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(Photo: Matthew Oliver VanDiepen)

I learned to reconcile my Indigenous identity with my Christianity

"I have met Jesus in the smoke of burning sage, the darkness and warmth of the sweat lodge, and the powwow drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth."

By Zach Running Coyote

What happens when you throw a whitewashed young Native man on a Greyhound bus with a Native grandmother, throw in a flesh-eating monster from Cree mythology, folk music, and tongue-in-cheek comedy and call it theatre?

You probably didn’t say "the gospel," but the gospel is precisely what I hope to perpetuate with my upcoming one-act play, "Kohkum & Me," in which tell the story I just described. Tommy (played by me) is a 20-something adopted kid who has no idea where he comes from, so he hops a bus to Vancouver to find his birth mom and prove once and for all who he is. He is stuck next to Kohkum (Cree for grandmother, also played by me), an old woman who drinks, smokes and spins crazy stories from Cree mythology. And she might just be Jesus, showing up in all the ways Tommy could never predict and doesn’t want to face.

I was adopted at six months old and raised by a white family with a pastor for a dad, and I knew nothing of what it meant to be Indigenous. I didn’t know how to relate to the person I saw in the mirror and became disconnected from my body. When I was sexually abused in my teens, my lack of identity combined with the trauma made me feel completely lost.

Then I discovered theatre and met Native women with years of traditional knowledge. My friend Helen, a Cree elder and residential school survivor who has a vibrant relationship with Jesus, showed me that who I am as an Indigenous person can be reconciled with the faith I grew up with. I have met Jesus in the smoke of burning sage, the darkness and warmth of the sweat lodge, and the powwow drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

I’m building a theatre collective called The Rest of Us Theatre Co., a company dedicated to telling the gospel story by connecting to and honouring Mother Earth, all creation and Creator. Our first play, "Kohkum & Me," will premiere at the Motel Theatre in Calgary next June.

My acting, writing and whole person have been decolonized and transformed, and in the play, I wanted to share that with others and show that Jesus is not limited to a white, colonized idea. Jesus rescued me from deep pain, fear and adversity and my Indigenous identity is where he met me.

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