Political Matters – November 2023

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By Mordecai Specktor

Spotlight on Native culture
I just got back from a Sunday night performance of “For the People,” a play about Native life on Franklin Avenue, at the Guthrie Theater. The satirical work, by Ty Defoe and Larissa FastHorse, concerns a plot to gentrify the Avenue and the spirited resistance to the evil plot. Since Mr. Arthur’s bar became a florist shop and then a Chase Bank branch, the gentrification ship has sailed, so to speak; but it’s best to suspend disbelief and enjoy the show.

The play features much self-deprecating humor and some surprising special effects. The endearing and talented cast includes Wes Studi, direct from his role as Bucky in “Reservation Dogs.” It’s Studi’s debut at the Guthrie.

Developed over four years with significant input from the local American Indian community, “For the People” is the Guthrie’s “first mainstage production written by Native playwrights about Native people,” according to Joseph Haj, the theater’s artistic director. The play runs through Nov. 12.

In addition to the Guthrie, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), Walker Art Center and the Minnesota History Center currently are focusing on Native artists and lifeways. I can’t recall a similar moment like this in the Twin Cities over recent decades.

In October, I attended the preview party for the extensive exhibition titled “In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now,” which is on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Target Gallery through Jan. 14, 2024.

The photos range from intimate photos of Indians at home and at work to whimsical creations by contemporary artists. I was not aware that Native photographers were focusing on their people some 100 years ago. “In Our Hands,” which features some 150 photos, is curated by Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota), a photojournalist and Mia guest curator; Casey Riley, Mia’s chair of global contemporary art and curator of photography and new media; and Jill Ahlberg Yohe, associate curator of Native American art, The three curators of the exhibit partnered with a curatorial council of 14 advisors, “internationally renowned artists, academics, and knowledge-sharers based in Canada and United States,” according to Mia publicity.

At the well-attended preview party, I chatted with Joe Allen, a former editor of The Circle, whose photo “Free the Land,” a chromogenic print, depicts an illuminated teepee adjacent to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The photo appeared on the cover of the Jan. 1993 edition of The Circle.

Over in St. Paul, another photography exhibit, “Reframing Our Stories,” opened Oct. 21 at the Minnesota History Center. “From a decades-old box of photographs simply labeled ‘Indians,’ came the idea for a powerful new exhibit,” according to the MHS website. “Inside the box were dozens of pictures of Native community members, organizations, activities, and events that are relevant today. Now in the hands of Indigenous community members, those photos have new meaning.”

“Reframing Our Stories,” which will be on view for the next two years, is part of the larger “Our Home: Native Minnesota” exhibit, which encompasses the history and lifeways of the 11 sovereign tribal nations in what is now called Minnesota.

And the Walker Art Center is concluding a retrospective of films by Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki), who has been called “the grandmother of Indigenous film.” I was out of the country for much of October, so missed out on the film screenings. A concluding community reception and conversation with Obomsawin, on Nov. 2, will include a screening of her first film, “Christmas at Moose Factory” (1971, 13 min.), which is composed entirely of drawings and stories by young Cree children at an Ontario residential school. The event will be recorded by MIGIZI’s First Person Productions, so it might be available for viewing online at some point.

On the road again
My wife and I flew to Copenhagen on Oct. 5. Our son Max has been living in the Danish capital for the past five years, and this was our fourth visit with him in his adopted land. Max and his girlfriend live in Nørrebro, which has been dubbed “the coolest neighborhood in the world” – you can check it out in numerous YouTube videos.

Shortly after our arrival in Denmark, Hamas fighters from Gaza invaded Israel and slaughtered 1,400 people, mainly civilians, including children and elderly residents. Of course, Israel responded and a horrific military assault on the tiny coastal enclave ensued. In Stockholm, we saw a large pro-Palestinian demonstration in Sergels Torg, a central plaza in the Swedish capital. Across the plaza, a group of neo-Nazis, the Nordic Resistance Movement, displayed their flags and a large banner that read KROSSA SIONISMEN! (Crush Zionism).

I wonder why war remains such a popular human activity.