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Native American Performance and Representation

S. E. Wilmer

Publication Year: 2011

Native performance is a multifaceted and changing art form as well as a swiftly growing field of research. Native American Performance and Representation provides a wider and more comprehensive study of Native performance, not only its past but also its present and future. Contributors use multiple perspectives to look at the varying nature of Native performance strategies. They consider the combination and balance of the traditional and modern techniques of performers in a multicultural world. This collection presents diverse viewpoints from both scholars and performers in this field, both Natives and non-Natives. Important and well-respected researchers and performers such as Bruce McConachie, Jorge Huerta, and Daystar/Rosalie Jones offer much-needed insight into this quickly expanding field of study.

This volume examines Native performance using a variety of lenses, such as feminism, literary and film theory, and postcolonial discourse. Through the many unique voices of the contributors, major themes are explored, such as indigenous self-representations in performance, representations by nonindigenous people, cultural authenticity in performance and representation, and cross-fertilization between cultures. Authors introduce important, though sometimes controversial, issues as they consider the effects of miscegenation on traditional customs, racial discrimination, Native women’s position in a multicultural society, and the relationship between authenticity and hybridity in Native performance.

An important addition to the new and growing field of Native performance, Wilmer’s book cuts across disciplines and areas of study in a way no other book in the field does. It will appeal not only to those interested in Native American studies but also to those concerned with women’s and gender studies, literary and film studies, and cultural studies.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. 1-16

This book bears witness to the traditional and modern forms of artistic expression among the Indigenous people of Canada and the United States. It is groundbreaking in its attempt to investigate a broad range of contemporary Native work from the viewpoint of Native scholars and practitioners who have engaged in these activities for most of their lives as well as from the perspective of non-Native scholars who have studied these...

Part I. Reframing Dance, Performance, and Traditional Stories for a Postmodern Era

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1. Inventing Native Modern Dance: A Tough Trip through Paradise

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pp. 19-39

I was born in the United States on the Blackfeet Reservation in the state of Montana. My ancestry is of the mixed bloods of Blackfeet, Pembina Chippewa, French-Cree, and, on my father’s side, Welsh. Growing up on the reservation, we all knew that it was a Blackfeet chief who contributed a portion of the tribe’s traditional territory to the United States so that Glacier National Park could be created. Glacier is actually an...

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2. Old Spirits in a New World: Pacific Northwest Performance: Identity, Authenticity, Theatricality

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pp. 40-60

In the opening chapter of his 1975 study The Way of the Masks, Claude Lévi-Strauss quotes words he had written in 1943, describing his first encounter with the Northwest Coast dance masks and house posts in an exhibit of the Museum of Natural History in New York City. The masks and posts were made of red cedar carved into animal and human...

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3. Owners of the Past: Readbacks or Traditionin Mi’kmaq Narratives

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pp. 61-77

In the 1960s, many Canadians could watch a television series produced in Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Adventures of Glooscap. The main character, Kluskap,2 was a mighty culture hero,3 depicted in old myths among the Mi’kmaq and their neighbor tribes on the east coast of Canada. In the old stories he transformed the landscape by hunting a beaver,4 and many Mi’kmaqs knew of his mighty power. But in the 1960s the oral...

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4. The Pocahontas Myth and Its Deconstruction in Monique Mojica’s Play Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots

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pp. 78-94

Few native women have gained as much attention in colonized North America as the Powhatan girl Pocahontas, who lived in the area of modern-day Virginia during the setting up of the Jamestown colony in 1607. Her figure has inspired numerous stories, poems, plays, and films in the past centuries, and she continues to spark the imagination of Americans. Her historical background and her significance in both Native and...

Part II. The Native Body in Performance

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5. Stories from the Body: Blood Memory and Organic Texts

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pp. 97-109

I am going to attempt to describe a very important aspect of where my work comes from. Within Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, Jani Lauzon, Michelle St. John, and I are keenly aware that it is the part of our process we have inherited from Spiderwoman Theater. And it is the most difficult to talk about because of its intangibility and because of its relationship...

