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Saturday, July 13, 2024
Reading by Indigenous playwright at museum confronts ‘pretend Indian’ issue
The author of "Blood Sport," January Rogers, is a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. She's also published several works of written poetry and spoken-word poetry performances. Photo by Ian R. Maracle via @janetmarieroger Twitter

Revelations about the true identities of prominent Indigenous individuals in the Canadian cultural landscape — such as singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, author Joseph Boyden, filmmaker Michelle Latimer and former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond — have been the subject of anger and disappointment in Indigneous communities over the past few years.

They’ve ignited discussions about the issue of “pretendianism,” a term used when people falsely claim to be Indigenous, who are sometimes called “pretend-ians.”

In that vein, playwright January Rogers’ latest work, “Blood Sport,” is a satirical unpacking of this phenomenon and an examination of Indigenous identity.

Rogers’ short play will be presented at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum on Thursday, June 27: the author will be there for the presentation of the play and will participate in a panel discussion afterward.

“Blood Sport” by Rogers, a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River, uses humour and a game-show scenario to confront this phenomenon.

“‘Blood Sport’ seemed to be the perfect story to tell,” said Rogers in a media release, “because with the fictitious game show scenario and the use of lots of satire, I have been able to address exactly what is at stake for (real) Native people when fake Native people are exposed as interlopers within our education and art sectors, specifically.”

It sees “culturally confused” contestants compete for the right to claim Indigenous identities through a series of bizarre games and tasks, guided by a character called “the Ref,” while learning the right ways to claim their Indigenous identities.

Following the play, Rogers will participate in a panel discussion on the work and the subject of Indigenous identity, joined by Jolene Rickard, Tuscarora, associate professor of Indigenous art at Cornell University, Karl Dockstader, Oneida, Indigenous cultural advisor for Niagara College, and Tim Johnson, Mohawk, senior advisor for museums, heritage and legacy with Lord Cultural Resources and Plenty Canada and a museum board member.

Ahead of the presentation at the museum, a few of these panelists shared their perspectives on what they say is at stake when pretendianism is able to fluorish.

Rickard connects this issue back to the centuries-old concept of “playing Indian,” which some historians, such as Philip J. Deloria, say dates as far back as the Boston Tea Party days.

“The act of appropriating Indigenous identities has crossed the line and isn’t just play, but an ongoing form of colonial erasure,” Rickard said in a media release.

Dockstader said the “door of opportunity has never been cracked open” for Indigenous peoples wider than it is today, but that “those chances are being blocked by opportunistic imitation Indigenous oppressors seizing these advances for their own personal gain.”

While “Blood Sport” was completed in 2022, it saw a surge in attention last November when it was presented at an Indigenous performing arts festival in Toronto last November, against the backdrop of revelations about Buffy Sainte-Marie following a CBC investigation from October.

“Knowing the complex elements that I wove into ‘Blood Sport,’ and the affirmations of Indigenous identity experienced by its protagonists, audiences will enjoy an entertaining and educational theatre offering which is sure to spur more discussion and understanding,” Rogers said.

This event will begin at 7 p.m. Call 905-468-3912 to reserve your seat. Admission is by donation.

For more information, visit notlmuseum.ca

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