The Rez Sisters
The play The Rez Sisters is written by one of Canada s most celebrated playwrights, Tomson Highway. Highway was born in 1951 in northwestern Manitoba. He went on to study at the University of Manitoba and graduated from the University of Western Ontario, with honors in Music and English. Native Literature is inspired by contemporary social problems facing native Canadians today; alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, wife battering, family violence, the racism of the justice system, loneliness, rejection, youth awareness, as well as modern-day environmental issues. (P. 172 Native Literature in Canada.) Highway once said, We grew up with myths. They re the core of our identity as people. (P. 172 Native Literature in Canada.) I am going to focus on the image and identity of Native people as seen through the play The Rez Sisters.
Identity is how you view yourself and your life. (p. 12 Knots in a String.) Your identity helps you determine where you think you fit in, in your life. It is a rich complexity of images, ideas and associations. (p. 12 Knots in a String.) It is given that as we go through our lives and encounter different experiences our identity of yourselves and where we belong may change. As this happens we may gain or relinquish new values and from this identity and image our influenced. A bad self-image and low self-esteem may form part of identity but often the cause is not a loss of identity itself so much as a loss of belonging. Social psychologists suggest that identity is closely related to our culture. Native people today have been faced with this challenge against their identity as they are increasingly faced with a non-native society. I will prove that the play The Rez Sisters showed this loss of identity and loss of belonging. When a native person leaves the reservation to go and start a new life in a city they are forced to adapt to a lifestyle they are not accustomed to. They do not feel as though they fit in or belong to any particular culture. They are faced with extreme racism and stereotypes from other people in the nonreservational society.
The Rez Sisters won the Dora Mavor Moore award for the best play in 1986-87 and later went on to earn extravagant praise at the Edinburgh Festival. (P. 172 Native Literature in Canada.) The play is full of comedy, tragedy, life and dreams. It is a fast moving play informed by insight into, and deep knowledge of, reserve life, and it is both exhilarating and exhausting. (P. 174 Native Literature in Canada.)
The play involves seven very lively and funny women, who live on the Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Their lives consist of knowing everybody s business. Nothing is private or sacred to them, they know each other s sex habits, health problems, family histories and daily routines. (P. 174 Native Literature in Canada.) When they play begins we are given an over view of what it like on the reserve by a pictorous description, from here I can see half of Manitoulin Island I can see the chimneys, the tops of apple trees, the garbage heap behind Big Joey s dumpy little house (P. 2 The Rez Sisters) The reserve has a bit of everything, a good side and a bad side.
During the play we learn that the Rez Sisters make life bearable on the reserve by playing bingo. From this we learn about their lives and dreams. We learn what they want individually in life, and where they would go and what they would do if they had the opportunity. The play gives the reader in sight to what each of the woman want. Marie-Adele is a 39-year-old woman who says if she had the money she would, Buy an island. (P. 36 The Rez Sisters) I fell she wants this because she wants to escape from everybody, the reserve and from the regular population. Veronique is the mother of one of the other characters in the play, Zahaboonigan, who is mentally disabled. Veronique wants to buy a stove and cook for everybody on the reserve. She wants to take care of her own, the younger generation and maybe give them a better chance at life. As the play continues the seven women, Pelajia, Philomena, Marie-Adele, Annie, Emily, Veronique and Zhaboonigan confirm that the biggest bingo in the world is coming to Toronto. All of them have no extra money to get there so they all band together and do anything they are skilled at to raise the funds. They all work very hard and raise the money to get all seven of them to Toronto to join in the biggest bingo in the world. They load up a van they borrowed and head off to the big city.
Nanabush, a North American Indian mythology creature follows them on their travels. Nanabush is a trickster and he can go by many faces. The myth behind Nanabush is that he left this world when the white people came and he is the Christ of Native mythology. Many native people believe that, without Nanabush and the spiritual health of this figure, the core of Indian culture would be gone forever. (P. XII The Rez Sisters) During the play Nanabush disguises himself as the Seagull, the nighthawk and finally the Bingo Master himself. I fell the reason Nanabush was with women on their travels and disguised as the bingo master was to keep the native spirit alive with in each woman. By doing this I fell each woman was allowed to dream of what could be and what might become of each of her if they were to win the bingo. Nanabush was there so the dreams would be kept as dreams and not become a reality. Nanabush might know that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence as the women think.
At he end of the play we learn no one has one the bingo and Marie-Adele as passed on to the spirit world escorted by Nanabush. Life returns to the way it was at the beginning of the play with a little less wanting to get out of the lifestyle the so much wanted to leave behind or change. The women seem content with what they have and will probably continue to live their lives similar to the way they all did at the start of the play.
I feel the Toronto Star was right when the said that the play The Rez Sisters, was one of the most toughing exuberant, cleverly crafted and utterly entrancing plays (Cover The Rez Sisters.) Tomson Highway did a great job at giving the reader an idea of what reserve life is about. He gave us the opportunity to experience the hardships of native people and some insight to how they form their identity.
After reading this wonderfully written play I do believe that our culture plays a very important role in how we as people form our identity and determines where we feel we belong. Nanabush had a great deal to do with the women keeping their current identities and since of belonging. I feel that if we believe in a spirit and surrender or lives to them they will take care of us just as Nanabush did in this play.
We all need to belong somewhere and feel comfort in our lives. We as human beings need to open our eyes and see we can all belong together and live in one society without dropping our culture but before this can happen we need to end racism and stereotyping. These are the two main factors that push people, more commonly native people, into the loss of belonging the loss of their culture and the loss of the core of their identity.