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.
- First Words by Ruth Panofsky
Books reviewed: Keel Kissing Bottom by Elizabeth de Freitas and Crazy Sorrow by Susan Bowes
- Alienations by Andrew Lesk
Books reviewed: All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland, Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, Everyone in Silico by Jim Munroe, and How Did You Sleep? by Paul Glennon
- Recovery and Revaluation by Veronica Austen
Books reviewed: African Nova Scotian-Mi'kmaw Relations by Paula Madden and Multimodality in Canadian Black Feminist Writing: Orality and the Body in the Work of Harris, Philip, Allen, and Brand by Maria Caridad Casas
- Isn't That Funny? by Lisa Close
Books reviewed: Humor in Contemporary Native North American Literature: Reimagining Nativeness by Eva Gruber, Drew Hayden Taylor: Essays on His Work by Robert C. Nunn, and Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality by Drew Hayden Taylor
- Legacy of the Bear's Lip by Heather Hodgson
Books reviewed: Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman by Yvonne Johnson and Ruby Wiebe
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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