Indigenous Women of the Northwest

The Indigenous Women of the Northwest: Culture, Community, and Concerns RIG aims to develop research projects with indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest that will serve as models for collaboration between university and community, and among scholars, artists, and activists. Indigenous women are leaders in their communities, working in areas of ecological and human health and healing, education, and arts and culture. This RIG is interested not only in documenting and reporting on the significant role that women play in the vitality of their communities, but in developing collaborative projects—scholarly, creative, and practical—that strengthen those roles and build ongoing partnerships between indigenous communities, the university, and the larger society.  The RIG recognizes and privileges situated knowledge, self-representation, and multi-vocal approaches to knowledge production.

Women and Rivers: 2015 Spiderwoman Theater Residency Featured Native American Storytelling

Fall_14_CSWS_RMIn May 2015, Theresa May’s Women and Rivers Project [see CSWS Research Matters, Fall 2014] brought guest artist Muriel Miguel (Kuna/Rappahannock), the founder and director of Spiderwoman Theater Company, to campus for a series of workshops and events around the topic of Native theatre, indigenous women’s knowledge, and queer indigenous performance. Using what Spiderwoman Theater calls “story-weaving,” a culminating workshop brought over 30 Native and non-Native students and community members together for a day-long Storyweaving Workshop on May 16. The workshop included performance processes, training, and presentations for and with the community.

Spiderwoman Theater Company is one of the oldest and best known contemporary indigenous women’s theatre ensembles in North America. They have nurtured and inspired generations of Native women playwrights and performers. Their mission forwards the concerns of indigenous women “to present exceptional theater performance and to offer theater training and education rooted in an urban Indigenous performance practice. [Spiderwoman artists] entertain and challenge our audiences and create an environment where the Indigenous, women’s and arts communities can come together to examine and discuss their cultural, social and political concerns.”

Theresa May, UO Department of Theatre Arts, combined funds from her 2014-15 CSWS faculty research grant—drawn from the Mazie Giustina Endowment for Research on Women in the Northwest—and funds from a CSWS RIG Development Grant awarded to the CSWS research interest group “Indigenous Women of the Northwest: Culture, Community, and Concerns.” The RIG funds made it possible for tribal community members throughout Oregon to attend and participate in the Spiderwoman Theater Residency. In addition, RIG funds cosponsored the week’s events and hosted a dinner with the guest artists and scholar.
According to Professor May, “Muriel Miguel’s week-long visit to campus brought focus to women’s lived experience, women’s stories, and women’s knowledge through creative process, and theatrical performance. The events of the Spiderwoman Residency opened up conversations about Native theatre and dramaturgy, and queer indigenous performance. Several tribal members who participated in the Storyweaving Workshop expressed interest in future creative and theatrical collaborations with UO.”

RIG funding cosponsored the following public events during the Spiderwoman Residency:

  • Scholar’s Talk & Dialogue: Dr. Jean O’Hara and Muriel Miguel—“Two-Spirit Stories: Reclaiming Native Understandings of Sexuality & Gender,” Many Nations Longhouse
  • Salmon Dinner—Many Nations Longhouse
  • Spiderwoman Theater Retrospective—lecture presentation, UO Hope Theatre, Miller Theatre Complex
  • Storyweaving Workshop, Hope Theatre, Miller Theatre Complex
  • Storyweaving Sharing event

RIG funds were specifically requested and used as honorariums to assist tribal community members in participating in Muriel Miguel’s residency and workshop on May 16. RIG funding allowed nine members of Oregon tribal communities to travel to UO and participate in the day-long workshop by helping provide for travel expenses. Tribal participants included two members of Grande Ronde, one member of Karuk, and six members of Warm Springs. Members of the Klamath, Siletz, and Coquille tribes were also invited but were unable to attend.

