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Decolonizing Performing Arts: Doing things the right way

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

It takes time, thought and frequently humility to do really anything complicated well. This is frequently the largest barrier that I see in potential partner to engaging in Native arts and culture – the largest barrier to creating equity for Native performing artists. I recently was a panelist from a granting organization with national reach and I was struck that the few proposals that had any mention of Native performers or community were sparing in their approach, or used Canadian First Nations performers (nothing wrong with it but it is emblematic that US presenters have no idea that there are US Native performing artists they could engage with – sometimes who are in their regions). Caveat these observations within the context that I understand that many performing arts venues are consistently under-resourced with little time or money available for equity related training and less time than they generally need to do community engagement well. Having said this – here are some thoughts about how the performing arts industry **SHOULD** be moving forward with regards to equity and Native performing arts.

First, accept the fact that you don’t have the answers – you will have to ask for help. Humility is, in my experience, a core shared value in Native communities (at least around Turtle Island). Accept that you will make mistakes and resolve to take responsibility for these mistakes. It’s OK to make mistakes!

Second, it (probably) isn’t about you. Doing work in Native communities is about the community. For that matter, doing work for ANY community shouldn’t be about you. There is a common colonial mindset that your community needs to be educated. I would invite you to flip the script – what do you have to learn? The answer might not be apparent – it might unfold over time.

Third, you can do things faster, but it will take more money. The old saying: fast, cheap or good – choose two, applies here. Native communities are great at doing things on slim or non-existing budgets, but they take time, lots of time.

Fourth, you have to commit. It can’t be a one day a year type of thing. Sometimes it takes showing up for years to gain the trust of Indigenous communities. By committing I mean giving without expectation of receiving – time, energy and resources. When your commitment becomes clear to the Native community, they will start reciprocating (in my experience again).

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