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This article was published 14/1/2009 (3083 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OFFICIALS of a native theatre company are outraged that a review of a Manitoban’s play by the Toronto Star used the word Indians to describe aboriginal characters.
Last month, Winnipeg's Melanie J. Murray's new drama, A Very Polite Genocide, or the Girl Who Fell to Earth, debuted at Toronto's Native Earth Performing Arts, which provided an education guide that said the word Indian is "archaic and offensive."
In the subsequent review in Canada's largest-circulation newspaper, the term appeared twice.
Theatre critic Mark Selb used the word aboriginal to describe native Canadians, but an editor changed it to Indian. That was done in accordance with the Star's style manual, which states that the word Indian, "while objectionable to some, is still perfectly useable."
Yvette Nolan, Native Earth's artistic director, strenuously objects to being called an Indian.
"This is indicative of a systemic problem, of how the power structure is still built," said Nolan, a former Winnipegger, during a telephone interview this week. "We have no self-determination. We can't name ourselves."
Immediately after the appearance of the review, staff of Native Earth, the country's leading aboriginal theatre, complained to the newspaper, starting with first-string reviewer Richard Ouzounian, a former Manitoba Theatre Centre artistic director. He sided with the theatre, saying he found the phrase "while objectionable to some, is still perfectly useable" to be incredibly condescending.
"The word is not one we ought to use in reviews or any of our journalism," Ouzounian said in an interview. "I'm totally surprised. I never thought in these modern times to use that word. You don't write that."
Both the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Sun reviewed A Very Polite Genocide and employed the terms aboriginal and First Nations.
Douglas Cudmore, the Star's entertainment editor, said in an email to Native Earth that the issue has been much debated at the newspaper. He said use of the term Indian was "not a careless or ignorant mistake" on the part of the reviewer or copy editors, but was done in compliance with the official style guide. The issue has been passed on to the Star's public editor and the head of the newly convened style committee. No apology was offered.
A Very Polite Genocide is Murray's first full-length play. It surveys the personal impact of residential school on three generations of a Winnipeg Métis family named Drunken Chief. It sets out to capture the hurt, distress and anger created by removing children from their families and culture.
Reviews were generally admiring of the story, but less impressed with the telling. The Star's Selby -- who gave the play two stars out of four -- lauded Murray's vital tale of struggle, but added, "the finished product doesn't do the subject matter justice." The Toronto Sun gave it three-and-a-half out of five stars with a review topped by the headline Hope Found Amid the Horror.
Nolan offered her own review of the post-opening controversy.
"The play itself is about how the naming of things gives or takes away their power. If we don't call it genocide then we do not have to accept responsibility for what happened to the First Nations here. There is power in naming, in every tradition. To say that we cannot be called what we ask to be called is disrespectful."