Native who, now?

While discussing the Civil Rights Movement in class the other day, a student accidentally said "Native Americans" instead of "African Americans."  We were discussing some core concept words (segregation, integration, power, powerless, persecute) and one of my co-teachers took this opportunity to bring Native Americans into the discussion.  

"Who are the Native Americans?" she asked.

"Stone Age!" comes a reply from a bright student in the back of the class.
"Native Americans are still alive?!" quickly followed.

So taken aback, we stared at each other - eyes wide, mouths gaping - for a good 15 seconds (which sounds like no time at all, but leading a discussion of 30 sixth graders, it is an eternity).  Finally, we continued the conversation, explaining that Native Americans live today in cities, towns, and reservations, and struggling in this off-the-cuff context to do justice to the history of our country's first people.

I've spent a great deal of time reading about Native representation in children's books and texts, especially Debbie Reese's excellent blog, American Indians in Children's Literature and the resources published by Oyate press.  I've written extensively on race and representation in books for children and young adults.  Yet, I've never seen first hand the effects of this Native erasure so clearly displayed.  It was horrifying.  I don't expect my students to know much about the Native genocide, AIM, the forced sterilization, and modern life on say, Pine Ridge Reservation.  But I do expect them to know that Native people exist.  I'm terrified of an education system that so fully disappears the more unsavory aspects of our history.



Oh how time, she flies right by, eh?  And now here we are - mid-October.  I'm still savoring my summer reading list, and putting off reading Mockingjay as long as possible.  To supplement the feminist YA I've been immersed in, I went up to Cambridge, MA last weekend to see Amanda Fucking Palmer in the American Repertory Theater's production of Cabaret.

*****If you've never seen or listened to Cabaret, the rest of this review/discussion may be hard to follow.  Solution?  Go watch it!  Or listen to it!******

Now, normally, I wouldn't consider Cabaret an at all feminist piece.  Then the A.R.T. got a hold of it and turned the gender and sexuality all to sexy, twisty, salty pretzel pieces.  As far as I'm concerned, it was just what the musical needed.  There was a lot to love about the production - the interactive Kit Kat Klub venue, the sing-alongs and table service, the sheer talent on display, the sick hollow feeling when you turn around in act II and notice the Nazi soldier, stony faced and at attention, two feet from your happy cabaret table, the gut-wrenching ending designed to remind a generation that doesn't know anyone who lived through the Nazi regime, just what was in store for their new friends at the Kit Kat Klub.  The insidious fascism is there all along, and as the production moves forward it peels off the layers of leather, lace, and greasepaint . . . to great effect.

So all that said, perhaps what I loved most was the way this production respected Sally Bowles.  When she makes the decision to stay in Berlin, without Cliff, her rendition of Cabaret is not a piece of triumphant denial.  Rather it is a painful, heartbreaking, bitter acknowledgment of the future to come.  It will stay with me for a long, long while.