AlterTheater's Stance on Serving Native Communities
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
AlterTheater believes in the healing power of storytelling, and in the role that healthy, accurate, diverse representation has in healing Native communities and contributing to better lives for Native youth and all Native people. We value the studies of IllumiNative and others such as Reclaiming Native Truth which point to accurate representation as perhaps the single biggest factor that can make a difference in addressing the rate of Native suicide, in addressing health outcomes, in addressing education disparities, in addressing so many of the issues that plague Native communities.
At AlterTheater, we believe in inclusion. We believe that all experiences of being Native need a place on our stages and in the pantheon of stories we tell and that our youth hear. We believe in the healing power of stories to make us all feel seen and heard. We also believe that there is a real danger to our communities and to Native people when too few stories of being Native are told. It breeds a scarcity mentality. Instead of celebrating an individual success, we feel disappointment and bitterness, wishing a story that better represented our individual experience of being Native were the one being celebrated. We begin to tear each other down, instead of celebrate. AlterTheater rejects this scarcity mindset.
About this moment:
As an intergenerational ensemble, we value our younger people and their activism, and we also are grateful for our elders in guiding us. We are located on the lands of the Coast Miwok, and we directly benefit from the activism of Indians of All Tribes and those before and since. We recognize that identity policing is nothing new, and that it has caused great harm in our communities for hundreds of years. To be explicitly clear, it is not okay for non-Natives to claim Indigeneity, and we hope that people stop doing that. But even while we recognize the harm done by Iron Eyes Cody, by Grey Owl, by non-Native people claiming to represent the Native experience, we feel that the greater harm is lateral violence, of making our Native youth and our Native people feel like they are not enough, that they are not worthy. We refuse to participate in anything that adds a burden to Native youth. We choose instead to support so many different Native stories, representing so many experiences of being Native, that every Native person sees themselves in the stories we tell. Our role:
We believe our role is to advocate for and to support as many Native voices as possible so that all Native people can look at the diverse range of stories being told and feel that their experience is represented. While we reject Oppression Olympics, we also recognize that some Native communities are closer to the ongoing effects of colonial trauma, to intergenerational trauma, to the impacts of man camps, to the poisoned water from uranium mining, to chronic unemployment, to health outcomes more representative of third world nations, to boarding school trauma, to police violence, and the list goes on. We as a theater company need to make sure we’re creating a healthy environment capable of supporting Natives from all backgrounds. We are especially committed to this because we recognize that as an institution, AlterTheater acts as a gatekeeper. By choosing who to hire, who to commission, who to produce, we are amplifying some stories, some Native storytellers, over others. And yet, we will never have the resources to develop and produce all the stories of NDN country. And so, how do we choose? And how much do individual artists’ actions outside of our organization impact our decisions about whose voices to amplify? These are questions we struggle with. We hope that lateral violence will decrease as more and more Native experiences are accurately represented—in their full diversity, which specifically must include Afro-Indigenous/Black Native voices.
Our choices and actions:
We prioritize Native artists from tribes whose traditional lands are located in what is colonially known as the United States, even while recognizing that U.S. borders cut through Native territories, from the Haudenosaunee in the Northeast to the Tohono O’odham in the Southwest.
We deliberately work harder to include Natives whose lived experiences include growing up on reservations, recognizing that resources are most scarce for some (not all) Natives on reservations.
We recognize the deep trauma in our communities, and that the ongoing effects of colonial violence has an impact on how we as individual Native people move through the world and interact with one another.
We support artists with a good mind committed to individual and collective healing, even if individual artists disagree with our organization’s stands.
We do not support artists who deliberately seek to build themselves up by tearing others down.
We support sovereignty, and believe that non-Native people have no business policing Native identity.
We support artists whose lived, diverse experiences and artistic sensibilities add to the canon of American theatre in a way that decreases the underrepresentation of Native stories.
We acknowledge that colorism and anti-Blackness infect our communities, and we deliberately seek and include Afro-Indigenous/Black Native voices. We work toward eradicating anti-Blackness, celebrating Black joy, and promoting racial healing.
We believe theater must be committed to community healing, and we judge our actions and our work through this lens.
There is no such thing as one experience of being Native. There is no such thing as one story that can represent all Natives. We at AlterTheater are committed to continuing to lift up Native stories and Native storytellers until all Natives feel represented. To our Native relatives from all over NDN country, there is a place for you. Your stories and experiences matter. Your voices matter. And we at AlterTheater are committed to constantly doing better so that you know in your heart that you are loved and valued and necessary to your community, and throughout Turtle Island. We give thanks for all our relations.
--AlterTheater Board of Directors