Theatre for change in Indigenous communities

Kaitlin Lickers believes in theatre’s capacity to alter attitudes toward Indigenous mental health

Student actress Kaitlin Lickers’ work on the Six Nations reserve inspired her involvement with the theatre community at Queen’s.
Student actress Kaitlin Lickers’ work on the Six Nations reserve inspired her involvement with the theatre community at Queen’s.
Kaitlin Lickers’ passion for theatre isn’t just artistic — she’s also inspired by its potential to improve mental health on one of Canada’s largest First Nations reserves. 
 
Coming to Queen’s from the Six Nations reserve where she lives and works as a mental health worker, Lickers followed her love for drama all the way to Queen’s. Growing up, Lickers was involved with countless productions and she’s moved on to major in drama. 
 
Most recently, Lickers played the role of Michelle in The Hours That Remain — a play presented by Queen’s Native Students Association as part of Aboriginal Awareness Week. 
 
The Hours That Remain, held at the Tett Centre from March 10 to 12, follows the story of an Indigenous woman, Denise, who’s haunted by her missing sister Michelle. The play is fragmented by a series of visions in which Michelle visits Denise. 
 
Lickers said the mood of the play becomes intense and scary, as Denise desperately tries to solve the mystery of her sister’s disappearance. 
 
The play confronts the reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in Canada, an issue that gained national attention after reports discovered disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered Aboriginal girls in Canada. Lickers says the play is a reminder that MMIW is an issue that demands urgent attention. 
 
“Native people are so overlooked sometimes on that issue,” Lickers said.
 
Growing up on the Six Nations reserve, Lickers, ArtSci ’18, has first-hand experience with important mental health issues that are overlooked by mainstream media and within her community.
 
Lickers was mental health outreach worker on the Six Nations reserve last summer and hopes to hold the position again this coming summer. The role allows her to be involved with causes like suicide prevention. She said suicide and mental health are often seen as taboo within the reserve community, as there’s a belief that mental health concerns are shameful.
 
“That’s why we have such a high suicide rate on the reserve,” Lickers said. “It’s because nobody wants to talk about [it] … because they feel like no one is going to understand.” 
 
Lickers’ job gave her the opportunity to plan a suicide prevention day within her community in September last year. Lickers said she hosted engaging drama and music workshops to motivate youth to follow their interests beyond the reserve. She believes fostering this motivation in youth could help lower rates of depression and inspire them to seek new opportunities.
 
“If I wasn’t motivated, I’d still be on the res right now,” Lickers said. “If people are motivated they’re not going to be drawn to all these bad habits in life.” 
 
Lickers’ love for theatre was fostered in high school. She said it was a coping mechanism for her own mental 
health struggles. 
 
“If I ever have mental health struggles, as soon as I got on stage … I can leave everything that’s bugging me at the door 
and I just feel so much happier when I leave.”  
 
Drama became a source of inspiration and confidence for Lickers, and she realized she wanted to pursue it beyond her community. Today, she can picture herself becoming involved with the technical side of theatre, film or teaching. 
 
Lickers doesn’t see her Aboriginal heritage as a defining aspect of her identity as an artist, however. Although her heritage is important to her, The Hours That Remain was her first involvement with Aboriginal theatre.
 
“I never did want to do any Aboriginal theatre because I didn’t want to be stereotyped as just an Aboriginal artist who can only do Aboriginal plays,” she said. 
 
“Yes, I am Native, but I can do more than just that.”

Corrections

March 18, 2016

Six Nations is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada, not the largest Six Nations reserve in Canada.

The Journal regrets the error.

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