The Atkinson Masters’s Office will present a special reading of FrontRunners, a work by playwright Laura Robinson Thursday at York’s Keele campus.
The play tells the story of a group of young aboriginal runners who were selected to carry the ceremonial flame to the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg and covered 800 kilometres, right up to the stadium door, only to have the torch handed to a white runner for the final leg before the assembled crowd. The group of 10 First Nation boys were left to watch the ceremony on television from a restaurant. Thirty-two years later, when Winnipeg hosted the Pan Am Games again, the surviving members of the group were invited to finish what they started and delivered the torch into the stadium at the 1999 Games, thanks to a journalist’s recounting of the incident.
Patrick Bruyere and Charlie Nelson, two members of the group, will join Robinson and other special guests for the reading, Thursday at 7pm, in Stedman Lecture Hall D before Robinson and the play’s production company leave for a Scandinavian tour. The Atkinson Master’s Office will also host a special reception for Robinson and special FrontRunners guests Wednesday, 4 to 6pm, in the Harry Leith Room, 004 Atkinson.
In a 2002 article for Danish sports Web site Play the Game, Robinson recounted how she was a journalist covering the 1999 Games and discovered the story that she said, “preoccupied me for the past three years.
Right: Laura Robinson
Robinson wrote: “Still in 1967 there were unwritten rules about who could and couldn’t be in celebrations and stadiums. This was also Canada’s centennial year and, though there was an increasing political understanding of racism in Indigenous communities, sport officials lagged sadly behind. The runners either went home or back to residential school. Nine out of ten of the runners were what we now call residential school survivors.
“Of the 10 original runners, two died tragic deaths and one is in jail, but the other seven are, in many ways, leaders in their communities. Some have become political in both mainstream politics and aboriginal politics, and most are very spiritual.”
FrontRunners was written while Robinson was writer in residence at the University of Calgary. It was workshopped at the Banff Centre for the Arts and first performed at the Calgary Centre for the Arts and University of Calgary in 2001. In 2002 it was performed at the CanWest Global Theatre in Winnipeg as part of the North American Indigenous Games and most recently as readings at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in Montreal in 2003 and at UBC’s First Nation Longhouse in 2004 when Laura was journalist in residence at Green College.
Robinson, who was a guest lecturer at York in 1990, is an award-winning author of four books and has written for The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, NOW magazine and Chatelaine. She is presently adapting the play for film for CBC TV and APTN (Aboriginal People’s Television Network).
This event has been supported by the Grey Bruce Air Bus, The Geoffrey Scott Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts, Centre for Student Community and Leadership Development, the Division of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, the Atkinson School of Arts & Letters and the Office of the Master at Atkinson, McLaughlin and Winter’s colleges.
For more information on the FrontRunners reading at York, visit www.atkinson.yorku.ca/Master or call ext. 55870 or 55727.