Tristan Grant on adapting Mi’kmaq culture for the stage in Argimou

Tristan Grant will “never say no to an opportunity,” an attitude he has demonstrated countless times at Mount Allison. The fourth-year student has a resumé that includes acting, sound design, stage management, two East Coast Music Award nominations and three rap albums under the name Wolf Castle.

Recently, he has devoted most of his creative attention to two independent studies, which I discussed with him last week. One focuses on adaptation, the other on theatrical design. Prof. Glen Nichols, director of drama, explained over email that these courses are “often capstone experiences for senior students,” and they “often point toward individuals’ career or plans for further academic study.”

Grant’s entry into theatre was through an after-school improv class.

“I was kind of a class clown,” he said. This characteristic was later reflected onstage in productions of Supercomics and Shrek: the Musical.

After deciding on Mt. A because “my sister was here and it was close,” Grant said that difficult courses taught him “how to work.” He said, “Even if you’re the most brilliant person ever, if you’re not being challenged, you will get lazy. I think that could happen, there’s a real danger of that.”

As a first year intrigued by the promise of improv, Grant auditioned for Ian McMullen’s Fight Night without knowing that “There was no script or characters or really plan except for a theme.” This show is what helped him decide his major: drama studies.

“Just by doing it, I think, is how I learn best,” Grant said. This idea is clear when examining his varied credits. Though acting is where he’s “the most comfortable,” he has tried his hand at sound design and stage management, two jobs which were previously “out of my realm.”

His desire to grow artistically is present in this semester’s independent studies. One is “theatre design boot-camp,” which will include puppet construction for his second project, a research-based dramatic adaptation. And while “the play itself is going to be fun to do,” he is more focused on the research. In the end, “This project is part of my last two years of trying to get in touch with my own culture.”

Doreen Richard, Mt. A’s Indigenous affairs coordinator, wrote in an email, “Tristan Grant I believe is not just adapting the legend of Argimou but more importantly, bringing this part of his culture to life/light.”

Originally from the Pabineau First Nation, his reserve was too small to provide education. This meant Grant went to school in the nearby Bathurst, New Brunswick.

“You’re not really taught much about Native culture, definitely not in-depth, not about their practices or teachings,” he said, and added that “It’s difficult to get that information sometimes because it was systematically erased for generations and generations.”

Grant also took steps to distance himself from his Mi’kmaq identity. “From my experience, the ignorance of cultural practices and people not knowing or putting any value on it caused me to be not comfortable with being Native at all.” Despite the fact that his grandfather is an Elder, Grant admits that “I don’t know much, even today.”

But he has taken steps to learn. Grant’s rap career has enabled him to attend conferences and meet “a lot of other Native people.” This has helped him understand “the oppression and the cultural genocide,” but, more importantly, it has shown him true resilience.

“Despite that,” he explained, “we’re still thriving, we’re still growing, we’re still being very warm and welcoming to each other.”

He also explained that to give the legend of Argimou the respect it deserves, “It needs a lot of research.” Grant plans to speak to Elders, travel and compare as many versions of the legend as he can find.

“There is a lack of knowledge about this stuff, and it would be great to keep it around, not to lose it, and to really investigate where it comes from,” he said.

Above all else, Grant is proud to contribute to the important discussion of Indigenous identity and voice. He said, “When people get talking and we’re not afraid of sounding ignorant or stupid, we’re open to addressing what we don’t know and not being ashamed of that.”

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