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6. Acts of Transfer: The 1975 and 1976 Productions of Raven and Body Indian by Red Earth Performing Arts Company

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pp. 110-122

Native traditional stories and cultural explanations are frequently prefaced by the phrase, “The way I heard it was . . . ” 1 This qualifier points to a Native ethos, or value system, that readily acknowledges the possibility of alternative viewpoints or explanations.2 However, this phrase has another function as well. It invokes live presence as authorizing the information about to be related. It draws attention to the fact that the person...

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7. Embodiment as a Healing Process: Native American Women and Performance

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pp. 123-135

Theatrical roles that may be termed autobiographical have a heightened importance in work by Aboriginal women. They can be uniquely therapeutic for both the performer and the spectator, as well as aesthetically and thematically powerful. In this chapter I focus on the examples of Shirley Cheechoo’s one-woman show A Path with No Moccasins, and Rosalie Jones’s dance-drama No Home but the Heart. I also discuss...

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8. The Hearts of Its Women: Rape, (Residential Schools), and Re-membering

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pp. 136-152

The best-known scene from First Nations drama in what is now Canada is from Cree playwright Tomson Highway’s Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, and it depicts a brutal rape.1 The quotation most frequently cited by First Nations playwrights in Canada is the traditional Cheyenne saying that a nation “is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.”2 Among the lines most frequently cited from...

Part III. Native Representation in Drama

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9. “People with Strong Hearts”: Staging Communitism in Hanay Geiogamah’s Plays Body Indian and 49

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pp. 155-170

The 1960s and 1970s in the United States saw the rise of American Indian activism, sometimes called the Red Power movement, as Native activists pushed for increased Native rights, tribal sovereignty, and selfdetermination. 3 These efforts resulted in a number of acts of resistance. The National Indian Youth Council, a Native-rights organization founded in 1961, supported the Northwestern tribes’ “fish-ins” in Washington and...

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10. Coming-of-Age on the Rez: William S. Yellow Robe’s The Independence of Eddie Rose as Native American Bildungsdrama

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pp. 171-181

The Independence of Eddie Rose shows a very hard slice of life, but it also provides hope.2 The sixteen-year-old protagonist in William S. Yellow Robe’s play The Independence of Eddie Rose must choose whether to remain at home on the Indian reservation (referred to in the play as the “Rez”) or to leave for Seattle with his friend Mike.3 In this drama, neither choice offers much reward for Eddie Rose. The reservation provides scant...

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11. Feathers, Flutes, and Drums: Images of the Indigenous Americans in Chicano Drama

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pp. 182-192

Estela Portillo Trambley’s Day of the Swallows, first published in 1972, and Luis Valdez’s Mummified Deer, first produced in the year 2000 and published in 2005, are two plays that frame the evolution of a Chicano dramaturgy that shows a fascination with and respect for the Chicanos’ Indigenous roots. Further, these two plays affirm the Chicano as Native American. Indeed, the Indio (Native American) has been an...

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12. Metamora’s Revenge

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pp. 193-204

Given the amount of energy devoted over the last twenty years to interpreting and explaining John Augustus Stone’s play Metamora, or The Last of the Wampanoags (1829), the historian might be excused for believing that the “revenge” I note in my title refers to irresolvable conundrums left to future scholars by the playwright and Edwin Forrest, the star who commissioned the work. Looking to link Forrest’s immensely popular...

Part IV. Challenging Stereotypes through Film

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13. Performance and “Trickster Aesthetics” in the Work of Mohawk Filmmaker Shelley Niro

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pp. 207-221

Native American1 media experienced an impressive growth over the last thirty years as Native American filmmakers took up the camera to reclaim the screen. Native filmmakers use media to articulate the complexities of contemporary Native life and to counteract the absence of Native perspectives in the mainstream mediascape.2 Native filmmakers document cultural practices, recuperate community narratives, and sustain cultural...

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14. Speaking Lives, Filming Lives: George Burdeau and Victor Masayesva

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pp. 222-234

Storytellers who wish to convey Native stories in media other than oral tradition face difficult choices, because, as Elaine Jahner has pointed out, oral traditions are “epistemological realities” that “reflect particular ways of knowing.”1 Hopi photographer and filmmaker Victor Masayesva Jr. observes that “each new medium of conveyance . . . poses a tremendous challenge to the tribal person.” Storytellers must decide what “is so...


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pp. 235-270

About the Contributors

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pp. 271-278


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pp. 279-286

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780816502745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816502400

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011