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“I AM, I” – Native Youth Empowerment Theatre Workshop

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On Saturday January 19th, Conscious Alliance initiated their “I AM, I” youth programming series with a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop in Missoula, Montana. The Theatre of the Oppressed workshop is part of a series focused on empowerment and identity for Native American youth utilizing several different mediums, such as art, photography, screen printing, and writing.

Lily Gladstone, a Blackfeet actress trained in the Theatre of the Oppressed, lead this workshop for six teenagers from Big Sky High School and Willard Alternative School. The workshop examined each participant’s past experience in an instance in which they felt oppressed.

The youth engaged in a series of activities that eventually led to the conversation of the racism, bias, and prejudice many of them have experienced in their lives. One of the young women in the group talked about a situation she experienced while shopping at the mall in Missoula with her mother. A sales lady blatantly followed them around the store—and even went as far as peeking in the dressing room while she was trying on clothes—with the assumption that because she was Native American, she was going to steal from the store. She was visibly upset by this event and volunteered to let the group re-enact her experience. The group recreated the scene, suggested possible solutions, and acted out the many different ways they might have changed the situation. Changing the scenario for the young woman made her feel like she overcame that instance of oppression and gave her the tools to positively deal with the situation should a similar occurrence arise again in the future.

Another activity was based on the story of a young man’s experiences and feelings. He spoke about not feeling heard by his teachers and peers in school. He felt like he did not have a voice and that no one understood him. He did not learn in the same ways that his peers did. As a result, he was labeled a bad student. Lily guided the youth in recreating a still scene of this situation. The youth chose to put everyone in a typical classroom setting, with the students all in rows and columns and the teacher in the front of the classroom. Lily then asked them to change anything about the scene that they did not like or feel comfortable with. Each youth went through and made adjustments to create the ideal classroom setting for them and how they learned. By the end of the activity, the youth were all sitting in a circle. The most interesting part was that they chose to place the teacher sitting with them. They explained that they felt better and more interested in learning when they were all able to see each other, and the teacher was on their level with them.

This workshop was designed to open up an identity and self-expression dialogue within participating youth through the activities and conversations. During the feedback, the youth mentioned that the activities changed how they view situations of oppression, and how they will handle them in the future. One participant mentioned she now understands that she has choices in every situation and has learned she can view things from someone else’s perspective. The Theatre of the Oppressed event sets the stage for the rest of the series, and I am excited to see what we can learn in the upcoming workshops!

Blog by Krystal Two Bulls – Program Coordinator, Conscious Alliance

 

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