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Our story

In 1974, James Buller founded the Native Theatre School. His vision was to create a viable, respectful and supportive space for Indigenous theatre and performing artists. From humble beginnings, what began as a stand-alone, four-week program, in time, grew to become the Centre for Indigenous Theatre (CIT), an institution offering a unique Indigenous cultural, theatre and performance training program. CIT contributes to the advancement of an Indigenous cultural economy and the Arts generally, helping to mould young talent and professionals, organizing community presentations and workshops, and by working closely with alumni to share our learnings and our craft in a culturally appropriate and inviting setting.

And today

As one of the only schools of its kind in Canada, today, CIT offers three and four-year full-time conservatory-style post-secondary education. Our programming is designed to prepare students for a future in theatre and performing Arts, drawing from a distinctively Indigenous cultural foundation. Our training is rooted in Indigenous teachings, knowledge, perspectives and ways of knowing while adapting to contemporary and Western theatre and performance techniques. Our curriculum offers training in the areas of acting, voice and movement as well as Indigenous cultural classes in dance, song and oral history. Our training reconnects students with important and frequently overlooked aspects of Indigenous culture, offering distinctive and authentic forms of artistic expression.

Additionally, the program offers professional development, pairing students with working actors and creators offering a collaborative space in which to train and share knowledge, and adding essential mentoring to the training opportunities. This intercultural approach allows students to learn and work within a positive and familiar cultural setting. Students are provided with an opportunity and the support to become passionate and inspired cultural curators, conservationists and artists and to tell their stories in their voice in a constructive environment. 

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Our Driving Principles

Self-determination or relative autonomy.

Pedagogically we believe that students perform best when provided sufficient latitude to reach their full capacity. We believe that self-determination is a cornerstone for a better quality of life and cultural well-being. When charged with decision making, the choices made autonomously reflect the cultural, political, economic and social preferences of Indigenous peoples. We attempt to promote this in all our approach. 

Validating and legitimizing cultural aspirations and identity.

In our learning environment, there is no need to justify one’s identity. Our goal is to provide a culturally safe and supportive space for all students. For CIT, a student’s identity, indigenous language, knowledge, culture and values are essential to their creative expression. We are conscious of the broader societal context in which Indigenous learners seek to make their way and thus believe it is our duty to ensure the survival of Indigenous culture in an otherwise overwhelming non-indigenous world.

Inter-cultural learning.

Teaching and learning practices must connect with the cultural backgrounds and life circumstances of Indigenous communities. To this end, we prioritize culturally appropriate methods wherever possible while including contemporary and Western theatre training, on the basis of what will most enhance artist development, professional capacity and overall learning outcomes.

Cultural community building.

The survival of Indigenous cultural practices is not possible without understanding the vital connection between the artist and their community. Foundational teachings guide these principals and are communicated by Indigenous knowledge keepers in a variety of ways as part of the program of study. This approach is crucial to our students as they progress in their careers and find their way into non-indigenous organizations and institutions.

Why we exist

While our mandate is clear, as a not-for-profit organization, we are ever-evolving and continue to confront new and unique challenges. CIT works tirelessly and enthusiastically to meet several needs. In Canada, the Indigenous population is the fastest-growing single demographic in the country, four times faster than any other. While this trend is encouraging, we continue to struggle with a significant lack of access to professional development and education opportunities for Indigenous artists. Indigenous culture creators in need of funding, learning resources and encouragement to advance both creatively and professionally.

Indigenous artists need spaces for exploring their creativity in a supportive environment to reduce some of the risks and uncertainties the characterize non-Indigenous learning environments. Intercultural training and learning environments such as ours facilitate a unique personal and professional development, providing support in ways other institutions can’t. We understand the need to transfer and conserve our teachings, traditions and values for the next generation of emerging Indigenous creators, storytellers and knowledge keepers. We exist to provide theatrical training informed by traditional artistic expression, and with this, the teachings and values of our peoples. We strive to do this by creating an environment that encourages the cultural exchange of practices and techniques between Indigenous Nations and communities.

Our student’s challenges

Students come to CIT from across the country, from urban, suburban and rural communities. Still, all have lived different experiences and have different backgrounds, though one thing that they do have in common is an exclusive Indigenous heritage. We are sensitive to the day-to-day realities of Indigenous students. The Canadian Government’s acknowledgement of its troubled history with Indigenous people’s frames much of our work, certainly in light of the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Call to Action.” We acknowledge the ongoing social, financial and institutional barriers that Indigenous peoples face and work to overcome them in our programming. Some of our students come to us with needs shaped by adverse environments and circumstances or who struggle with access to funding to pay for post-secondary education. We understand these realities and seek to find solutions where-ever possible. 

Our answers

CIT is a physical space where students receive training and inspiration. CIT is a space built by the relentless belief that no two students are alike, and that accommodation is key to success and growth. 

We work to foster an environment of understanding, accommodation and inclusivity. We are focused on the individual needs of our students, doing our utmost to connect them with any and all community supports and services.

CIT responds to financial uncertainty with one absolute commitment, and we will never reject a qualified student due to a lack of funding. And, if needed, CIT co-funds not only a student’s education but also their living, housing and transit expenses.

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