By Drew Hayden Taylor
Originally published in January 2012
In the conclusion to his Governor General Award winning play, “Where The Blood Mixes”, Kevin Loring talks about the first day of a workshop with noted Cayuga actor Gary Farmer, a man of considerable size. In theatre-speak, he describes Gary’s reaction to the first draft of his play in a somewhat aggressive manner.
Gary violently slams the script onto the table.
Gary: Thirty-five years in the business and here I am playing another drunken Indian in the bar. So what? He’s a drunk in a bar! So what now?
The young playwright pees himself.
Been there, done it.
Times have changed in the era of political correctness. These days, it’s hard to find a decent drunken Indian on television or in the movies. Realities have shifted and the public’s perception of Native people has been altered somewhat.
Take as an example the new movie Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1. It’s the latest in a series of novels/movies detailing the rocky romance between a young girl and her two suitors, a vampire and a werewolf. I feel lucky I only had to battle with acne in high school.
What’s so fascinating is both the positive and negative portrayals of the Native characters in the movie. First of all, they are the werewolves and conveniently provide a roadblock (or blockade, for cultural accuracy) for the young lovers, Edward and Bella. They want to kill the vampires and vice versa. They are essentially the enemies. They wear the black hats (or fur as the case may be). It’s the Capulets and the Montagues from Romeo and Juliet. Instead of vampires and werewolves, it’s the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story (which again is essentially Romeo and Juliet).
Of a particularly disturbing image, there’s a shocking scene in the last movie where one of the werewolf braves hugs his girlfriend, who has a large gash down the side of her face. Evidently, the wound a result of an out of control werewolf boyfriend.
The same character, in full werewolf mode, later attacks Bella, the heroine of the story and is saved at the last moment by Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Ten minutes later, when they meet again, the young man just shrugs, grins at her and says ‘sorry.’ This, for obvious reasons, has me a little concerned.
But on the more positive side, there’s Taylor Lautner, the young man who has made more Aboriginal women’s hearts flutter (and a few non-Native ones too, I’ve heard) than a defibrillator. This man, who has Dutch German ancestry with a little Potawatomi and Odawa thrown in for coloring, has definitely put the abs in Aboriginal.
For a man of limited First Nations ancestry, he has unfortunately really raised the bar substantially for the rest of us who suffer from chronic bannock belly.
I still think it’s a good thing though. The image of the drunken disgraced street Indian is slowly being replaced by gym going, fit and cut handsome young men. As the Jesuits used to say, ‘give them to us when they’re young and they’ll be ours for life.” So if this is the first image the younger female population of Canada and the rest of the world has of Native people, it sure beats the hell out of all those drunks Gary Farmer said he used to play. Works for me.
I have not as of yet seen the new film but I think I know how it ends. The young handsome Native guy loses the girl to the pasty skinny white guy. Art does, it seems, imitate life. And postulating the future, the young Native man starts to drink to numb the pain in his heart, the years pass, and now we’re back with the Gary Farmer analysis.
It’s all a vicious circle for sure. All started by a little white girl.
In keeping with the changing face of the public Aboriginal, I have for years been trying to get an anthology off the ground. A collection of Native science fiction stories from the best First Nations writers in the country. But I always get the same response…. Native science fiction…. Isn’t that an oxymoron? The vast public believes that Native people are mired in the past. It’s Indians and buckskin, not First Nations and rocket fuel. Plains Cree and buffalo, not the Haida and Black holes. Other than Chakotay from Star Trek: Voyager, who else do they have to dream the impossible dream.
I have talked to many of my good friends that are First Nations writers and they are all excited by the idea. Joseph Boyden, Lee Maracle, Richard Van Camp, Eden Robinson etc. I even had a brief conversation with Louise Erdrich several years ago about the topic and she told me she had written a science fiction short story once but was unable to sell it. Evidently, Native people don’t write science fiction and there’s no market for it, she was told. We all heartily disagree and would like to prove otherwise.
I think if people can believe smart grown Aboriginal men would go running around in the Rocky Mountains dressed in shorts, or can change into a werewolf, or a girl would pick Edward over Jacob, I think they can believe in Native science fiction. And if movies are made from those stories, the producers can hire Gary Farmer to play a non-alcoholic Indian. And they can also hire Taylor Lautner to play me.