Indigenous women playwrights changing the narrative for those once considered ‘vanquishable’

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021 9:57am


Image Caption

Two of the playwrights studied in Indigenous Women’s Theatre in Canada: A Mechanism of Decolonization by Sarah MacKenzie are Marie Clements and Yvette Nolan.


“Indigenous women playwrights not only address colonial trauma but envision new ways of performing possible worlds into being.” — Sarah MacKenzie, author of Indigenous Women’s Theatre in Canada: A Mechanism of Decolonization.
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Indigenous women playwrights, whether in Canada or other colonized countries such as the United States, Australia or New Zealand, have the power to “reconfigure” decolonization.

“And in these reconfigurations, there’s the possibility of creating spaces of resistances for those once considered vanquishable,” said Sarah MacKenzie, author of Indigenous Women’s Theatre in Canada: A Mechanism of Decolonization.

MacKenzie’s book examines the works of contemporary playwrights Monique Mojica, Marie Clements and Yvette Nolan.

But, this analysis “moves beyond a localized national study and engages in a comparative cross-cultural analysis of Indigenous women’s incredible employment of theatre as a strategically designed instrument of decolonization and reclamation,” the author said.

MacKenzie, who holds an MA and PhD in Feminist and Gender Studies from the University of Ottawa, delivered an address on Zoom Feb. 4, hosted by the Ottawa Society for the Arts and Sciences.

MacKenzie said that the important work undertaken by Indigenous women playwrights in Canada has been lost to the critical and academic attention drawn by the work undertaken by Indigenous male playwrights.

That being the case, she says, has done great disservice to the message of empowerment that Indigenous women playwrights are delivering.

“It is most significant that my book considers how and to what degree resistant representation in Indigenous women’s dramatic productions work against representational and manifest violence,” she said.

Colonization, she points out, impacted Indigenous women through gender violence and sexualized violence.

Women Indigenous playwrights, she contends, confront colonial violence more directly than their male counterparts. The women’s dramatic pieces draw from their personal experiences or the collective experiences of other women and make the connection between personal experience of violence and broad-based colonial violence.

“This collective creative resistance to gender violence is something I try to emphasise in my work because these Indigenous women writers are incredibly empowered, and their narratives are reflective of that. These women are not the victims that Indigenous women are often made out to be. We are working toward a collective cultural change and I think it’s important to highlight that,” said MacKenzie.

Theatre also functions as a tool of social transformation in feminist and Indigenous social movements, she says, transforming traumatic memory from script to stage.

Theatre creates community as a stage production, which is not something that can be undertaken in isolation.

“Indigenous women playwrights not only address colonial trauma but envision new ways of performing possible worlds into being,” said MacKenzie.

MacKenzie, born to a First Nations mother and a first generation Scottish-immigrant father, focused her book on women Indigenous playwrights in Canada because of the influence of her mother, who she called “a figure of Indigenous feminist strength and kindness.” Her mother’s family consisted of storytellers.

The decision to stay national with her examination of her subject came from a “long standing interest in Canadian history in combination with the fact that everyone dear to me has been touched by Canada’s unique colonial legacy,” she said.

However, her next analysis will cross borders, just as she contends the work by Indigenous female playwrights does.

“Today Indigenous women have … in their cultural networks built resistant alliances,” said MacKenzie. “Although the text evaluated in my book do address the specificities of women’s circumstances, when taken together they also reflect the similarities that unite Indigenous women across national, social and cultural boundaries thereby creating the potential for broad-based, far reaching collective Indigenous feminist political action.”

This, says MacKenzie, makes the work of Indigenous women playwrights a “crucial component of transnational activism.”

Indigenous Women’s Theatre in Canada: A Mechanism of Decolonization is available on Amazon and !ndigo.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.