Why you shouldn't be scared of 'Cottagers and Indians'

·3 min read
'I play with the perception of political correctness of Native people,' says Drew Hayden Taylor. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC, Talonbooks - image credit)
'I play with the perception of political correctness of Native people,' says Drew Hayden Taylor. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC, Talonbooks - image credit)

Playwright Drew Hayden Taylor isn't concerned about the use of the word "Indians" in the title of his play Cottagers and Indians, and he doesn't think you should be either.

Cottagers and Indians will be the first contemporary play presented by P.E.I.'s Watermark Theatre, which announced over the winter that it is changing its mandate from being exclusively classic plays.

Hayden Taylor, a member of the Anishinaabe First Nation, says the title is a simple play on "cowboys and Indians," and the word "Indian" is still common parlance among his own people.

But he said there have been incidents during previous productions of the show, with complaints phoned into the box office, and some store owners refusing to put up promotional posters.

"Frequently, if not all the time, the people who have issues with the title 'Indian' are usually white people," Hayden Taylor told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

"Most of the Native people who are familiar with my work and the play know that it's an ironic term."

It's complicated

"Indian" is still a term that is used regularly by his family, the playwright said, noting that the word still has legal meaning in Canada. He carries an Indian status card, signifying a status defined by the piece of legislation known as the Indian Act.

But he acknowledged the use of the word is complicated.

"We've reappropriated the word? No, that's even wrong. We've not reappropriated the word. The word never left. On my reserve, we still use the term 'Indian,'" Hayden Taylor said.

"It's one of these situations [if] where Indigenous people use the term, you know, it's OK. We've earned the right to use the term, but people outside our community are not allowed to use the term. When it's used in that manner, it's not really politically correct."

But for his own people the term is a familiar one, one they all used while growing up, and they are reluctant to let it go because someone else has decided it is offensive.

"It's just another case of people in the dominant culture changing their mind about what's good and what's not good," he said.

Playing with political correctness

Cottagers and Indians is a two-person play that examines Indigenous/non-Indigenous conflicts involving land and water issues, using the example of wild rice or manoomin that grows around the area where Hayden Taylor lives.

One of the ironies about the controversy surrounding the title, he said, is that the play's characters never use the word 'Indian.' Similar controversies do come up, though.

"I play with the perception of political correctness of Native people. You know, there's this whole thing about what you would call Native people," said Hayden Taylor.

"I do a flip side of 'What do we call white people?' — 'People of pallor, with colour challenge, pigment denied,' etc, etc, etc. So I play around with perceptions of identity and culture."

Cottagers and Indians runs at the Watermark Theatre in North Rustico, P.E.I. from Aug. 10 to 28.

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