We Are Stronger Together
We can’t get there alone. We need help. Indigenous people need non-indigenous people to stand with us in solidarity.
If the voices and stories of Native American people are to find welcome in the theaters, performing arts centers, universities and festivals in this country, we will need non-indigenous people to stand with us in solidarity. During this journey as a performing arts agent working exclusively with contemporary Native artists, the question has been posed by many well-meaning but poorly informed people “Why don’t you send your groups to perform at casinos?” This question is missing the point of both this movement in the performing arts - which is to bring authentic Native voices to greater prominence, but also casinos - who exist to get people to gamble and not culturally enrich their customers. The point is for Indigenous narratives to be given an equitable opportunity for representation in the many public squares (and I include theaters, festivals and performing arts centers as modern public squares) throughout the United States.
The truth is that the challenges facing American Indians and Alaska Natives (and indeed Indigenous people from around the globe) are manifold. Many of our best and brightest end up fighting the heartbreaking issues that plague both Indian country and urban Native communities: substance abuse, mass incarceration, discriminatory policing, poverty, youth suicide, failing education and health systems and challenges to the sovereignty of by hostile federal, state and municipal governments to name a few. The movement to advance contemporary Native performing arts, to fight red-face and cultural appropriation on stages and venues across the country doesn’t top the list of urgency.
Nevertheless, these issues are important: the stories and art portraying Native people are rarely originated and controlled by Native people. We are written into token roles on stage and screen with little understanding of cultural context. We are invisible, even though we number over six or seven million (counting Native people is problematic - trust in government is tenuous at best in Indian country and the census has been used to hurt Native people in the past). This is why we can’t fight this battle alone. There is a groundswell of contemporary Native artists with very few venues for them to perform in. It is critical that the world (and in particular) see representation of Indigenous cultures through art, media and ultimately a national dialogue.
As Native people work to heal the wounds of genocide in the United States we, in turn, have much to teach and share in return. Humankind, as a species, is on the brink of a long list of disasters - from the dissonance with our fellow man to horrifying global devastation. Our uncheck consumption, combined with deepening divisions – the us versus them mentality and the global consequences from ignoring the impact we are having on our home, the Earth, have left us, all of us in an unenviable position. The philosophy that has been taught through countless generations of Tribal peoples speak to taking what you need and no more, generosity and humility and a value of moving slower and more intentionally through life. These values engender harmony with your neighbor and with your environment.
This is the challenge that I issue to you, my gentle reader: I invite you to challenge yourself to stand in solidarity with Native peoples. It isn’t your Native neighbor’s job to teach you but it is mine, and I will gladly share with you what I know and direct you to sources that can help to illuminate the many things that I don’t. I want you to make a commitment to engaging with the Native narrative about the hundreds of Native Nations and the many things that we have to teach about living in harmony with our world and fellow living beings. The easiest way to start this journey with me is to support Native performing arts.
Won’t you join with us on this journey together?