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'Prime Minister Kaur!' Calgary Sikh students act out visions of Canada's future

'I actually want to be Prime Minister when I grow up' — Lakshpreet, Grade 6

 
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Fabiola Melendez Carletti · for Canada 2017 · 
 
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Two Grade 6 students at the Khalsa School in Calgary's northeast perform The Struggle of our Ancestors, a black light performance that culminates in a bright vision for the future. (Khalsa School Calgary/Trickster Theatre)

"Make some noise for the prime minister of Canada!" 

Perched atop a neon blue parliament building, Lakshpreet Kaur Sumal waves to a cheering crowd. It's the Khalsa School of Calgary's first ever school-wide performance and the 11-year-old has been cast as Prime Minister Kaur — the first Sikh woman to ever head the government of Canada. It's a vision for the future dreamt up by her Grade 6 class.

"Everyone was clapping for me," Lakshpreet recalled to Baninoor Kaur, a teacher at the school. She says the performance made her feel good and important. "I actually want to be the Prime Minister when I grow up!"

 
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Lakshpreet Sumal, a Grade 6 student at the Khalsa School, plays the newly elected Sikh prime minister of Canada in 2019. (Khalsa School Calgary/Trickster Theatre)

A travelling show

The schoolgirl is among thousands of young Albertans acting out Canada's rich histories and possible futures with Trickster Theatre. The Calgary performance company is marking Canada's sesquicentennial with week-long residencies at over 40 Alberta schools. Their travelling show is called Canada 150: Our Many Faces

Participating schools have chosen a theme to reflect, educate or inspire their student body — from First Nations health at Ermineskin School in Maskwacis to mixed ability at Emily Follensbee School in southwest Calgary to French-Canadian culture at École les Cyprès in Medicine Hat.

 
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Grade 3 students perform a theatre piece about Gatka, an ancient form of martial arts developed by Sikhs. (Khalsa School Calgary)

"We're not building a play. We're building a series of pieces united by a common theme," says Trickster Theatre founder and director David Chantler. His company sends a travelling rig and a small team of artists to each school. The "tricksters" arrive armed with costumes, crash mats, pool noodles, parachutes and a flexible formula for an original show.

Each classroom has a week to work with a performer, blending props, choreography and A/V effects into their own unique piece. 

And although the residency is meant to be interactive and fun, there's room to explore more difficult themes — from climate change to suicide prevention to discrimination.

"It's definitely a more balanced picture than when I went to school," says Chantler. 

'A place for everybody'

 

Khalsa School's theme, Sikhs in Canada: Past to Present, brought together the school's 400-plus student population — from kindergarten students to ninth graders. Collectively, they explored the highs and lows of the Sikh community's time in Canada. 

Kaur, the Grade 1 teacher who helped bring the show to the school, sees a growing role for the arts as younger generations explore a greater range of opportunities.

"With theatre there's a place for everybody," says Kaur, adding that Canadian Sikhs of times past were just trying to get by. Now, as high-profile Sikhs like entertainer Lilly Singh and Humble the Poet continue to rise, she hopes to see more programming rooted in drama and the arts. 

"I think it's crucial, actually."

With theatre there's a place for everybody.- Baninoor Kaur , Grade 1 teacher

The teacher's not alone in her assessment. Trickster Theatre's model has captured the attention of academics at the University of Calgary, who have studied the project as an example of Socially Empowered Learning

They found that programs like Trickster's "significantly increased" engagement, empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit among students. 

This model is also supports "the kids who get in trouble," says Chantler. Suddenly there's a role for students who want to shout out and move around. 

Memorable lessons

The students at Khalsa School certainly seem to have enjoyed their time in the spotlight. 

Grade 5 student Guramrit Singh said the week-long project was "the best thing that happened in my life ... I had a lot of fun!"

 
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Children were among the asylum seekers denied entry to Canada in 1914 and forced to return to face violence in India. Canada formally apologized for the incident in 2016.

Older students were able to recount lessons in detail, like Grade 7 student Gurshaan Rai. 

"We learned about our ancestors and how much they struggled in Canada. We learned that they came a long time ago and they were discriminated against and judged by their turbans and how they looked," Gurshaan told Kaur, pointing to high-profile Sikh leaders like Harjit Sajjan as evidence how far his community has come.

