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The Death of a Chief:  An Interview with Yvette Nolan


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Yvette Nolan
Yvette Nolan

“We struggle to find some kind of self-government, to achieve some kind of self-determination, we’re working with very flawed systems and very flawed tools and that’s a hard thing. I don’t know.  We don’t know what the answer is. I guess that’s why this story [Julius Caesar] is so fascinating to us because if we can work it out in this play then maybe we can work it out in our lives too.”

                                                                              ––Yvette Nolan, March 12, 2006

On March 12, 2006, at the Native Earth Performing Arts’ office in The Case Goods Building in the distillery district, Toronto, Ontario, CASP Researcher Sorouja Moll interviewed playwright, Yvette Nolan concerning her new play The Death of a Chief, an Aboriginal adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.   CASP has been tracking Nolan’s work for a number of years since her work on Shakedown Shakespeare and this was our second opportunity to interview her on a second Shakespearean adaptation she is working on. In the interview, Nolan speaks about the production, in its fourth workshop, performed during FOOT 2006 - The Festival of Original Theatre at the Robert Gill Theatre, University of Toronto, on Saturday, February 18, 2006. 

Nolan discusses how the process of Shakespearean adaptation enables the exploration of Native issues related to power and betrayal and its interconnectedness to language and politics––issues that extend from pre-contact to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, George Bush, the Iraq war, racism, gender discrimination and the historical and present day complexities of Aboriginal communities and leadership.  As described in the play’s program, “The Death of a Chief draws parallels between the classic story of power and betrayal and our lives today as Native people in Canada.”

What was your first introduction to Shakespeare?

Like ever, in my life?  Ironically enough it was Julius Caesar.  When I was really, really small, my mother would tell me stories.  She had only a high-school education, only residential school; she didn’t have University at that point.  She married my father when she was 17 and had me at 18, so to a certain extent, we were growing up together. She would read me stories.  I can’t remember if she read me Julius Caesar or if we saw it on CBC?   But I remember she told me the story.  She would ask me questions about what I remember about it:

I’d say: “Well, and then they killed Caesar.”

And she’d say:  “And what did Caesar say when they killed him?”

And I’d say: “Tee Hee Brutus.”

And that is my earliest memory of Shakespeare!

“Tee Hee Brutus.”

And of course my mother has never let me live this down.  And now 45 years later, I’m doing Julius Caesar.  “Tee Hee Brutus.”

With that in mind, what is the cultural influence that brings Shakespeare forward, this many years later, to the stage.  How do you think Shakespeare has shaped your work as a playwright?  The impact must have been significant? 

Oh, I think so.  There is no getting away from the influence of Shakespeare, at all, ever.  Anywhere.  You know the Sistine Chapel, where God and Adam’s fingers are touching, that feels to me like it’s not really Adam – that’s Shakespeare. It feels, to me, that everything is in Shakespeare and nobody else has paralleled that in the English language, as far as I can tell.  Like in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, Shakespeare out in front by a mile, and the rest of the field strung out behind.”   He’s everywhere.  Every community, every cultural group has been able to find their own experience reflected in Shakespeare, even though he wrote in English.  My co-adaptor, co-director on this project, Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon, is doing this project in Africa on Shakespeare.  They are working with the text and making it their own at the same time that we are doing this project in the Aboriginal arts community.   I think he [Shakespeare] is so woven into the consciousness of human beings that we keep returning to that text and those stories.

With the idea of returning to that text, when did you first consider doing the adaptation of Julius Caesar?

When I first started at Native Earth, one of the things that we struggle with or struggle against at Native Earth is the white gaze and what is Native theatre and what should Native theatre be.  For a long time, well long is relative, for sometime there has been an expectation of what Native theatre can be:  that’s buckskin, that’s victim stories, that’s overcoming our residential school experience, our alcohol issues, or whatever it is. Those kinds of stories have had a fairly narrow focus on what Native theatre should be.  I look around in Toronto and I look around Stratford and I look around everywhere and I never see anybody of colour in those plays.  I don’t know why that is?  Like our People should be considered for those roles.  So, right when I started at Native Earth, I was kind of chippy about why can’t we do a Native Julius Caesar?  Why can’t we do that?  The story, when you look at what the plot is, the narrative resonates in the Native community because it’s all about Band politics; it all about electing a leader and then overthrowing the same leader when he gets too big for his britches.

