Critical Education is Key to Exploring American Indian-Black Relationships in Minnesota

by Shannon Gibney
from the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota/
Volume IV. May-June 2012

Is the history of Black-American Indian relations that Marcus Gardley’s play “The Road Weeps, the Well Runs Dry,” really a hidden history? Perhaps it simply reveals issues that the dominant (white) culture considers irrelevant, so does not highlight…or perhaps the story brings up histories that members of American Indian and Black communities have long known, but preferred to ignore?

What role has education played, and what role could it play in the exploration of these relationships?
As Pillsbury House Theatre prepares its own production of this fascinating and difficult play, questions surface about encounters between American Indians and Blacks in our own environment.

“American Indian and Black people in the Twin Cities have had many relationships that are really quite good,” says Liza Guerra O’Reily, a member of the United Confederation of Taino People. “We’ve had babies together. Right now, my son’s sitting at home with his girlfriend, who is half-Ojibwe, half-Black. And my grandfather was part Black. We come together and we produce really wonderful things: babies, art, music, science/math (think pyramids!), and philosophy. You have to look at the beauty of what came of jazz. The flute and the timbalas came out of Native communities. Salsa is very African, but it’s an indigenous rhythm. The same thing is true of New Orleans jazz (and Oh my God is that beautiful!)… I think everything is based on relationships from historical memory, and the roots of relationships are interchange between people.”

Vincent DeLusia, Professor Emeritus at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, agrees with her. “You cannot go to a Pow-Pow in the U.S. and not see biracial, Indian-Black children dancing there. It’s all over the place. This play is just bringing this issue to the fore.”
DeLusia also adds that the issue is fundamentally one of history, as well, and that although historians are aware of it, not many educators are bringing it to their students. “There were at least 200 runaway camps around the South between the 1600s and the end of the Civil War. These isolated slave colonies were able were survive because of their relationships with the Indians. The white settlers around traded with them for goods, etc,” he says.

“Historically, people have talked, but there hasn’t been a deeper understanding of what makes us unique, and what makes us who we are today,” she says. “There are so many things such as trauma, rich history of spirit, and the spiritual context of the church that allowed Black people to persevere through trauma. A similar spiritual strength to persevere through trauma, but rooted in traditional Indigenous spiritual practices had and continues to occur with Indian peoples. Those are shared, but it’s done in different ways.”

The key to changing this is not just education, but critical education. “You can’t see change, and you can’t mobilize to make the change until there’s an education. People have to have a critical education in order to critically analyze the education they have received,” says Guerra O’Reily. The Pillsbury House looks forward to Marcus Gardley’s play “The Road Weeps, the Well Runs Dry. It has already provided a portal for an important dialogue long before the production arrives at Pillsbury House. Tell us what you think about critical education and sharing history – what’s your story?

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