(The defence minister actually made a brief cameo in one of the performances, via recorded video message.) 

"Sometimes we say that our parents work at only Walmart, but we know how much it took for them to get to the better jobs they have today," adds Rai.

"The culture in Canada is starting to get used to Sikh People."

It was the best thing that happened in my life. I could show my acting skills in front of so many people. I had a lot of fun!- Guramrit Singh, Grade 5

 

Interest in Trickster's program has ballooned far past early goals, says Chantler. Roughly 15,000 Alberta students are involved in the 150 project, not to mention teachers, parents and other volunteers. 

Although a few months have passed since the tricksters left the building, Kaur still gets charged up describing the show, which the school has posted online in its entirety. 

"Honestly, I didn't hear one negative comment. Not even one. Not from anyone," says Kaur.

 

 

"I've already had so many students asking: 'when are we doing this again'?" 

Trickster Theatre's Canada 150 residency program is ongoing and will continue throughout the 2017/2018 school year. 

Are you creating art for, about, or because of Canada 150? Share your paintings, photography, music, poetry, or local event with us at 2017@cbc.ca.

 

 
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Prime Minister Kaur's supporters surround her with positive signs, including one that reads: "Open your eyes, hearts and minds. Equality for all." (Khalsa School Calgary/Trickster Theatre)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
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Fabiola Melendez Carletti

 

Fabiola Melendez Carletti is a journalist and digital storyteller. She is currently lending her talents to Canada 2017, the CBC's year-long sesquicentennial project.

 

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Not gonna ever happen no matter what

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8 minutes ago, Singh123456777 said:

Not gonna ever happen no matter what

If Trudeau has his way, they'll be something along those lines really soon, lol.

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1 hour ago, MisterrSingh said:

If Trudeau has his way, they'll be something along those lines really soon, lol.

Trudeau is a good guy but no way in hell would there ever be a sikh prime minister. There is still more racist white people in canada than we know.

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Support your people definitely, but don't be that m-o-r-o-n who is going to vote for someone just because they claim to have faith in Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, (key-word: claim), also don't vote for someone simply because they have a certain sex part that's below which unless your the spouse you shouldn't really be looking at, (I apologize, I can't keep that pg).

2 hours ago, singhbj singh said:

It could happen soon if this Bibi transforms into a Kaur 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bardish_Chagger

 

This person one by a plurality, not a majority, if her own district is conflicted how would the rest of the nation feel?

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The topic is about giving hope to children but I'm sceptical about writers agenda to write such an article.

Sikhs governing Canada can make natives envy Sikhs.

So it's better for Sikhs to stick with organic growth & disregard inorganic approach.

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1 hour ago, singhbj singh said:

Sikhs governing Canada can make natives envy Sikhs.

I thought Canadian Sikhs were the tough guys and girls? The Liberal Anti-Whites woild easily vote for a Sikh regardless what their position was. This happened in 2008 and in 2012 when a bunch of Gora-haters voted for Obama in the U.S. over Ron Paul, (yes, we know he wasn't the major candidate), but rather vote for a man based on his skin color, even though Ron Paul was a much better canidate. 

The point being you don't need the Aboriginal vote to win in Canada in the same the Indians learned that they don't need the Non-Hindu vote.

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On 07/04/2017 at 0:34 PM, Singh123456777 said:

There is still more racist white people in canada than we know.

I don't see how they're racist for wanting their majority White Western country to be led by a fellow white. 

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7 hours ago, MisterrSingh said:

I don't see how they're racist for wanting their majority White Western country to be led by a fellow white. 

What i mean is there are a lot of closet rascists in canada even though its not noticed, but in the 2019 election you will see them in force cause of the trump wave.

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Even if there was a prime minister kaur or a singh of canada it would make zero difference to the condition of western Sikhs apart from obvious media and general public awareness of who Sikhs are and they are different to muslims.
The ethnic and religious minority politicians have to follow what the census majority view is and needs of their constituents rather than what their own religion says for them to do.

Besides having a Sikh western prime minister or president could have more negative view of Sikhs than positive as we when wrong or bad decisions are made people are often quick to label someones background to find fault. And we have seen already in India we had a Sikh president Zail Singh and Sikh prime minister mohan Singh both were puppets of the hindu brahmin establishment they couldn't do anything positive for their own community they only did bad or had limited positive impact.

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