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In 1990 I wrote a short story and later a play called Someday, and it told the story of an unfortunate Canadian practice called the scoop-up, yet another questionable byproduct of colonization. The scoop-up dealt with tens of thousands of Native children cruelly taken away by government and social service agencies, often for the flimsiest of reasons, and farmed out for adoption to the four corners of Canada. Seen by many as a project to assimilate Native people into the dominant non-Native culture, often these displaced children would find themselves forcibly settled in America, and occasionally in Europe and other far off foreign countries they had probably never heard of.
Since it first appeared, there's been about a dozen theatre productions of the play. I was surprised by the success of this particular play, because I thought foolishly "how could other people relate to such an experience?" It was, I concluded, a uniquely Native experience. Silly me.
Fifteen years and two sequels later, I have found out how wrong I was. This same sort of domestic diaspora was a feeling felt, not just in my own Canada, but in many diverse and far flung places where knowledge of First Nations experiences was sketchy at best. Someday, a story of a single oppressed family dealing with blind government policies and entrenched racism that nearly destroyed them, was surprisingly accessible.
More importantly, it was also relatable.
In 2004, I had the unique experience of visiting the University of Madras in Chennai, one of the oldest universities in India, where I got to see a production of selected scenes from Someday that was being produced by the University's English department. Evidently, the play was on the class reading list.
Aside from seeing my play produced with an entirely Indian (South Asian Indian that is) cast, speaking my Ojibway tainted lines with noticeable culturally inaccurate accents, I was eager to see their interpretation. It was quite bizarre watching the scene where two Ojibways were discussing getting the car out of the snowdrift. It was easily 40 sweltering degrees in Chennai and it was highly unlikely anybody in the room had ever thrown a snowball, let alone had to deal with the greater Canadian experience of getting a car out of a snowdrift.
While at that university I was told the play was specifically studied because, in its own way, it reflected the similar situations of India's Dalit community. Once referred to as the untouchables, the Dalits have long been the disenfranchised, oppressed segment of the population, and existed deep below in the bedrock of polite Indian society until fairly recently. Most, if not all, of the students in that class were Dalit, as were the professors, and they found the parallels with the Native experience in Canada comparable. By the way, vedho oru naal means someday in Tamil.
More recently, I have been contacted by yet another professor in an equally far off land, interested in translating my humble play for the benefit of his students. His name is Abder-Rahim Abu-Swailem and he is a professor at Mu'tah University in Jordan. He writes "For me, I think the play is very interesting on both artistic and thematic levels. I think there are many things in common between the aspirations and the agonies of the Natives and the aspirations and agonies of the people in the Arab countries, especially the way they are perceived by the "white man," in a different way.
Hmmm, the scoop-up of an Ojibway child and her disenfranchisement from her family can be interpreted as a statement of Palestinian oppression? That's one of the things I love about literature. Anything can mean anything.
He goes on to add "The 50-year struggle with the Israeli occupation of the Arab territories, in addition to the bias stand of the U.S. and England with the Israeli's, made the struggle and yearning for freedom and legal rights a must for the Arabs. They want to put their own rules rather than to be dictated by The Other. Two thirds of Palstenians live abroad in camps."
Prof. Abu-Swailem concludes by stating "I am not a politician but politics is imposed on us and became part of our lives." That sounded vaguely familiar to me until I remembered that I've often been quoted as saying being born Native in Canada is a political statement in itself. We're not political by nature. We're political by birth. The status card is just the paper work.
In Arabic, "Fi Yawmin Ma" is the title of my play, though I'm told its closer to "once upon a time ..." then someday.
Admittedly I know little about the Israeli/Arab conflicts in that part of the world, only what I see on the news. I knew even less about the fight for equality of India's Dalits until I was there. I'm aware a little knowledge can indeed be a dangerous thing, and I try and keep that in context. But I've seen plays by Indigenous people in New Zealand, Australia and a host of other countries scattered across the world dealing with similar issues. Most of these plays are stories of survival. Broadly put, there are themes of regaining control, or finding purpose and independence. Of regaining destiny. A somewhat universal struggle for most of the world's minorities.
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|Title Annotation:||THE URBANE INDIAN|
|Author:||Taylor, Drew Hayden|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2006|
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