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The Guardian - AU

As we reclaim the stage for Indigenous storytellers, we have a question for colonisers

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‘From rock rap to mesmerising dance to intergenerational conversation, our storytelling is not really theatre as our non-Indigenous peers know it.’ Photograph: Merryn Trescott

My name is Alethea Beetson, I am Kabi Kabi/Gubbi Gubbi and Wiradjuri storyteller and dreamer currently working with Elijah, Ethan, Lenny, Nic, Misteria, Reece, Che and Loki to tell a story called COOKED. Interesting title, hey?

COOKED is a new performance made by Digi Youth Arts – a family of deadly young artists and creators honouring our ancestors, respecting our Elders and continuing the stories of one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world. We’re working in solidarity with The Good Room – a Queensland-based performance collective who use the anonymous experiences of ordinary people to create extraordinary theatre works.

For COOKED a group of young Indigenous people (aged from six years to 27 years old) posed questions to the settlers/colonisers and newcomers of so-called Australia via a website where mob could submit anonymous answers and also ask questions of us. We then turned that into a show. And what a journey it has been.

Storytelling is how we share and pass on knowledge and speak our truth. It’s how we connect to our history, ancestors, traditions, and futures.

– Misteria Towler, a Wiradjuri performer.

I will not speak to the content – the work has life to give so I will let it do that. But I will yarn about the process. Coming together as Indigenous creatives on this work has been effortless. Imagining new ancestral stories into existence is seamless. This group of young performers and the wider Digi Youth Arts team of Che, Loki and myself, along with our Elders in Residence Aunty Colleen Wall and Uncle Charles Passi were clearly all meant to connect at this time and create.

Storytelling is not only our means of passing on knowledge to the next generation but it is imperative for healing. That’s why it’s essential for us to reclaim these spaces so that our communities can come together, express ourselves, and celebrate through Blak joy.

– Lenesha Duncan, Wakka Wakka performer.

Our rehearsal room has become a pivotal place of healing, teaching and strategising – as so many of these spaces are for mob here, and around the world. It is in the space between creation and movement that we find the answers that we have been looking for. Because in each run through of the performance or scene we learn something new about ourselves that we will carry with us for ever.

The way I tell stories is through the use of movement and dance. It’s how I express myself and my way of (re)connecting with community, culture and myself.

– Nicholas Currie Inns, Mununjarli and Bundjalung performer.

Each person brings their skills and knowledge to the space, and this deepens our performance. We also reclaim the way we have always told stories by not sticking to the siloed rules of western arts practice. From rock rap to mesmerising dance to intergenerational conversation, our storytelling is not really theatre as our non-Indigenous peers know it.

Storytelling has always been in my blood. From growing up in a family that had traditional dances it was a somewhat comfortable switch to be on stage still telling those stories.

– Ethan Enoch-Barlow, Quandamooka performer

We have always practised “theatre” on these lands. Recently, I completed a doctorate of creative industries focusing on how insurgence and resurgence functions in the creative development of ancestrally connected performance. But my “real” education in this space has been working across generations for the past nine years with Digi Youth Arts telling stories across performance, learning how to do this with respect to agency, protocol and deep time.

Reclaiming our space is important as our ancestors were stripped from theirs, and as we now have the stage, we can amplify and present that voice for our people reclaiming our name, mob and identity and owning it.

– Elijah Manis, Kulkalgal Nation performer.

The spaces that Digi Youth Arts, myself and many other Indigenous artists have to function in are not made for our processes. Every act on a main stage is still an act of reclamation. Working with Aunty Col and Uncle Charles on this project has given us all insight into the extent to which we can reclaim space that they perhaps could not. It is a reminder that we have been fought for.

When I perform I feel a sense of growth and pride but to feel that towards our young ones elevates its meaning. I’ll always be grateful to my community for allowing me to do this.

– Che Skeen, Wakka Wakka/Birra Gubbi producer at Digi Youth Arts.

It is an honour to play a role in sharing the stories of the youngest generation of one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world. I cannot wait to watch them all march through these burned down doors and reclaim space in ways yet to be imagined.

• Alethea Beetson has worked extensively with Indigenous communities across multiple art forms to inspire new works responding to societal issues, cultural heritage and colonisation.