And what do you think are the ideological and political implications in adapting Shakespeare in a Canadian context?

I don’t know that there are any more political ramifications because it’s so universal. Shakespeare is so universal and we tend to try, production after production, to make it our own in some way.  Julius Caesar happens to be particularly timely right now because of the war in Iraq, because of that President down there [George W. Bush]. But I don’t know that we don’t always find resonances in the work, it’s so pervasive.

You spoke earlier of your collaborative process with Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon.  Are your approaches to Shakespeare similar?

Oh, absolutely. She’s a real populist.  She believes everybody can do Shakespeare; everybody should be able to do Shakespeare.  She loves Shakespeare. And she keeps, like me, finding new things in it, every single time. Every time with the text that she knows so well, someone will do something and she’ll say, “Oh, I just heard this!”  Which is the other joy of Shakespeare, it just keeps getting deeper and deeper. We both believe that it’s pervasive. We both believe that he talks about things that reflect in almost everybody’s communities, and that everyone should be able to say those words if they feel like it.  He coined so many words that are in the English language and so many phrases. We all go around quoting him, fighting him all the time without knowing it.  That’s a pretty hefty influence on language.  And language is power.

And what are some of the challenges you face as a playwright and a director in making that process go through an adaptation of Shakespeare, thinking about that power?

Well, it’s all of the same things.  It’s the white gaze. It’s being told: “I don’t know why you people would want to do Shakespeare?”  Funders came back saying, “We love this project.  We love that project. We’re not so sure why you want to do Shakespeare?  Why does the Native community need to do Shakespeare?”

So that’s a challenge.

Our own players, our own actors, many of them, haven’t got formal training, which is one of the reasons we wanted to do this project because we want them to be able to do Shakespeare if they want to or audition for Shakespearean pieces if they want to.  Without any formal training whatsoever that’s a huge obstacle for them.  So Cathy, who has also been a coach at Stratford, is a Shakespeare coach.  She teaches Shakespearean text.  She’s giving them tools.  So part of the workshop process has been giving them tools: how to scan, how to breathe, how to find the modifiers and your qualifiers, and what the punctuation means.  And it’s really great!  I see it happening at workshop after workshop, and of course, they get better, because they’ve got the tools.  And it’s not such a big deal.  It’s just having the same information that everybody else has about how to read Shakespeare.

In The Death a Chief, much of the text is from Shakespeare; however, the adaptation process allows the actors to see the play in a new way, so in what way is an adaptation a new way of seeing?

Well, I think every adaptation, every text adaptation, is about trying to find the resonances within your community.  You know the Hedda Gabler adaptation that Judith Thompson did for Volcano.  Generally, it’s about bringing it into either a time-frame, or a head-frame, or a mind-frame that will speak to your audience or to your community.  So with the adaptation of Julius Caesar, we have spent a lot of time talking about why this story resonates in our community. And that’s pretty simple. We keep changing the reference points. We talk about Band politics and then we talk about shamanism and spiritual traditions in our community and how those are being reclaimed by people who may not necessarily be the right people and then they get to be the arbiters of our spiritual traditions.  That’s the thing that comes into it.

That came into the last one [workshop]. We spent a lot of time talking about the Great Law and traditional teaching.  That’s what we bring to an adaptation:  what part of our society are we reflecting in this adaptation. We don’t know yet because we keep trying on different things. It’s all about process for me.  So I have no idea where the project is going.  We’ve done four one-week workshops and I feel we have just begun to scratch the surface. But that’s okay.

How far would you be prepared to go in defining what an adaptation is?  To what extent must some form of Shakespeare be present in an adaptation for it to be called Shakespearean?  For example, the play New World Brave where the title of the production is an inverted line from The Tempest?

I think adaptation, because no one has defined it that rigidly, I don’t think I’m going to.  Dawn Dumont wrote a play called Love Medicine that they did at Groundswell last year with Nightwood, next door, and that’s an adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream, an all Indian adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Very funny. But there’s no Shakespearean text in it.  It’s all her text.  She’s taken that story and made it an Indian story.  So, that’s an adaptation.  My Own Private Idaho, which is the movie, and they’re going along in that movie and then suddenly they drop into Shakespeare text and then you realize, backwards, that they’re actually doing Henry IV in this story.  So is that an adaptation?  Because they actually do use some Shakespeare text but most of the story is not Henry IV.  Maybe? Again, it’s how do you get to that? He’s everywhere.  He’s ubiquitous.

