Corey Payette: creating space in theatre for reconciliation 

Photo: 2021 British Columbia Reconciliation Awardee, Corey Payette

A playwright, actor, composer and director, Corey Payette’s highly acclaimed musical production, Children of God, has brought conversations on truth and reconciliation to audiences throughout Canada. Corey is a leader in contemporary Indigenous theatre, and through his role as artistic director of Urban Ink and Raven Theatre, he mentors emerging BIPOC artists in telling their own stories from their own unique voices.  

In 2021 Corey Payette received the inaugural British Columbia Reconciliation Award for his work and commitment to inspiring and making lasting change to reconciliation through the arts.  

Corey, an Oji-Cree from Ontario who has made his home in Vancouver for the last decade, was not raised in the culture of his nations, but as a child he came to know the stories of this family and ancestors that had been silenced for generations. In adulthood, he found passion in telling the stories that shed light on the experiences of Indigenous peoples.  

Photo: Children of God

In Children of God, an Oji-Cree family has their children taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario. Following the production, a conversation is created for the community to hear from residential school survivors and their descendants. While Corey had prepared himself for the stories of the survivors, he was struck by the number of non-Indigenous people who spoke up. In response to these shared memories and deep truths, they offered their commitment to teach their children the history of residential schools and to be better citizens. This, Corey says, is reconciliation in action—when individuals see it as their personal responsibility to make change. It means adapting one’s view of what it means to live on this land and making the commitments to move forward.  

Today, Corey continues his pursuit of reconciliation and the arts through his most recent offering Stories that Transform Us a film that premiered at the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival last fall. The film illustrates how Urban Ink began and how it has evolved over the years, featuring the artistic leaders that helped shape the company, and how their work created a space where diverse and Indigenous stories could be heard. 

Thanks to Corey’s commitment to his craft, thousands of Canadians understand the truth and enduring impacts of residential schools and intergenerational trauma. His work has created space for survivors to share their stories and young people, many who have been cut off from their language or have been displaced from their communities, to voice their experiences. 

In response to receiving the BC Reconciliation Award, Corey is humble but inspired: “I feel like I’ve only just begun this work. It makes me feel like I’m on the right road and that my musicals are reaching people and making lasting change in the community.”  

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