The recent news that calls into question Buffy Sainte-Marie’s claims of Indigenous ancestry makes January Rogers’ latest play timely.
Rogers wrote and directs Blood Sport, a three-act play that will be presented Nov. 10 at Weesageechak Begins to Dance, a Toronto-based festival, which began on Nov. 6 and continues until Nov. 19. It is the 36th annual Native Earth Performing Arts event showcasing new Indigenous works and works-in-development.
Blood Sport will be presented at the Aki Studio in Toronto.
“It was written before the big, big controversy,” Rogers said of the CBC show Fifth Estate, which alleges Sainte-Marie was not adopted by her parents, as she has claimed for decades, and did not have Indigenous ancestry, something that has been central to her personal and artistic persona over her career.
“But I think it’s kind of safe to say this controversy is ongoing and it has been for some time. These recent revelations make it even more so.”
After watching the CBC episode, the playwright, a member of Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, concluded Sainte-Marie has been a pretend Indian, or pretendian, as those who falsely claim to have Indigenous ancestry have been dubbed.
“Traditional cultural adoption is one thing,” Rogers said. Sainte-Marie was adopted into a Piapot Nation family. “But then knowingly dressing and portraying oneself in the public eye and receiving awards and receiving funds, getting concert bookings, any kind of benefit that one receives to their career, portraying themselves to be Indigenous, is doing something knowingly wrong.”
Sainte-Marie is 82 years old. She’s had a music career that’s spanned six decades.
“It seems like a really long time to keep up a façade,” Rogers said. “And I can’t even imagine that.”
Rogers said she wrote Blood Sport to show that society has to deal with pretendians.
“I’m not creating any kind of propaganda,” she said. “I’m not trying to influence anyone one way or the other. I’m really not. But the facts are that we have to deal with these fraudsters in our communities and infiltrating the arts and education sectors in particular. So, the play is really taking a really light look, but at the same time its material is an inspiration and the content in the play is writing itself. I just put my satirical spin on it.”
Blood Sport takes us through comedy into a Game Show where the issue of Indigeneity is tackled.
“I wanted first of all to entertain, and second of all to create a space for more conversation to take place,” she said.
“But having said that, we’re not doing a Q and A post-play because it’s going to be too much. Especially right now, it would just be too, too hot.”
Rogers conducted previous stage readings of Blood Sport which included audience discussions on the topic. She said some people who didn’t know their own ancestry started telling their own stories.
“That’s not for me to take on,” she said, adding audience members have cried telling their stories.
“I’m not the therapist and I don’t have patience for that. I’m here to write plays. I’m here to convey the messages within the play. But you all have to deal with it yourselves because what I’m doing is creating a space and opportunity for that awareness.”
Rogers also said once news broke questioning Sainte-Marie’s ancestry, a Blood Sport rehearsal was held the next day.
“So, I sat the actors down for the first 40 minutes of our rehearsal, our four-hour rehearsal time, and said ‘Let’s hash this out. I just want to hear your thoughts’,” Rogers said, adding she found it amusing that a younger cast member did not even know who Sainte-Marie was.
“The timing is exquisite,” she said of the news of Sainte-Maire’s identity coming out before the show at Weesageechak Begins to Dance. “But I’m not going to force opinion or angle to the audience. I want to entertain.”
More festival information is available at https://www.nativeearth.ca/shows/w36/
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