Sacred Roots Productions is a Native production company owned by Akwesasne Mohawk women, Shelby Mitchell-Adams and Jessica Loft-Thompson. In October 2015 they began production on a culturally appropriated adaption of “Pig Girl,” a riveting, intense play by Governor General Award Winning Playwright Colleen Murphy, loosely based on serial murderer Robert Picton.
Many of Picton’s victims were Indigenous women and along with “The Highway of Tears,” the infamous Highway 16 in northern British Columbia where at least 19 women disappeared and probably many more, these events sparked the #MMIW movement.
Loft and Adams met with Ms. Murphy in February, and she agreed to allow the production company to make the necessary changes. They worked with Constantine Kourtidis (a talent agent and Artistic Director from Montreal) to adapt “Pig Girl,” adding native culture, language, song and spirituality.
Sacred Roots’ sole intention at the outset was to remind people why it is important for the government to continue to push forward with a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Which they finally did on September 1, 2016.
They fight to the end, refusing the inevitable and giving a heroic and defiant voice to all women whose lives have been lost to violence. The play also tells a parallel story in which a killer holds aboriginal sex trade workers captive in a barn while a sister’s search is met with roadblocks due to a police force that is slow to investigate the disappearance of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. Over half of Picton’s 49 victims were aboriginal while only 26 women have been positively identified. Picton bragged to an under-police officer that the number could easily be doubled.
Loft and Adams told Indian Country Today, “The play was met with apprehension but won the hearts and minds of the audiences on the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, New York, on Aug 19-20 held at a community event center and the following weekend the Akwesasne company performed on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Quebec, on Aug 26-27, all on the heels of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. On the final dates of the performances at both Mohawk communities the actors were thanked by family members of victims of violence.”
Constantine Kourtidis, plays “Killer,” a haunting, chilling portrayal that was hard for audiences to watch at times. Participants said it was important that the Killer character have a voice to hear his choices and emotions or lack of.
“Dying Woman” was played as five different characters, all played by Akwesasne Mohawk women. Nikaiataa Skidders whose fights as life slips away says “You won’t get my tears.” Montana Adams plays her as defiant; Jaiden Mitchell fights for her life; Chelsea Chamberlain the youngest member at fifteen represents the child sex worker. Shelby Mitchell-Adams who frames the character coming in at the start unaware of her deadly situation and ends the play destroyed.
Mohawk actress Jessica Loft-Thompson in her portrayal as the “Sister” gave a strong performance portraying pain and agony, relating to the audience. Brett Desrosiers of Cornwall, Ontario, replaced Sean Kovacs of Montreal, as non-native “Police Officer”. Brett came in 10 days before the play ran for the first time in Akwesasne.
Brett’s role as a female officer worked as a last minute replacement, adding a layer between Sister and Police Officer by exemplifying lateral violence. Kahnawake Mohawk actress and singer Donna Kanerahtenha:wi Jacobs, played “Spirit Woman” who gave the audience hope that their loved ones were protected in the afterlife. Melissa Conners, a retired Social Worker for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe played a female “Sex Trafficker.”
Conners says about her role, “We thought it was important to raise awareness of sex trafficking, violence against women, and addiction, because these important issues need to be brought out and talked about and brought out into the open for our community to start healing. Don’t think these things don’t go on in our communities, because they do.”
Indian Country Today reached out to the award winning author, Colleen Murphy, who saw the first show in Akwesasne. “It was an honor when Jessica Loft and Shelby Adams asked if they could adapt my play Pig Girl. Theatre is a safe environment to confront painful events because there is catharsis in witnessing what I imagine might have happened on that farm. In the case of the Dying Woman, the audience witnesses her heroic refusal to submit to the horrors visited upon her. She fights for her life and she demands that the audience watch her. I was deeply moved by the production in Akwesasne and by the commitment, talent, and heart from every single person involved. A play belongs to everyone who performs it and to everyone who watches it.”
It is a very difficult production all around, hard on actors and audience. It deals with the dehumanization of women and the title of “Pig Girl” shows how the former pig farmer and serial killer saw woman. It’s a powerful image meant to shock you and cause the audience to feel emotional pain, but this is the reality of our world where women and children can be abused and killed.
This powerful play draws on our collective guilt, courage and empathy. Adams and Loft said that several community members talked about personal and family experiences and the audience felt the pain of the actors as real to their missing family members. Adams and Loft said that they have been invited to perform the play in February 2017 during the annual #MMIW March in Montreal and there are possible future dates in western New York and eastern Ontario.
Sacred Roots Production teamed up with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Social Services Division and the Seven Dancers Coalition, an Akwesasne non-profit organization which focuses on whole family healing. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and Safe Harbour, Sexual Exploitation of Youth in Minnesota Human Sex Trafficking Task Force and Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) financial support helped to make the play a success.