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Cafe Daughter has family roots

The following article discusses a play by Department of Drama sessional instructor Kenneth T. Williams about renowned alumna Lillian E. Quan Dyck, who is both the first female First Nations senator and first Canadian-born Chinese senator.

Cafe Daughter has family roots

By Cam Fuller, The StarPhoenix, April 18, 2013

Rose Kristin Friday was already working on the play Cafe Daughter when she met the person who inspired it.

"It was interesting. She's a remarkable woman," Friday said of Dr. Lillian E. Quan Dyck.

She expected to feel intimated. After, all she was meeting the first female First Nations senator and first Canadian-born Chinese senator in the country's history.

"She's not what you expect. She's just so warm and welcoming and friendly," said Friday.

As it happens, they are from the same family tree. In fact, Dyck, Friday and playwright Kenneth T. Williams are all from the Gordon First Nation and share common ancestors.

Dyck's achievements, which would come as a surprise to most people on the street, seem yet another example of how poorly we know our own history.

Before being called to the Senate in 2005, she was a scientist with three degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, including a Ph.D in biological psychiatry.

On one hand, Williams was happy that people don't know the story - he gets to be the first to tell it. But at the same time, he said "Why aren't we celebrating this? This is something we should be embracing."

When Williams learned how Dyck's parents met - her Chinese father hired the Cree woman because the law didn't allow him to hire whites - he figured he had a movie on his hands.

He worked on the project with a Chinese Canadian filmmaker but it wasn't progressing.

Then he realized "if I write it as a play, I could find what I call the spine of the story."

Over time, it became a one-woman play, although the performer portrays a dozen characters.

It's fictionalized where it needs to be - the main character is actually Yvette Wong - but true enough to the source that Dyck herself was impressed after having seen it in two cities when it toured this winter.

"She loved it. She absolutely loved it," said Williams. She'll also see the Saskatoon production.

To do the play, Friday got five weeks off her job working in alternative measures for young offenders.

But it's hardly a break, not with all those lines and characters to learn.

She wants to honour the play and the woman behind it.

"I want to tell the story really well. I want to captivate the audience."


When: April 19 to 28

Where: 914-20th St. West

Tickets: $16 to $21

Box office: 384-7727,
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