| To Inspire an Adequate Response...|
Friday, December 2nd 2005, by nednednerb
To Inspire an Adequate Response…
Joseph Dandurand’s play, Please Do Not Touch The Indians, conveys a dark history in Canada that many do not fully conceive the extent of. Cultures of colonization historically ac-cepted and sought to legally justify the forcing of most indigenous cultures in Canada into condi-tions today deemed deplorable, which writers like Dandurand explore. In his play that inspires respect for those impacted by past and present conditions, Dandurand subverts both colonial as well as contemporary patterns of oppression by exploring Canadian history from the telling per-spectives of characters who received the dark side of that history.
The characters of the play are one white tourist, three animals—a wolf, a raven, and a coyote—and two wooden Indians with an appearance “not quite traditional but more of a Holly-wood taste” (7). The overt plot of the play consists in “Tourist” emerging upon stage to represent the others in a medium like photography, painting, or film while ignorant that when offstage, the others communicate and reminisce upon events in their past. The characters other than the tourist are the tormented ghosts of devastated Native individuals who were deprived of peace by murder-ers of an oppressive culture. Throughout the play, the characters fondly remember bearable parts of their lives and later in the play painfully remember the events that ended their mortal lives. Via characters whose memories are archetypal of real abuses that occurred toward Natives, Dandu-rand teaches to his audience a dark side of Canadian history such as terrifying experiences that happened in residential schools and army-perpetrated massacres.
In his essay “The Hearts of Its Women: Rape, Residential Schools, and Re-membering,” Ric Knowles comments on what he interprets as a primary focus of First Nations Literature, not-ing that many Native playwrights have quoted the traditional Cheyenne saying that “[a] nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground” (Knowles 245). Knowles com-ments that
[the] most pervasive feature of current Native writing … seems to be the impact of “Resi-dential schools—past, present, and future” (18) on Native Children. These are the Chris-tian-run schools to which First Nations children were taken by force, removed from their communities, and denied access to their languages and cultures, by government decree for over a century from the mid 1800s until the 1970s. (Knowles 245).
That means some people currently alive have living memory of this disservice, but Joseph Dandurand is young enough that his knowledge of the greatest material abuses in Canadian his-tory come from the memories and stories of others. Perhaps, the greatest value of Dandurand’s writing comes in the very fact of his continuing to tell stories of abuse in history even when per-sonally beyond it, for unless people continually retell these stories of past colonization, some may lapse and hurt others again. In an essay that talks about the impact on children of colonization called “The Children of Tomorrow’s Great Potlatch,” Ernie Grey writes as a member in the Cheam band of the Sto:lo nation that “[we] dream of the day when First Nations people and whites will sit together to take part in a great potlatch. Before this happens, the whites must learn more of the First Nations history, because understanding is essential to create solutions and har-mony” (Grey 150). Immediately following this statement, Grey includes a quotation from Chief Joe Mathias that “[the] Indian Act of 1876 shattered the lives of the aboriginal people of Canada,” and Grey continues to state “those most profoundly damaged were the children of the First Na-tions people” (Grey 150, 151). Colonizers strove hard to disrupt healthy human growth.
Sister Coyote, a character of Dandurand’s play, represents this history as a child taken from home and put in school. Her heart stomped hard to the ground, Sister Coyote relates her ex-perience in the school, “being beaten and kicked around,” and then she describes a priest viciously raping her while telling her frighteningly gross lies: “he hurt me real bad, all the time telling me I was his gift from the lord and that I should never tell anyone. He raped me and then he smacked me across the face and told me to never tell anyone or else God would punish me” (49). This priest attempts to conquer Sister Coyote’s heart by crushing her to subordination by his desires and reduces her to such a state that she kills herself with a belt discarded by him while exploiting her.
Grey informs his reader with a quote from Dr. Neil MacDonald of the University of Mani-toba that when children were when taken from their parents’ shelter, they were “assigned a num-ber and unceremoniously herded into cattle cars for transport to the residential school” (Grey 151). Values of the kind pervaded in real life that in the play allowed the priest to attack and dis-miss the importance of Sister Coyote. Dr. Neil MacDonald wrote about an incident at one “Fall round-up” of children when they were taken to go to residential school:
The women ran alongside the cattle cars until they found their child or children. They grabbed the hands of their children and refused to let go, thus preventing the train’s depar-ture. The RCMP constables responded by climbing up the sides of the cars and stomped on the hands of the mothers, breaking their grips and some of their hands and fingers. (Grey 151-2).
