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Native Man The Musical redefines Native masculinity
Monday, September 08 2014
 
Written by Alfred Walking Bull,
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native man the musical.jpgThe paradigm of Native American manhood shifted with New Native Theatre's production of “Native Man the Musical, Phase I,” performed at the Minnesota Fringe Festival with its last performance on Aug. 9.

The stories were authentic accounts from Native men from around the Twin Cities and the region. New Native Theatre's artistic director Rhiana Yazzie (Dine) sought to set the expectation from stereotypes to previously unimagined identities by non-Native audiences.

“Some of it isn't pretty. And it's certainly not what the mainstream has dreamed up. Defying the stereotype of the Indian brave, the warrior, the oppressed, these stories are open and vulnerable moments necessary to be share in order that we might understand ourselves better, and possibly, the non-Native world can re-adjust its boundaries, fantasies, fears and misconceptions about Native male-hood.”

The performance features the life experiences of each cast member and interviews from men in the Twin Cities Native community. Among those in the live performance were Jeff Jordan (Boise Forte Ojibwe), Wade Keezer (White Earth Ojibwe), Jase Roe (Northern Cheyenne), Sisoka Duta (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota), Raphael Szykowski (Kuna) and rapper Tall Paul (Leech Lake Ojibwe). The production also featured filmed interviews with Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Ojibwe), Black Fox (Oglala Lakota), Chema Pineda-Fernandez (Nahuatl Mayan), Cole Premo (Mille Lacs Ojibwe) and Jim Thunder Hawk (Oglala Lakota).

One of the more compelling moments of the performance came when Keezer opened up on screen about his hatred for the warrior mentality that's expected of young Native men. He spoke in his video segment about the culture that he was raised in that praised stoicism and emotional repression among men and that he combats that by telling his children that he loves them, allowing them to feel their emotions, instead of shaming them.

In his performance piece, Keezer talked about his relationship with his own father who sobered up and later became a born-again Christian. “Some people started calling me 'the preacher's son.' I really hated that, I really didn't care for any kind of Christianity, for a lot of different reasons, but mostly what it's done to Indians. I'm sick of all the Christians, the Muslims, the pipe carriers; it doesn't mean nothing to me. All these ultimatums and stereotypes that they use, it doesn't work on me.” When asked what he believed in, he closed with a air-guitar performance of Twisted Sister's “We're Not Gonna Take It.”

 

Sisoka Duta's piece opened with a traditional Dakota greeting, giving his family history and upbringing. He spoke about his love of his cultural identity and the river. “It's where my ancestors are from, it's where I'm from and whenever I'm feeling sad, I go to the river, I start to feel better. One time, I got into an argument with my ex, I went to the river, I stopped by the shore and I said a prayer in my Dakota language. I felt better, I could just let it go, it was stress relief. Kind of like that river, everything washes away and goes downstream; try not to hold onto that stuff I was going through, because it hurts you more to carry all that pain."

Jordan's segment took on a TED Talk theme on authenticity. He began by explaining how growing up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, he felt disconnected from his tribal identity. “Right away, I knew we were different. My dad was a really, really brown man, a very dark guy. One day I came home from school – my teacher was black – and I asked my dad, 'daddy, are you black?' And he said, 'no, I'm Indian and so are you.' Right away, I knew being Indian was something that had to be defended.”

He felt ambivalence about his cultural identity; ultimately, he spent years battling his own alcoholism and addiction. “I'm not white enough to be white, not Indian enough to be Indian.” He eventually began drinking at 25 years-old. “I used to be Mr. Academic Native Rights and now I'm under a bridge, drinking 'Indian champagne' mouthwash. That's a joke I only ever hear from other Natives, I don't hear it from anyone else. Humor is one thing that gets us by.” Ultimately, Jordan found peace with his identity. “When I really stopped searching, caring, worrying and wondering and just being what I am, where I am right now, I guess that's as close to being an authentic Ojibwe man as I can be.”

The Two Spirit identity was presented with Jase Roe's storytelling of his life. He born in Montana and was adopted by a maternal aunt, who then moved to Eagan and tried to keep him connected to his cultural background. But growing up in suburban Minnesota, he felt isolated from any sense of cultural identity. At a young age, Roe's adoptive father died and his aunt was no longer able to function as his parent, financially, emotionally or physically.

When he came out as gay, his adoptive family continued to isolate him, which caused him to feel a sense of alienation, both culturally and in the LGBT community. “You see these white guys who are ripped with little dogs and nice cars, that's what it is to be gay,” he said the video component of his story.

Roe fell into addiction and spent many years traveling across the country, looking to escape the emotional trauma that was a result of the fallout of his family's breakup and his alienation. Through many years, he eventually found a sense of recovery and has been sober for nearly two years. This recovery led him to reconnecting with his biological family through social media.

Roe's biological father, Vincent White Crane and his wife Clara, traveled from Lame Deer, Montana to meet his son for the first time on opening night. In his final moments on stage, Roe acknowledged his journey's beginning from adoption to his, “family of choice, which grows every day,” looking at his father.

Banks' contribution to the performance included a story from his childhood. He talked about how when he was a young boy, he and his friends would tease the older boys who dated girls. When he came of age, he noticed a girl on the playground. They sat on the swings and as they drew closer for a kiss, he said, “She looked at me, she came closer and I said 'Oh my god!' I was flabbergasted, she put her arms around my neck and she kissed me. And I passed out! All the boys were laughing at me. That was my first kiss and it was not initiated by me … I was resistant to it at first, but there it was, my big moment in life and I just collapsed right there.”

The next phase of “Native Man The Musical” is set to begin work in November of this year through January of 2015. Yazzie intends to collect as many stories from Native men and women as possible. For more information on how to take part, email Yazzie at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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