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  • Footpaths and Bridges: Voices from the Native American Women Playwrights Archive
  • Ann Haugo
Footpaths and Bridges: Voices from the Native American Women Playwrights Archive. Edited by Shirley A. Huston-Findley and Rebecca Howard. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008; pp. 304. $85.00 cloth.

The first collection of Native women's plays, Jaye Darby and Stephanie Fitzgerald's Keepers of the Morning Star, was published by UCLA American Indian Studies Center Press in 2003. Footpaths and Bridges: Voices from the Native American Women Playwrights Archive is the second published collection of plays by indigenous women of the United States and Canada and includes nine plays and one essay held in Miami University of Ohio's Native American Women Playwrights Archive (NAWPA). That it was published by a major academic theatre press—University of Michigan Press—represents a significant step forward, hopefully one that other academic presses specializing in theatre and performance studies will embrace.

In separate introductions, editors Shirley Huston-Findley and Rebecca Howard avoid framing the plays through dominant critical models, in response to the playwrights' concerns about interpreting their work through Western/Aristotelian discourses. Howard introduces the archive, describing its purpose, programming, and other works it holds, tracing common themes and structural elements among its key works, and issuing a call for new critical models that will encompass Native epistemologies. Howard describes the NAWPA as a "living archive" to which writers contribute their own work, and which assists writers in promoting their work through an online directory (http://staff.lib.muohio.edu/nawpa) and through programming.

The editors strategically position Monique Mojica's essay "ETHNOSTRESS: Women's Voices in Native American Theatre" as the first piece in the collection. Delivered as a manifesto-like performative paper at the archive's first conference in 1997, "ETHNOSTRESS" summarizes Mojica's performance practices, describes her research in Native performance culture, humorously and candidly teases out tensions with critical models like post-colonialism, and outlines several purposes of her own work. Mojica vividly conveys the need for Native artists to retain agency in the production and consumption of their work. One of the most powerful statements on Native theatre by a Native artist, this essay functions as a critical introduction to the volume.

The nine plays included in the collection are diverse in form, style, subject, and purpose, thus clearly fulfilling the editors' stated goal of offering a representative sampling of the archive's holdings. The plays include works by some of the best-known Native playwrights and companies that have seen noteworthy professional productions, as well as works by emerging playwrights and works that have been written for educational programs. The playwrights come from equally diverse tribal backgrounds.

Asivak's Creation Story by Jules Arita Koostachin (Attawapiskat Band, Cree) is published in both English and Swampy Cree versions. In the play, an Inninu boy and an Inuk girl meet each other, their relationship becoming a parable for the cultural understanding that grew between the Inninu and Inuit. They learn to respect and love each other, despite their differences.

Marcie Rendon's (White Earth Anishinabe) Bring the Children Home offers an excellent, culturally driven alternative to typical "theatre for young audiences" fare with Native American themes, such as badly adapted Coyote stories. The play's primary character, O-day-mi-nung, is described as being without gender or ethnicity, not knowing where he belongs. The play marks his journey to discover himself, while at the same time unknowingly aiding Min-di-way, Grandmother, to peacefully cross over.

In Marie Clements's (Métis) The Girl Who Swam Forever, a Katzie creation story blends with the story [End Page 687] of children attempting to escape a Catholic mission school. The primary characters double as mythic beings in the creation story: a sturgeon and an owl. As in Rendon's play, a Grandmother figure (also doubled as an ancient sturgeon) helps the children navigate their worlds.

Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth by Martha Kreipe de Montaño's (Prairie Band Potawatomi) begins in a present-day setting with teenager Mattie, who travels through time to what de Montaño calls "Dream Time" in order to learn the Thanksgiving story through...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 687-688
Launched on MUSE
2011-02-09
Open Access
No
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