"Here, I can use my body to talk not only about what has been happening to our bodies for 500 years of colonialism, but what is happening now."
I have my rules: I don’t do naked and I don’t do rape scenes. But the experience of being photographed this way forced certain confrontations that were good and healthy.
Since the 80s, I have been looking at the history of what’s in my body as a result of Native women always being seen as sexual commodities for conquest. I’m working with Choctaw poet LeAnne Howe on the play Sideshow Freaks & Circus Injuns.
My mother was displayed in a sideshow when she was a child. Freak shows are the pornography of disability, the human zoos, where we were exotic freaks. What’s in my body from that?
The pornographic gaze of othering and colonization is all about disconnecting people from the land. Indigenous women have been behind the protection of the water and the land. What happens to the land, what happens to the water, happens to my body.
I come from the dance, TV and film worlds, and I’ve had a good long run making my living on my looks. I have an old and deep trench of “too fat, too fat, too fat.” But being this age now, I’m not supposed to be any other shape than what I am. It’s freed me up to say, “I’m not dieting ever again.” I like the idea of relaxing into an aging body and an aging face.
It’s been so hard for me not to be at Standing Rock. But it’s snowing, and I don’t do well in the snow. And if it’s no longer appropriate for this 63-year-old to lock herself down to a bulldozer, what the fuck can an old girl like me do?
But here, I can use my body to talk not only about what has been happening to our bodies for 500 years of colonialism, but what is happening now.
This shoot allowed me to take a big gulp and ask, “Where is the celebration? Where is the reclamation?” I thought about the women who were dancing and singing and praying in the face of volleys of tear gas. The hatred displayed by the Morton County sheriff at that demonstration, the fear the authorities had in the face of Indians singing and dancing and praying – that’s a re-enactment of some ancestral movement in their DNA. Nothing scares them more.
I haven’t been this angry for 40 years. We’ll have Standing Rocks here in Canada, too. Those pipelines being approved are going to be fought in a sacred manner, led by women.
So, for the shoot, I made it sacred to honour those women who are standing with their arms up. I thought, “I am going to sing and dance and pray.”
This is what I can do.
I think it was a gift.
See last year’s Body Issue here.