Your adaptation raises important questions about power.  With your extensive experience and involvement with different theatre organizations, could you comment on what you think the responsibility of Canadian theatre is in terms of community, leadership, and the questioning of authority? 

Well, I think that is one of the only reasons to exist, especially when we head into these times, these terrible times. I think it becomes more critical that theatre question and challenge and throw up obstacles to the status quo.  Because who wants to see just entertainment.  That’s fiddling while Rome burns.  Some people can do that but I think the worse the world gets, and the world is pretty sad right now, the more artists, not just theatre artists, but all artists want to challenge that, want to force the population to look at it.  So we all do it.  The visual artists do it. The filmmakers do it.  This year, all the important movies are not blockbusters; they are not entertainment.  They’re challenging societal standards. And theatre does the same thing.  I think it’s important.  I think it’s critical for Canadian theatre, for Canadian playmakers.  It’s especially critical because we are still in the process of defining who we are.  Standing beside the Americans, what makes us Canadian and not American?  I think that we’ve felt for the last decade or so that we’re at a critical point where we need to define ourselves more by who we are and not by, “we are not American.”

The following line, from Julius Caesar, is repeated in The Death of a Chief: “Th’ abuse of Greatnesse, is, when it disjoynes / Remorse from Power (2.1.18).”  Why did you choose this line?

When we were doing the seven-minute physical piece at the beginning, which is a distillation of the whole play, a bit like a prologue that tells you the whole play in a physical motion, when we were distilling down to do that piece, everyone was looking for a little piece of text that would describe the whole play and that line was the one that people kept coming back to. We struggle with it so much in the Aboriginal community as we’re looking for leadership and because it seems to be an almost natural progression for people to ascend and then disjoyne remorse from power and then we have to overthrow them or kill them or impeach them.  Isn’t that a perfect description of Bush right now, and Harper too, even though he’s just twenty minutes in?

What is its significance to Native people in Canada?

It works on every level in Native communities.  It works in our leaders because whatever that break was, the residential school break, the post-contact break, we lost a whole bunch of stuff. We lost a whole bunch of traditions, and a whole bunch of ritual, and a whole bunch of guidelines, principals and since the last thirty years, forty years we’ve been trying to reclaim those things. That’s a good thing but as we reclaim them and people acquire power within our community they start turning into, well, the oppressed always become the best oppressors.  They turn into the very things that stole the power from them in the first place. Our spiritual leaders start oppressing women or excluding women or abusing people who have less power than them and they’ve disjoyned remorse from power. That’s just on the personal spiritual level. Then we move up to the Band politics level where we have a million examples of Chiefs.  People who get elected Chief, and then suddenly, at some point in the process they begin to use the money for themselves.  The money that’s coming into the community.  They get big houses and other people don’t or their friends get things and other people don’t and that disjoynes remorse from power and they have to be turned out.  And then we move up to the Assembly of First Nations level and we’ve got the Chiefs who, at one point, were all men when the Charlottetown Accord happened, turning around and telling the women, the women groups in the country, the Native Women groups: “Okay, you just shut up and vote for this Accord.  Say yes, we’ll vote for the Accord and then we’ll deal with you later.”  Well, the women were in no way going to trust the Assembly of First Nations that was made up of all male Chiefs because that hasn’t worked so far and that disjoynes remorse from power.  It’s at every level. And then that body deals with the government.  So we go through the Kelowna Accord, and we have an election and now we have no idea where we stand as Aboriginal people in relationship to this new government.  We had a deal.  And now we don’t have a deal.

Taking a quote from your programme: “Community. Ambition. The need for a leader … The Death of a Chief draws parallels between the classic story of power and betrayal and our lives today as Native people in Canada.”   How does the play address issues of self-government in the Native community?

Well, this is what our big challenge is – it doesn’t.  At the end of the day, first of all, everybody’s cried.  At the end of week everyone’s exhausted because we worked through these ideas and we realize we have no idea how to make things better.  So we keep going further back, further back, and further back and in this case we went back to the Great Law. We went back to even older traditions trying to find some way through to make our leaders more accountable to the people.  And we don’t know what the answer to that is.  So, of course, as we struggle to find some kind of self-government, to achieve some kind of self-determination, we’re working with very flawed systems and very flawed tools and that’s a hard thing. I don’t know.  We don’t know what the answer is. I guess that’s why this story [Julius Caesar] is so fascinating to us because if we can work it out in this play then maybe we can work it out in our lives too.

