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Decolonizing the Performing Arts: An Allegory

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

This is about an Native artist - raised with some knowledge of his culture but his day to day life was within the context of that of colonists - Europeans that came to our land. He grows up with his parents and perhaps a couple of other folk - who are understandably conflicted about their own heritage, being his only real examples of his culture. You see the US government has had over 200 years of what can only be described as a genocidal mindset towards Native Americans - so it hasn’t always been the best thing to, you know, stand up and be counted. As a result, popular culture images and portrayals of Native people, past and present become the most important examples of his cultural self-identity.

Funny thing is though, these aren’t either accurate or positive. Native American characters are played by non-native actors and are more often than not, the enemy or drunks or criminals.

So this is what he has to go on growing up. But he does grow up, fortunately, many of our young people walk into the next world from suicide, murder or substance abuse. In fact he goes into the performing arts. Lacking a cultural role model he assimilates for the most part - the core of his training is in the western canon. But as he works he starts to feel his ancestors talking to him - he starts a process of discovery, of his culture and it becomes part of his performance - which now looks neither like that of his colonist teachers, nor like what people think about in terms of Native art.

So, then he tries to do his performing art work professionally but - well - venue managers don’t really know what to make of it and dismiss it. It doesn’t fit into their marketing plan - they don’t think there are Native people in their city or maybe they do, but even though they have an inkling that they should be doing something - this is WAY to complicated for them to tackle now.

So the next generation comes through the same system - no examples from people who look like them. Nothing changes.

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