Native Man The Musical redefines Native masculinity

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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 info@newnativetheatre.org.