We’re all urban Aboriginals; we’re all choosing not to live in those communities but to live in the city.  Everyone who is involved in this project, they’re all urban Aboriginals, which says something as well.

Does that urban space resonate in the play?

It did this time because we talked a lot about who made up the community or the communities in this place that we’re creating.  There’s that whole story where Mark Antony comes and tells the plebs that Julius Caesar had left them all this stuff, each. That made them more of a community.  We talked about who those people would have been.  So, it’s like they’re a constructed community, in the same way that we, urban Aboriginals, are a constructed community.  Craig Lauzon, in one of his personal writings, (Craig who’s been playing Brutus the whole time), wrote, “I guess this is my community but I’ve finally found a community with a bunch of city Indians.” And that’s really funny to us.  Of course we are all different, there’s Métis, there’s Ojibway, there’s Salish, Mohawk, there’s all kinds of Indians and we’ve chosen to make this urban tribe of people.

The first three performances of The Death of a Chief were workshop performances.  With the full production of the play slated for 2007, could you talk about where the adaptation is going?

I don’t actually know. I mean, I don’t know because each of the first four workshops we’ve done so far we’ve always ended with, “O pardon me, thou bleeding peece of Earth” for a number of reasons.  Cathy and I, well, I especially don’t care much for the fourth and fifth acts of the play because it feels like there’s nothing new in there for me. 

We all know how it’s going to go.  It’s an interesting thing because of the cyclical nature of Indian storytelling; we don’t actually need to do the full cyclical thing that happens in Julius Caesar.  He prophesizes it.  He says it right there.  This is what’s going to happen.  So we don’t have to see it because he says it was going to happen and there are no surprises there.  However, when we go into the next workshop and the next workshop for all I know we could end up doing … I don’t even know if the play’s going to be linear. I don’t know what personal texts are going to come in or other texts?  I just don’t know. There is no way for me to know where we are going with this and that’s okay.

In your interview with CASP in November 2003 for your production Shakedown Shakespeare, you commented on the process of adapting tragedies into comedies.  Could you comment on your use of tragedy for this adaptation?

I wish there was more comedy in this adaptation!  Yeah, I miss that.  When I did Shakedown Shakespeare it was a theatre for young audiences. I remember how terribly Shakespeare was taught when I was a kid; in high-school, nobody bothered to teach us really how to read Shakespeare.  So you either got it or didn’t.  I didn’t have a great Shakespeare teacher until University.   Because of all of that, when I did Shakedown Shakespeare, I wanted the accessibility to be fun even though everyone dies at the end of Shakedown Shakespeare, like everything else, it was funny all the way through.  The Julius Caesar project is just so grim.  There’s almost no funny. We laugh a lot in the room but there’s almost no opportunity for that kind of comedy on stage.  There’s no love.  And comedy and Shakespeare are always about romance.  There’s no romance.  It’s already all lost by the time we meet Calpurnia and Portia and Brutus and Julius Caesar.  It’s already so doomed the whole piece.  I wish there was more comedy in Julius Caesar

There isn’t really though, in the original text, is there? There’s the opening scene and then those guys are killed.  Those guys who start the opening scene are quite funny, making puns about being cobblers.  But those guys are dead two scenes later, and then that’s it - tells you where we’re going with that play.  And it’s called the tragedy of Julius Caesar.

Did you find tragedy difficult to work with?  Is it making the process of adaptation different when working with the historic tragedy?

No.  We’re back to the times that we live in and I keep coming back to what terrible times they are.  Yesterday, I saw Why We Fight.  The film is essentially about American involvement in Iraq.   It was so depressing because it’s so true.  I think we are in terrible times and if we don’t wake up as a society and start taking some responsibility for that, it’s all over.  There isn’t a lot of room for comedy.  Even the guys who are doing the funny stuff are doing really sharp and bitter, funny stuff.  Rick Mercer, The Air Farce, all of our Canadian comics are really, really bitter.

In looking at how tragedy reflects upon present day social constructs, during your introduction to the performance on February 18th, you drew an interesting parallel between the rash of assassination attempts against Elizabeth I and the historical context of the production of Julius Caesar.  Why did you use this cultural reference when introducing the play and could you give an example of how the cultural connection is used in the performance?

