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This black box theatre was born from Elder Edna Manitowabi’s vision for a safe space, where Indigenous artists and community members could freely express themselves, their cultural teachings, and their art. Edna previously taught theatre and drama in Trent University’s Indigenous Studies department. The theatre classes taught by Edna were often very full, and it was difficult securing a space where students could rehearse and perform. In many cases, Edna would reach out to local schools in the area and ask to use their spare classrooms


With full classrooms and a need for greater space, Edna worked with Peter Kulchyski, a fellow Native Studies Professor at the time, during Trent University’s Beyond Our Walls Campaign to develop Nozhem: First Peoples’ Performance Space with the First Peoples’ House of Learning at Trent University (FPHL)


Building the space

Beyond Our Walls was a $17-million dollar campaign led by the Friends of Native Studies Council. Nozhem and FPHL were developed as additions to the Enwayang building, also known as The Yellow Wing, on campus.

  • A goal of $2 million was secured in private sector funding for FPHL, which in turn contributed to Nozhem’s development

  • The primary goals of the campaign were to develop space for Aboriginal education, support Trent’s Indigenous Studies department, and create ceremonial space as well as an opportunity to reach “beyond the walls” of the institution to Indigenous communities and private sector academics

  • Peter Kulchyski approached Edna Manitowabi during this campaign to help develop Nozhem to fulfill the need for safe, performative space for Indigenous students and artists 

  • Nozhem officially opened in October 2004


Nozhem: First Peoples’ Performance Space today

Today, Nozhem is a space that can be accessed for classes at Trent University, as well as for the community to use. In recent years, Nozhem has partnered with many artists such as Rulan Tangen, Artistic and Founding Director of Dancing Earth, as well as organizations such as Centre for Indigenous Theatre, to provide performative space for their art. They also hold an annual Feed the Bear Ceremony in February in the space, with drum performances held in celebration of the spirit of the bear

  • Nozhem has collaborated closely with surrounding communities as well, such as Curve Lake First Nation. Mindy Knott, Recreation Activator at Curve Lake First Nation, has previously brought in her youth group to use the space to rehearse and perform various productions

  • COVID-19 has limited in-person engagements with Nozhem today, however the space regularly serves as host to virtual talks with well known Indigenous artists such as Muriel Miguel and Daystar Rosalie Jones, in collaboration with the Indigenous Studies department at Trent University


Legacy Story Circle

The Legacy Story of Nozhem: First Peoples’ Performance Space was told over two gatherings. The first took place in-person and virtually on Friday, October 23, 2020, where 13 individuals gathered over Zoom and in-person to engage in a conversation around the story of Nozhem. The second gathering took place virtually on Thursday, December 17, 2020, where six individuals continued the conversation with a special focus on Mindy Knott’s experiences working with Nozhem.


Members of these Legacy Story Circles spoke about the history and goals of the space, highlighting Nozhem’s focus on celebrating inclusivity, language and culture. Legacy Story Circle members also highlighted the safety of the space, good memories of working in collaboration with Nozhem for community, and challenges around maintaining its sovereignty as an Indigneous performing arts space. 


What Nozhem offers to community

Stories which emerged from both Legacy Story Circles lifted Nozhem up. A key theme from the conversations included Nozhem’s inclusivity and celebration of language, culture, and ceremonial practices in a safe and accessible way.


To ensure anyone using the space feels a sense of safety, a smudge is always available for students and community members to use if they need it. When a smudge is offered to students, the first Legacy Story Circle spoke to how students are taught cultural teachings around what a smudge means to Indigenous peoples. Safety has always been an integral part of the space, because the Legacy Story Circle understood that those activating the space can hold onto very heart-wrenching and heavy feelings or trauma. Nozhem exists as a space for those to feel safe when performing their art


Students in the university as well as community members outside of the university utilize the space for performances and rehearsals, so Nozhem is accessible to those who need it. For example, Mindy Knott has often used Nozhem as a space for the Curve Lake youth to rehearse and perform in previous years. Mindy noted that the space was always easily accessible, and it suited their needs to rehearse and perform in a purpose-built space. Other spaces they previously used for this programming, such as a community centre at Curve Lake, required more effort to transform into a space where the students could rehearse and perform 


Nozhem is also utilized as a space to host productions. Most recently, Nozhem collaborated with playwright Zach Running Coyote to put on a production of Kohkum and Me in November, 2022.

A vision for the future

The Legacy Story conversations in October and December, 2020, spoke to the future of Nozhem in terms of what is needed for the space and what her goals are. 


An Advisory Circle for Nozhem 

Artistic Director Marrie Mumford and Assistant Artistic Producer Jenn Cole reflected on the idea of creating an Advisory Circle for Nozhem, to celebrate and guide her in many different ways.

  • Jenn identified a personal need to connect with other Indigenous artists and spaces. This would create opportunities for Nozhem to collaborate with more communities

  • The first Legacy Story Circle could also be an Elder Circle, to help guide Nozhem and grow in the best way

  • This Advisory Circle must also stray away from becoming a Board: the first Legacy Story Circle understood Boards to be a restrictive, structured, colonial entity. The Advisory needs to have the freedom and space required to support Nozhem


Maintaining sovereignty of the space 

In speaking to Nozhem’s needs and visioning for the future, the Legacy Story Circles also noted several limitations around Nozhem’s sovereignty that should be addressed in the future.

  • Nozhem is a space managed by Indigenous arts practitioners, managers and community members, meant as a space for Indigenous artists and communities to access

  • Existing within Trent University raises some challenges around maintaining this mandate, as the space is available for booking by University staff and students as well, so the space is not always available for Indigenous students or Indigenous Studies department faculty. The sovereignty of the space should be protected and maintained.

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