The day began, as many have of late, in deep fog. Now there is ample sun and warmth, the light literally bouncing off the leaves.
The summer solstice occurred Saturday late afternoon in the Northern Hemisphere. We gathered with friends virtually last evening to share ceremony and conversation. Grief was present as we struggled to make sense of the harm done to so many people of color, and to the environment.
This post is a bit of a broadside. I have tried to be direct and not snarky. I know it is different in tone from most of my writing here and I hope you will bear with me. I welcome your thoughts.
I’ve spent too much time of late trying to educate mostly European Americans about the realities of being Native and/or disabled as I experience and understand them. I do not want to hear about the settler’s side when I talk about the historical and ongoing genocide of Native peoples in the Americas and around the world. (I’m half settler and I know their side.) I do not want to hear how Natives should not talk about the genocide being waged Natives as these stories might take away from Black Lives Matter. There is no excuse for silencing Native voices.
The simple truth is that colonialism is a shared problem and if we cannot create a coalition of system impacted groups, the colonizers will win again. I have literally lost track of the number of Native men and women killed in North America by police in the last six weeks, the number of killed and disappeared Native women, the number of incarcerated Native teens and children, and the number of Native sacred sites under attack by state and federal governments. I do not know what to do with the grief I feel for these things, and for the destruction of the Amazon and her people, including individuals I knew.
I do not want to hear about the expense of curb cuts when I am speaking about having to drive my disability scooter in the road because I can’t negotiate a sidewalk curb. I do not want to hear how needing aid going down a ramp, or struggling to hold a glass of water disqualifies one from public office. No! Being a mean, arrogant, compassionless, hate-filled person disqualifies, or should disqualify one from office but apparently does not.
I do not want to hear how someone is a good liberal as they actively discount, disqualify, and undermine people of color or disability. I do not want to hear anything about skin color as a legitimate gauge of Nativeness, nor about how eastern Native families that passed as white for generations but remained Native in thought and lifeways are not real Indians. As my grandmother repeatedly said, we first have to protect and save the children if we are to have a future. Passing was a necessity for isolated families living in hostile, racist conditions throughout the east. Grandmother wanted us to assimilate rather than live in fear as she had for much of her life.
I do not want to hear from theater practitioners, especially Playback Theater practitioners, about aesthetic concerns when those concerns are really a means of disqualifying actors due to disability.Too often you completely fail to get the stories disabled, Indigenous, and other systems impacted groups tell. If you can’t grasp the intensity of the lived experience being spoken before you, ask for aid or admit that the story is beyond you and allow it to stand as is. Remember, theater as now practiced in the US is a European, ablest enclave that has long marginalized all others. The discourse is too often colonized and the aesthetic is ableist.
I imagine none of us can truly walk in anther’s shoes. We can practice refusing to overwrite others’ experiences and needs with our cultural norms. It is hard work and probably doomed to fail. The power is in listening and doing our best to make space for others’ stories and voices.
Want to know about the Native experience of this current moment with a focus on theater? Watch this interview with Muriel and Gloria Miguel, wise Native American women.