Gee, did I really say that?  I don’t even remember that. It’s good someone taped that event.   Elizabeth I is one of my favourite, fascinating historical figures for all the obvious reasons:  the challenge of being a woman and a leader and the intrigue and the challenge of being honourable and how betrayed she was on so many levels.  But I don’t know why I was thinking about her?  Isn’t that funny, I’ll have to go back and check.

At the end of the play, Caesar dies.  With this adaptation you end with Caesar’s death …

And Antony’s eulogy.

Is there a reason why you’re ending it there?

Well, the reason is that we all know what happens next. Mark Antony prophesizes what’s going happen and we all know that it does.  We talked about this.  It is called the tragedy of Julius Caesar, so when Caesar dies that should be end of the story.   Unless the tragedy is that their assassination of Caesar starts the civil war and causes them to go around and kill each other until Brutus falls on his sword and then Mark Antony ascends.  Classically, the tragedy means that it’s Caesar’s flaw and Caesar’s fall and so we have no problem of ending right there which is essentially the end of the third act – with the prophesy.  Again, I don’t know if we will continue on.  But for me, after that, I don’t care about the battlefield stuff.  I don’t care about Brutus and Cassius falling out. That was inevitable.   It’s all in the first three acts. 

Could you talk about the symbolism of the braiding of Caesar’s hair?

Yeah, there’s a number of things we’re playing with there.  There’s a legend, it’s not from my People, that someone, an Aboriginal, a North American Aboriginal, not a classical Greek, which is where you would think it would be from, someone had hair that was like snakes.  There was a moment in the workshop when Jani, Jani is Mark Antony, was playing with Monique’s, Caesar’s hair, teasing it out, making it look like snakes.  That’s about the corruptive power or the power and the corruption of power.

And then she’s braiding it because, for us, in the Aboriginal community, braiding is body mind and spirit body mind and spirit body mind and spirit that’s what we are doing when we braid; that’s why we braid sweetgrass; that’s why we braid our hair; it’s to be whole and holistic. And so that’s one of the things that would be happening, without having anyone articulate that in the room, it means, that’s what we are doing when we braid our hair.  So for Jani, to be braiding Monique’s [Caesar’s] hair is like pulling her together, into a whole being, into a whole, sound being, which is what Caesar needs, is balance, because once that gets out of balance then … but then we spent a lot of time this week talking about whether or not Caesar actually became overly ambitious or whether he/she would have become corrupt.

Is there a decision about gender?

Not yet.  It's crazy-making.  It drives Cathy nuts, as the purist Shakespeare person in the room, to change gender.  It drives the women who are playing those roles nuts, to not know if they are women playing men or if they’re women playing women because of course that will change everything in the way they will attack those roles. I’m just avoiding the question.  I’ve been avoiding the question for four weeks.  I’m not ready. I’m not ready to make those kinds of directorial decisions.  I’m still hearing the language a certain way. 

I saw the Merchant [of Venice] last year in which Jani played Shylock and they had changed gender there, Shylock was a woman.  I didn’t find it jarring, the pronoun change.  I didn’t find the attack jarring, the emotional intention of the actor as a woman. But I’ve got a big company and there’s mostly women in it and that may change it.  We talk a lot about that because right now in our community the power is held by men and the women are the ones who are supposed to be tempering that power.  But if I’m playing Julius Caesar where almost everyone is female then … I have to think about that.  So I’ve just been avoiding it. So, no decision on gender yet.

Jumping back to the Elizabeth I question, was that maybe on your mind?

That could be. It certainly could be.

The following quote is taken from the February 18th script, where the Shakespearean text (2.2.49) is integrated with new writing:

Your wisedome is consum’d in confidence

You have knowledge of the consequences of living out of balance with nature and spirit

Could you tell us about your process of introducing new writing into Shakespearean text?

So far it has been haphazard. Everyone has done personal writing in the room, in response to the work. People have also, in response to the work, brought writing and some of that is transcribed, oral tradition stuff and quotations of political leaders. There’s lots of Pierre Trudeau floating around, for a lot of reasons, because that’s a moment in Aboriginal mainstream relations, I think, where things shifted.  And then, just because we’ve all be avoiding the incorporation of any personal text, Cathy just pushed them [actors] to drop some other text, not Shakespeare text, into some theme, somewhere and that’s how some of that stuff happens.  Really it’s just to bust open the structure.  I can move Shakespearean text around all day and all night.  I can put plays together but I want the company to be showing their investment in the project by bringing stuff to it as well.