All sorts of horrors abound in the colonizer’s historical treatment of First Nations people, horrors whose diversity and quantity forces upon one the realization that Canadian history in-volves entrenched systematic oppressions. “Real, material technologies of colonization,” the phrase Ric Knowles uses to describe rape and sexual violence, exist in many forms as shown by the preceding story and the story of Sister Coyote (Knowles 245). Spiritually dismissive atti-tudes—the kind acted upon Natives by the various modes of destructive colonization—run to-gether with assimilation, “ethnic cleansing[,] and cultural genocide” (Knowles 246).
Nothing but spiritually dismissive attitudes could result in a whole society systematically oppressing, injuring, and attempting to assimilate another. Wooden Woman, another tormented ghost of Dandurand’s play, relives her memories of being a Native mother at a time when “battle” went on—when dressed in “blue US cavalry” purposefully hunted Native groups to scalp and massacre any dark-skinned man, woman, or child they could find (42). In a culturally autobio-graphical vein that also imparts visceral emotions, Wooden Woman tells that “[the US cavalry] slit their throats, the youngest of the children, slit their throats and tossed their small harmless bodies into the hole” (48). She relives an attack as she hides with her child waiting for the dark-hearted men to find her. The attackers annihilate her sanity—frighteningly stomping her heart to the ground: “They were coming to kill me and take my hair. My child wouldn’t stop screaming so I took some dead leaves and gently pushed them into her mouth” (51). Eventually the crying child suffocates, which itself most powerfully torments Wooden Woman’s soul while in limbo with the other characters.
Colonial patterns of oppressors must include delusional self-rationales for acting out these torments, rationales which I refer to with the phrase spiritually dismissive attitudes. Colonialists needed to strongly imagine their Native hosts as worth very little in order to have the moral ability to so mercilessly ravage and malign. To feel sane while murdering or raping someone else, peo-ple who deem themselves “good and civilized” or at least “right” must force their minds to contort reality into severe delusions of dichotomy between self and other. Such a colonial dichotomy surely lent philosophical support to both the “legitimized” abuse upon Natives by Canadian law and the preservation of residential schools until the 1970s, within 35 years of today. Dandurand subverts colonial dichotomies of worthy human versus denigrated primitive by relating to us com-pelling first-person perspectives of innocent, intelligent Native people impacted and devastated by savage colonizers.
By informing his audience in a carefully symbolic way about this side of Canadian history, symbols which I’ll explain in the next paragraph, Dandurand also subverts something he per-ceives continuing to happen now. I have noticed a phenomenon that some people do not fully conceive the extent of a dark Canadian history, tending to believe Canada to be a forerunner of international peace with nothing under its belt but innocuous good will. A look within, however, such as the look given by Dandurand and the critics I have mentioned, reveals a great deal of so-cial decay that festers under the surface of everyday contemporary life. The most desperate colo-nial actions thrum in a time just now behind us. Today, our governments renounce such cultural decay, but I suggest contemporary values have not instantaneously and easily changed between generations. No reason other than to merely recite the past exists for Native playwrights to go back, again and again, to the subject of lingering suffering unless hazy, decayed contemporary values provide such a reason to tell stories that instruct societies away from destructive behaviour.
Whereas life memories of the Native characters in Please Do Not Touch The Indians pri-marily express the emotional hell perpetrated upon Natives by colonialism in the past, the charac-ter simply called Tourist most vividly symbolizes the contemporary persistence of sick values be-hind past atrocities. The title of the play is the same statement that reads on a sign initially hang-ing around Wooden Man’s neck, a kind of sign to tell tourists not to touch, because they might damage what they touch. Tourist spends much of his time onstage taking images of the Native characters while not knowing or touching at all upon the horrific lives they lived before becoming spirits in limbo. I think Tourist symbolizes intended efforts of the colonial project and can pro-vide insight into the strange phenomenon I discussed concerning Canadians not fully understand-ing the extent of suffering perpetrated through their history. I feel the presence of an analogy oc-curring somewhere between Tourist’s ignorance of the Natives’ deeper lives while striving to have a beautiful image to keep of them and the way contemporary Canadian society carries forth its history. I think Dandurand subverts contemporary social prerogatives by making a damned fool of Tourist, especially when at the end of the play he stunningly directs the Hollywood-ized enactment of the horrific massacre that Wooden Woman lost her life and child to. If elements of contemporary society genuinely are as negligent as Tourist in their evaluation of history and of cultural identities, then Dandurand subtly presents a strong case for a re-evaluation of contemporary social agendas.
