Just be Natural, huh?
Reviewed by John Moffatt
He sports dark glasses and a Mountie jacket. Asked about his profession, the Warrior Who Never Sleeps declares, “My aboriginalism is my survival, and my heritage is my paycheque.” In The Buz’gem Blues, the third instalment in Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Blues Quartet,” the erstwhile Ted Cardinal, Star Trek aficionado turned spiritual warrior, embodies his author’s satirical humour. On one hand, he’s a seemingly guileless cliché deployed against cultural pretension. On the other hand, the Warrior lives in a society where a choice of stereotypes passes for individual choice and personal growth.
Set at an Aboriginal Elders’ Conference at an unnamed university, The Buz’gem Blues reacquaints us with the mother and daughter team of Martha and Marianne Kakina in The Bootlegger Blues, as well as with the intergenerational and cross-cultural couple Amos and Summer from The Baby Blues. These characters clearly have a history, but Taylor moves quickly to establish the nature of their individual relationships in the present. Mohawk elder Amos’ comic patience with the 20- something Summer, an in-your-face wannabe obsessed with her “one-sixty- fourth” Native background, strikes a delicate balance of genuine affection and exasperation (“Summer, you have so much to give. Why do you always have to give it to me?”). The jibes and one-liners that Martha and Marianne exchange wouldn’t be out of place in a well-written television sitcom, but the humour never strays far from the subject of cultural perception,as when Martha muses on the irony of the participating in a language workshop:
"Just be natural and myself, huh? . . . When I was young, the government tried beating the language out of us. Now they’re payin’ us to speak it. I just wish them white people would make up their minds. So what do we do now? Want me to say something in Indian? Aabiish teg zaakimogaming? (Where’s the washroom?)"
Critics who saw cultural stereotyping in Taylor’s alterNatives will not enjoy the ostensible contrast of the grounded and worldly-wise Martha, Marianne, and Amos to the neurotic Summer, Warrior Who Never Sleeps, and Thomas Savage, a white anthropologist researching Native sexuality, who keeps a framed picture of his sister’s cat on his desk. The Buz’gem Blues, however, deftly reconfigures all the relationships which exist at the beginning of the play, creating new pairings (the Ojibway word buz’gem means “boyfriend or girlfriend) amongst all of the characters, who variously bond over Spam and nostalgia, Klingon, or the Alligator dance. If Summer and Warrior finally come to question their contrived identities, the play is about more than cultural identification or Native and non-Native dialogue. Taylor breaks down clichéd binaries of Native and White, Age and Youth, Experience and Education, the Elder and the Academic, the Activist and Wannabe to reveal people dealing with age, sexuality, loneliness, independence, and ultimately, with their own individuality. The Buz’gem Blues explores how individuals need to learn to see how they see each other, before they can begin to see themselves.
- Récits de voyages by Maurice Lemire
Books reviewed: Le Grand voyage du pays des hurons by Gabriel Sagard and Un Voyageur français en Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siècle by Dominique Deffain
- Réalités conflictuelles by Maria Pentrelli Cotroneo
Books reviewed: Uashat by Gérard Bouchard and Dans la tourmente afghane by Jocelyne Mallet-Parent
- The Year of Memory and Discovery by Shao-Pin Luo
Books reviewed: The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj and The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong Bates
- (Re)presenting Cultures by Suzanne James
Books reviewed: Ancient Thunder by Leo Yerxa, Napi Goes to the Mountain by Elisa Amado and Antonio Ramárez, and Tarde de invierno/Winter Afternoon by Elisa Amado, Jorge Lujàn, and Mandana Sadat
- Between the Images by Peter Geller
Books reviewed: I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada's Native People by Arthur J. Ray
MLA: Moffatt, John. Just be Natural, huh?. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #183 (Winter 2004), Writers Talking. (pg. 174 - 174)
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