Could you expand on the “Trudeau shift” that you just mentioned?

Part of that [Trudeau shift] is the whole Trudeau image, like nature boy; he wore a buckskin jacket that was beaded and he paddled a canoe.  He was really hooked into the mythology of the Aboriginal people of this country and the land, in a way, in his mind; he was hooked into the land in a way that Aboriginal people were as well, which is our primary relationship with the land.  I think he was trying, not consciously, but I think he was trying to show that by the image that was manufactured around him:  him and his canoe, him and his buckskin jacket. 

He repatriated the Constitution which changed everything and all relationships in this country including the relations with First Nations to this country.  For better or for worse, he’s a big player in the relationship of First Nations.  We’ll never know what would have happened if he had not done that. The things that we have that are constitutionally protected were not before; for example, we are allowed to practice our traditional practices, as we wish, which is a cool thing to find out that constitutionally we’re protected. Constitutionally, we can burn sweetgrass and sage in this office and nobody can come and tell us to shut it down because we are constitutionally protected.  It’s that thing of buying into a system.  He created a system that we’ve been we’ve been trying to interact with ever since.

What is your experience when you find yourself speaking back to Shakespeare’s writing? Could you give an example? 

What do you mean exactly?

When you are working with Shakespearean text, what is your experience or your feeling when you hook into something and you jump off into new writing or you see new connections with, for example, Trudeau.  Could you expand on that?

I don’t know if I can or not because it feels so much a part of … I mean when I’m doing the workshop, I am dreaming in iambic pentameter.  It’s hilarious. I start talking in iambic pentameter.  My great, great late Shakespeare prof, Vic Cowie at the University of Manitoba, always believed that he was living in that time or that he should have been living in that time. It’s like when you learn another language and you actually start to think in the other language.  Vic thought in Shakespeare all the time. It’s like being bilingual in English and Shakespeare. That’s what it feels like when I’m in the process but also most of the time.  Shakespeare is always around.  God, I sound like such a groupie.  It’s so funny.  It’s a tool. He [Shakespeare] is a tool; he’s another tool to use in terms of looking at the world.  It’s not the only thing I want to do.  But I’m not going to abandon it.

Is there another play that you are thinking about adapting?

We were watching the workshops and Cathy said to me, “Okay, next we’re gonna do Hamlet!”  I love Hamlet, probably my favourite Shakespeare.  But we’ve got so many stories to tell.  I’ll always do more Shakespeare. I did Shakedown Shakespeare.  Earlier than that, I did a Ten Minute Othello in Winnipeg for popular theater, for an exercise.  That was fun.  That was cross-gendered.  It was three Indians and a black woman.  It’s a great muscular exercise to adapt Shakespeare and of course he just finds his way into everything.

Could you reflect on your own cultural background in relation to your writing and in relation to being Canadian?

Well, I’m a Halfbreed.  My mother is Algonquin, from Kitigan Zibi First Nation in Quebec.  And my father’s Irish, from Dublin and he arrived here in ‘55.   So, I’m the daughter of two Peoples who’ve lost their land and lost their language.  My father taught my mother in residential school.  He was her math teacher and then she married him. The nuns gave her a wedding, which I’ve always imagined to be like Maria’s wedding in The Sound of Music but that’s just wishful thinking, probably.  I can pass as white.   I grew up in Winnipeg which is the most racist town in this country towards Aboriginal people, maybe Regina.  Pretty bad.  It has made me always have to identify because white folks who have said to me when I’ve said something about being Indian or done a piece of work about being Indian:   “You don’t have to do that you know; you don’t have to play the Indian card.”  

I’m not playing a card, that’s actually who I am.

My work, the work that I write very often in the early days especially, the Aboriginal is often invisible within the work.  In Blade, which was my first play, the narrator is a young white woman who tells her story but she also tells the story of all these Aboriginal women who where killed before her who were silenced because they were Aboriginal but because she is a white woman she gets to tell her story.  So the burden of telling their story is hers as well.  And I’m a woman.  I am a woman in a society that still marginalizes women and that’s had a huge effect on the work that I do.  And then once you look at the pecking order it’s white men at the top and then white women, and then Aboriginal, at least in my construct, Aboriginal men and Aboriginal women at the bottom, at the very bottom of that pile because we are told what to do by Aboriginal men and everybody else above. All of those things affect the work that I do.

And your plays give women a voice?

And in my plays I give women a voice.


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