As example of how contemporary Canadian society responds to its history, I have my own experience to offer. I went through elementary school instructed by teachers that Native culture was a) interesting to know about, b) worthy of respect, c) as good as other cultures and d) impor-tant to my Canadian heritage. Beyond seeing examples of art and technology and beyond doing crafts, I do not recall an equivalent amount of sincere discussion about highly problematic values that currently linger from a dark history of systematic cultural attack. Elizabeth Mary Furniss wrote her thesis dissertation for a doctorate of philosophy in the department of anthropology and sociology at UBC, and its name is In the Spirit of the Pioneers: Historical Consciousness, Cul-tural Colonialism and Indian/White Relations in Rural British Columbia (1997). She claimed “the power that reinforces the subordination of aboriginal peoples in Canada is exercised by ‘ordinary’ rural Euro-Canadians whose cultural attitudes and activities are forces in an ongoing, con-temporary system of colonial domination” (ii). On Vancouver Island having grown up in the rural town of Ucluelet (with a population around sixteen-hundred, a couple hundred of which are Na-tives mostly on a reserve) before living in the city of Nanaimo, I attest that I bear witness to more “subordination” in everyday racial attitudes in Ucluelet than Nanaimo, and I also attest that ‘both sides’ often construe their ideas as perfectly “ordinary” and reasonable. Issues of subordination sometimes entered secondary school classrooms, but I mainly remember being told dates of armed conflicts and being told about the activity of trade routes in distant regions. Although the official mandate is that Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian culture should peacefully coexist in Can-ada, I think the current state of moral affairs and the current state of public education lag and do not adequately supply the data and testimonial—such as Native authors like Dandurand convey—that will expose to youth the real problems opposed to a cultural peace.
I think we still linger near the beginning of a transitional period toward peace, considering residential schools ended only within 35 years of the present day. Canada is still discarding the oppressive, destructive values and learning the constructive, compassionate ones, and as long as stories keep spinning, we will learn. Luckily, First Nations Literature grows in popularity, and I see only Native writers that, like Dandurand, well know history and intentionally work with con-structive goals in mind toward a peace for those impacted in various ways throughout history and to this day. The history of our land and people reveals its shades, both light and dark, to us upon our today reaching—striving—beyond the causes of suffering in literature and charitable remem-brance.
...Please do not forget the Indians.
Dandurand, Joseph A. Please Do Not Touch The Indians. Candler, NC: Renegade Planets
Furniss, Elizabeth. In the Spirit of the Pioneers: Historical Consciousness, Cultural Colonialism
and Indian/White Relations in Rural British Columbia. Ottawa, Ontario: UMI Dissertation Services, 2001.
Grey, Ernie. “The Children of Tomorrow’s Great Potlatch.” In Celebration of Our Survival: The
First Nations of British Columbia. Ed. Doreen Jensen and Cheryl Brooks. Also BC Studies no. 89. 1991.
Knowles, Ric. “The Hearts of Its Women: Rape, Residential Schools, and Re-membering.”
Performing National Identities: International Perspectives on Contemporary Canadian Theatre. Ed. Sherrill Grace and Albert-Reiner Glaap. Vancouver: Talon Books, 2003.
7 Dec 2005 @ 21:14 by joseph @18.104.22.168 : indians
very very cool to read anything on my work. am presently writing a new play called: SELL FISH, based on how i make my supposedly illegal fish disappear every summer.
This play you wrote about is probably my best know and produced play both here and in the us. it was produced in los angeles las year andme and my fmaily drove down and we were ironically, indian tourists.
these days i find myself changing diapers, have 3 kids now, danessa age 7, marlysse age 2, and our new one a boy, jace.
life is good out here on this island in the middle of the fraser river about 20 minutes east of the decay of vancouver and it has become even better when i read words about my use of words to tell story.
always a poet,
7 Dec 2005 @ 21:17 by joseph @22.214.171.124 : indians
i cannot spell and my last comment proves it...good thing i make a living doing other things,
8 Dec 2005 @ 16:21 by : I wish I were a etymologist
because is it strictly correct describing the American Indians as Aboriginal? We know words get different tinges of meaning when jumping the Atlantic. In the end this causes incipient nuances to become mainstream with no one really noticing or caring. But I do have friend who is one!!
