian hospitals” functioned to isolate patients, including students who contracted the illness while in attendance at residential schools, from the broader public.

Mary Robins, the Nuu-chah-nulth character in the play, speaks the Barkley dialect. While Frank, whose traditional territory is in the Tofino area, speaks a central dialect of Nuu-chah-nulth.

“It was really different learning a different dialect,” said Frank, adding that some words used in the central dialect differed to Barkley dialect. 

Roughly 40 per cent of Frank's lines are spoken in Nuu-chah-nulth, she said.

Though Frank shared that she does not speak fluently, she strives to one day hold conversations with other fluent speakers. Frank took on the play as an opportunity for her to learn more of her Nuu-chah-nulth language.

“The culture still lives inside us, the language still lives inside us,” said Frank. “It isn’t gone.”

“The language, it’s just sleeping,” she added. “You just have to wake it up.”

Frank first got involved with the play by suggestion from her aunt, Ida Thompson. But at first, Frank was hesitant because she had not acted before.

“The reason why I chose and agreed to do the play was because my late-grandpa, Art Thompson, he was in the Nanaimo Indian hospital,” she said. “It was a chance for me to help raise awareness about this, and reconcile as well.”

Dr. Laura Cranmer of ‘Nagmis and Haida First Nations wrote the play. She is a residential school survivor and was at the Nanaimo Indian Hospital for three years.

“Hearing other stories about people going in for the dentist and coming back with no teeth… I thought that was horrible,” said Frank. “I couldn't imagine what they've been through.”

“I do this to help reconcile and do my part of telling a story,” she added.

Though the play has traveled across Vancouver Island, two performances remain on Thursday, March 28 at the Malaspina Theatre in Nanaimo. The location of this performance is across the street of the former Nanaimo Indian Hospital.

The matinee show is sold out, but a few tickets remain for the final performance at 6:30 p.m., and admittance for this show is free. Tickets can be reserved online at….

“My hope is that I can show that I'm Tla-o-qui-aht, and that I'm very proud to be Tla-o-qui-aht,” said Frank. “I hope that I make my people back at home really proud of what I'm doing.”

Share this: