This week on Minnesota Native News, the sound of young people growing and community healing. Laurie Stern reports on a new production that will soon be available for all to see.
“My name is Jennifer Cortez. I’m 17. I’m from Leech Lake. And today we are starting our filming for our play in my shoes.”
“In my shoes is a suicide prevention play. We talk about depression, anxiety, a lot of different mental illnesses. And we make sure that people know that these are real-life, illnesses, and that a lot of people do have them and that our friends can have them. And it’s really hard to sometimes see. But in the end, it’s better to help and to receive that help and ask for that help,” she said.
At 17, Jennifer Cortez is a mentor to younger cast members. Ikidowin recruited 10 new actors this summer. Liana Star Kier from White Earth is 12.
“I take pride in my indigenous culture. So I’m, I’m trying to stay in the community,” she said. “I have two characters. I’m a bully in one and I put other characters down. I don’t like that. But my other part is, I’m a guest speaker in a classroom. My elder and I do teaching about breath. Like how to relax yourself,” said Liana.
The theater troupe has been practicing most of the summer, building a sense of community and self-confidence.
“If you just like practice and practice more, acting can get more easier. Because when I first started, I was very shy, like, I couldn’t project very well. But I’m better at projected now,” said 11-year-old Joseph Green.
The Ikidowin program has been around for decades, a project of the Minneapolis-based Indigenous People’s Task Force. Curtis Kirby III has directed many of its productions. This one is different because it’s being staged at a real theater.
“We’re on our first day at the Southern Theatre, and we’re doing tech, and I think it’s just awesome to just be in this position because hopefully, this won’t be so irregular. This is our first time in a real theater, with lights, and, you know, we’re actually filming it. So I hope that we have more of these experiences and that we continue to be able to do this work at this capacity and give other youth opportunities,” said Kirby.
Kirby, as everyone calls him, says the inner-city youth he works with don’t have access to extracurricular programs that kids from wealthier families do. Theater, art and sports are often cut when budgets are tight. Ikidowin is a way to provide some of those opportunities.
Not only is In My Shoes being performed at a professional theater, it is being filmed so it can have a life online.
“Not many people go out because of delta. And they haven’t gotten their vaccine yet. So they don’t really go out to places with a lot of people. So filming it, and like being able to put it on YouTube will allow more people to see it,” said 16-year-old Nalia Segura is from Leech Lake.
“These stories affect people where I’m from, Bois Forte. Youth grew up in those reservations that might not get this education elsewhere, because they’re from small towns, and that’s not really a focus, or they don’t talk about these things,” said Kirby. “All across the state, youth as young as fifth grade are attempting suicide or committing suicide, you know, until it’s a very heavy price. But I think, that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to tell stories to our people, we’re here to heal our people.”
In My Shoes will be available in September on Ikidowin’s new YouTube channel: IkidoFireSema.
Laurie Stern reporting for Minnesota Native News