Just remembered, I believe Aboriginal implies a culture going nowhere (ie stuck in the jungle, pigmies, Australian outback etc) So I was correct in suspecting political motives here, ie by using this very word, a whole subtext of meaning is implied (ie They are going nowhere) carring with it many other connotations of subjugation perhaps. For instance where was the discussion, debate that arrived at the notion of aboriginal - I bet it just snook in - is this what Flemming meant with his neural conditioning in our society??
In all my most favorite reading, the best writing coming from the US at the moment, the core writings on the natural environment and its relevance to mankind are greatly inspired by the Native American Indians. Why can't they use the word Native - this is a perfectly good word with no connotations - and the one that has always been used.
Something very important that America does not have is the famous Profonde tradition of philosophy of France. It is stated earlier on NCN, that the French do not consider that philosophy can come from any university or intellectual, it can only and at the best come from a free individual mastered in eloquence and able to gather an affectionate audience.
So to sum up, for the proud Native American Indians, beware maurading university experts swinging loosely their academic phrases. It is a contradition in terms to put Indian culture in an university faculty, a Museum for dead things. If you want to know Indians, go live with them.
8 Dec 2005 @ 20:04 by : Because...
the so called "Natives" were not "Native" to this so called "Nation". The so called "Indians" (Another one of those etymological boo boos) came up from SOuth America. America? Anyone ever redact that pathetic word? Neuro Linguistical programming elite changing frogs into princes? Princes? Puhlease! Mind control as 'Somatic Psycho-Therapy?' The use of 'cell phone' towers to electronically, bio-electro-magnetically ''condition,' as in Pavlov's now famous, or is that infamous, dog...during the 2004 "elections?" should be researched by any one bearing sympathy response symptoms to anything that comes out of the establishment (read:elite) corporate press. All lies get their power from the truth. All postulates are lies. We must all clear our minds of the 'dreck' of ''progress'' and see anew the dawn of day. That can't happen until we see through the word prisons that corrupt us. Some nice stuff here for permutational redaction and certainly for 'subtext' renderings. Weeping gets rid of the 'charge' for a moment but action is required to free our planet from all of its' scum. What does one do with the 'scum' that rises at 'churning' time? Thanks...
9 Dec 2005 @ 11:31 by : Definitely a view
but a very hard one. Good comment on "Native", will generate more thoughts on this. The reason the word Indian crept in is easy. When Columbus (or whoever it was) discovered the West Indies, they believed they had reach India (all the spices, silks, philosophy etc), after disappointment the name settled as West Indies, it generated the generic term Indian. Re cell phone towers to word prisons - if more of the classical languages were studied the limits caused by words would disappear, by being spoken in another realm, or level, where the heart is automatically freed into the speech and mind simultaneously. This is infectious. just like disease - works both ways - like lies and truth, and simultaneously can make the 'cup runneth over' of Omar ha Khahim. My meaning of action, was simply 'doing consciously' to activate notions of self - all one can do is to assist this process for others as much as possible in all that is done. If by scum you mean land/air pollution, right thoughts will certainly lead to right actions, to some sustainable living. Its called Faith. My money is on the words themselves to effect change. They should not be connected to Desire (also via heart), which leads back into the downward spiral, but just to slightly greater things like appreciation of environment and people through affection for the upward spiral. But is this not all Off Topic?
29 Jan 2015 @ 06:11 by Rita @126.96.36.199 : OjQRhPzWTSqPRlfJno
Hi Nancy..thought it best to comment on your blog just wentad to say a massive thank you for getting my little book as for my fav character it changes from week to week..just now I think its Ernest who is loosely based on someone I know but my little daughter and her friends love Zac the best .so your in good company a hundred thank you's for reading and enjoying folk of feodora's lane .and spread thw word could you do me a little favour and if you get a chance do me a review on amazon or whatever retailer you got it .i would appreciate it so much keep in touch Eliza x
29 Jan 2015 @ 16:57 by Arminh @188.8.131.52 : ygZKPeTshAYvOnbZVLNN
Count yourself lucky. I rbememer a mis-adventure in trying to make a spear. Used wood, rayon twine, and an honest-to-goodness rock for the head. My dad tried to use it as a stick to swat a raccoon marauding the garbage cans. Took us 6 months to find the spearhead buried point up in the lawn, just shy of mower blade level.For some odd reason, I was banned from further experiments ..
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