BARRIE — Ziigwen Mixemong is a Grade 12 student at Eastview Secondary School in Barrie, Ont. who is shedding light on missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) in this year’s Sears Drama Festival. Her play Empty Regalia is Eastview’s entry into the 70-year-old theatre competition, winning the district Sears Drama Festival and progressing into the regional competition on April 15 in Cambridge.
Ziigwen is Potawatomi and Mi’kmaq from Beausoleil First Nation. Raised in an arts-oriented family, Ziigwen has always held a special interest in theatre. After discovering her school’s on-going participation in the Sears Drama Festival and watching one of her peers put on a show of their own for the competition last year, Ziigwen was inspired to explore her own theatre talents.
Urged by the need for awareness on the issue of MMIW in Canada, Ziigwen wrote and directed Empty Regalia and was lucky enough to have been one of the student plays chosen to compete. Ziigwen credits the role models in her life for accepting and supporting her in expressing her people’s stories. Ziigwen’s teachers immediately started getting her cast and crew together after reading a draft of her play.
“The play chronicles the lives of MMIW in Canada. There are four vignettes in the play with two other scenes acting as bookends,” said Ziigwen. “Each scene shows the demise of various Indigenous women at different stages of their life. When writing the play, it was very important for me that it wasn’t just the story of one woman because the topic isn’t about a singular occurrence, it’s about numerous lives.”
When she first began writing the play, Ziigwen found that there wasn’t enough being said in the media about MMIW, but as her work progressed, she began to see more coverage on the issue.
“You read so many statistics about the higher risks that we have as Indigenous women and I can’t help but think, I’m at no risk and I’m safe, how bad are the lives of my sisters to balance out these statistics?” said Ziigwen. “It’s always struck so close to my heart. Having said that, I found the subject matter excruciatingly painful. Sometimes I would be writing and would have to take a break for a week and smudge just to be able to keep going. I knew that what I was writing had to be written about and that someone needed to advocate for these women and that’s what really got me through it.”
Ziigwen’s perseverance has paid-off, and now she is looking forward to the opportunity to continue spreading awareness to more audiences. Participating in the Sears Drama Festival comes with challenges of it’s own. With the district, regional and Ontario-wide levels of competition, each stage of the Festival comes with a strict set of rules and guidelines for each production to follow, including limitations on set dimensions and time allowances for set-up and take-down. Eastview won one of the three spots advancing to regionals among 11 other schools. They now compete against 15 other schools, with only two plays moving on to the Ontario-wide competition. But more than the competition, Ziigwen hopes that the stories reach her audiences in a way that urges them to know more about the reality Indigenous women face in Canada.
“If someone goes home after watching the play and spends a couple minutes better educating themselves, it helps to stop the perpetuation of ignorance, and that’s all I ask,” said Ziigwen. “I do hope that the audience appreciates the extreme courage of my cast. To embrace the roles and lives of these women on such an immersive level is quite a feat and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Tickets to see Empty Regalia at the Cambridge Sears Drama Festival can be purchased at the door prior to showtime at 7p.m. For more info visit, www.searsdramafestival.com.