Artists, historians, anthropologists, and literary critics assembled in Ithaca this weekend, bringing with them their knowledge and opinions of Native American culture. As the culmination of a year-long celebration of Indian identity, the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance hosted a two-day long symposium, “Indians’ Indians: Persistence and Politics of Display,” which took place at the Society of Humanities in the A.D. White House.
Native American scholars and artists from various universities and institutions, including the Six Nations Reserve and the Ganondagan State Historic Site, discussed how literature, art, anthropology, and other disciplines have represented American Indians through panel discussions and presentations of indigenous artwork.
“A great success of the program was in bringing scholars who deal a lot with the role of American Indian people and how they represent themselves through their art — from beadwork arts to exhibits and even tribal museums that are created by Native Americans today,” said Prof. Daniel Usner, history.
As the Director of the American Indian program, Usner helped co-organize the symposium along with Profs. Laura Donaldson, English; Rebecca Schneider, theater arts and David Bathrick, theater arts.
The cultural topics presented at the conference ranged from the politics of native identity to Iroquois art and performance. Each discussion group included a panel of scholars who led open discussions about the occasionally controversial topics.
“It was such a unique opportunity because we had young scholars doing very sophisticated work,” Usner said.
The main feature of the symposium was two performances by Spiderwoman Theater, a Native American theater troupe that addresses issues such as ethnic heritage, race and sexuality.
Now in its 25th year, Spiderwoman consists of three Kuha/Rappahannock sisters, Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel, and Muriel Miguel, who blend their traditional Native American heritage with their contemporary lives as New Yorkers.
“Spiderwoman really gives us a lot of hope and feeling that we’re doing something. We go to reservations, and young children refer to us as role models, and theater groups have started using our technique,” Gloria Miguel explained.
“We’re no young chickens, and we’re still going on,” she added.
The weekend’s performances, “Persistence of Memory,” combined the women’s’ experiences throughout the past several decades as children, mothers, and members of the Native American community.
Meghan Gualtieri grad spent time over the past few days helping the women as they prepared for their performances. Gualtieri is a second-year theater arts Ph.D. student.
“I think that their piece is incredibly inspirational as a piece of feminist performance art that embraces difference, whether it be ethnic or religious or sexual or even gender related,” Gualtieri said.
“I think that they are great dames of theater, and we’re very fortunate to have them here in Ithaca,” she continued.
The actresses also took part in a controversial panel that met on Saturday afternoon, “Authenticity, Cross-Casting, Trickstery: The Politics of Playing, Teaching, Writing Past Identity.”
The panel discussed the politics of casting Native Americans in roles traditionally created for Caucasian individuals, and the parallel issue of casting whites in Native American roles. As actresses, the members of Spiderwoman contributed their own experiences with type-casting in the acting profession.
The symposium ended with a roundtable discussion that reviewed the main topics of the past two days. Students can look at the theater department’s website for upcoming events connected concerning Native American themes and issues.
Organizers were pleased with the success of both the Spiderwoman performances and the cultural presentations.
“I think it was enormously successful,” Schneider said. “It was really a wonderful opportunity.”
Archived article by Meghan Barr