RIG funding also provided for the design and printing of a poster to advertise the week’s events and to list and network promotion of the events to UO community, tribal communities, and other local and regional groups. RIG funding helped provide for video documentation of Muriel Miguel’s keynote “Spiderwoman Theater Retrospective” and video and photography of the Storyweaving Workshop. Finally, RIG funding provided for a dinner with Spiderwoman Theater guests, guest scholar Jean O’Hara, RIG members, and other guests.

The main events of the Spiderwoman Residency were well attended and generated excitement at the intersection of Native/queer identities, Native theatre and storytelling, and Native presence on the UO campus. Dr. O’Hara and Muriel Miguel’s scholar’s talk on May 12 in the Many Nations Longhouse drew over 45 people, including students from classes in the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Theatre Arts, as well as faculty, staff, and community members. The discussion following the presentation was electric and engaging. The Spiderwoman Retrospective Lecture on Friday evening May 15 likewise included a diverse intersection of community audience, students, faculty, and staff.

The culminating event, the Storyweaving Workshop on May 16, was both intergenerational and represented a remarkable intersection of constituencies. About one third of the group were UO students and staff, about one third were tribal members, and about one third were people from the Eugene/Springfield community. All ages were represented, including tribal elders and young people, older community members, graduate and undergraduate students, and UO staff. Tribal participants came from across the state, including Ashland and Warm Springs. The workshop represented a rich sharing of stories and storytelling methods, and a collaborative learning opportunity and exchange between UO students and staff, community, and tribal members. Participants expressed a desire to have more such forums for creative exchange and appreciated that the university had hosted an inclusive (and free) event of this kind.

Taken together, the events of the Spiderwoman Residency brought focus to the power of Native Theatre and Native storytelling, and increased visibility of Native presence on the UO campus. Muriel Miguel was interviewed as part of an article in the Daily Emerald that same week on Native identity on campus. The Residency brought attention to Native and women’s issues and concerns, particularly in a KLCC interview with Muriel Miguel, which aired on May 14: ■

More History

In spring 2009 CSWS helped fund the Native Theatre Panel at the EMOS Symposium. The panel preceded a staged reading of a community-based play about the salmon crisis on the Klamath River, developed by Theresa May with Karuk, Hupa, and Yurok community members.  In spring 2011, the Department of Theatre Arts will produce Salmon Is Everything on the Robinson Stage on campus. The RIG will sponsor a guest artist or scholar to give a public presentation and lead a discussion following a performance of Salmon Is Everything.

This small beginning will lead, in the future, to national and international exchanges of artists, scholars and others.  For example, recently Theresa May brought First Nations playwright and filmmaker Marie Clements to campus for the production of her play Burning Vision. While she was at UO, members of this (yet unformed) RIG met with Marie Clements and discussed her newest performance piece, the Edward Curtis Project. This large-scale multimedia performance serves as a dialogue between Curtis’s representation of indigenous people of North America, and the self-representation of Clements.  We have discussed bringing this performance to campus as the centerpiece for a symposium or exhibition on (for example) representation and re-representation of indigenous women.

Concurrently, the RIG coordinator is working on a long-term project entitled “Women and Rivers,” which develops a stage performance by and about indigenous women and their role in the health of the Northwest’s rivers.  The RIG anticipates other projects and/or speakers that may interface with this project, or the ongoing projects and research interests of other RIG members.

Contact for more information:

Theresa May, Theatre Arts
tmay33(at); (541) 346-1789

CSWS Research Matters, Winter 2011: “Salmon, Women, and Rivers: Community-Based Performance Research” by Theresa J. May, assistant professor, Theatre Arts

You can watch an interview with Theresa May on UO Today at this link:

UO Today #410 Theresa May

“This episode features Theresa May, assistant professor of Theatre Arts and director of “Earth Matters on Stage: An Ecodrama Playwrights Festival and Symposium on Theatre Ecology.” Theresa is the co-author of the book Greening Up Our Houses: A Guide to a More Ecologically Sound Theatre (1994), and is currently working on a book entitled, Earth Matters on Stage: Ecology in American Theatre (2010). Through her work, she explores how playhouses across the country can be more ecologically friendly, thus helping and nurturing our natural resources.”