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Café Daughter

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Statement made on 22 June 2011 by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:

Honourable senators, on May 4, I was invited to Whitehorse to attend Café Daughter, a play by playwright Kenneth T. Williams, who is from the Gordon First Nation, in Saskatchewan. The play was loosely based on my life experiences.

Honourable senators, it was a great honour to serve as the inspiration for Café Daughter. The main character, on the eve of her graduation, remembers her childhood growing up as the daughter of a Chinese café operator and a Cree mother. Like me, the main character is told by her mother never to tell anyone she is partly Cree Indian; in other words, to keep her Cree heritage a secret. Despite the odds, the main character becomes a doctor.

The play deals with racism, sexism, alcohol abuse, bullying and residential schools, but balances these serious issues with many humorous scenarios. Ken does a magnificent job of taking on difficult issues and putting them out in the public in a way that the public can feel and learn about these sorts of things.

Café Daughter has traveled throughout the Yukon. It was also shown in high schools and a study guide was written to help educate young people about respecting other cultures, residential schools and so on.

While Café Daughter is a fictional memory play based on my experiences, its themes are much broader. It explores what Canadian identity is and how this is affected by social mores, which are at times expressed in discriminatory legislation such as the Indian Act. It also incorporates the Saskatchewan law that prevented Chinese men from hiring White women.

While discriminatory legislation placed severe limitations and hardships on the lives of my parents, they worked hard and never gave up. I owe my strong sense of determination to them. From my perspective, the play Café Daughter is a tribute to my parents, who wanted the best for their daughter but never could have imagined that she would become a scientist, let alone a senator.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Dyck: Café Daughter won the Bob Couchman Theatre Awards for outstanding play of 2010-11. Actress Paula Jean Prudat won Outstanding Female Performance and the play's director, Yvette Nolan, won Outstanding Director.

P. J. Prudat did a truly amazing job of playing 11 different characters — flawlessly. Even her portrayal of my Chinese father was spot on.

I look forward to seeing Café Daughter being produced in other parts of the country.

Honourable senators, please join me in extending congratulations to Kenneth T. Williams, the playwright; actress Paula Jean Prudat; director Yvette Nolan; the co-directors of the Gwaandak Theatre, Patti Flather and Leonard Linklater; and the rest of the crew for their outstanding work in producing Café Daughter.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

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