The following is a collection of e-mails in response to the PIG GIRL performance of Jan 29, and the talk-back afterwards with Mohawk actress, Heather White. The conversation has be shared with the permission of the author.
We thank her for sharing her response, and being willing to let us share it here. The most important thing this play can do is start a dialogue.
[2/4/2016 Edit: “Anonymous” was corrected to Edith’s name at her request]
From Edith Hughes: Jan 29, 2016
The play seems to be about the downtown East Side in Vancouver more than about missing indigenous women.
I stayed in downtown East Side on the streets for one year 2011-12 and I am aware that it is used by Vancouver as a sort of intentional slum in a very expensive city. it is a convenient repository. No place to go? Go to downtown east side. Drift down and stay away.
it is a magnet for documentary film makers even though it is 6 blocks x 4 blocks, smaller than the adjoining original Chinatown. it is bordered by the United Gospel Mission’s new building, the Sally Ann Complex and the United Church Building – each with rescue programs straight out of the 19th century.
Detox in the downtown west side is dangerous and substandard, leaving men with dts for a week before sending them to a hospital for care. Drugs are openly advertised in shouts like a stock exchange and then used on the spot in front of the Carnegie Center.
Robert Pickton was an accident waiting for a place to happen and the downtown East Side was perfect for him. The land is super expensive and without housing there is no community organisation, only a festering wound to live in everyday, to die in the alleys, to steal from each other.
First nations are by no means the majority of persons in the downtown east side and they are the most organised individually, and as a group. First nations women keep watch out for each other in a constant display of consensus and sisterhood.
I was surprised to hear Heather White put forward the ‘Pig Girl’ as a play mostly about missing First Nations women. She seemed to be advocating for the marginalized in general. but the appropriation of this play by First Nations silences the voices of Pickton`s victims who were picked off one-by-one with the help of a women Pickton used.
I understand First Nations have finally got some hearing in Canada and this is a thing to celebrate. A result of decades of dismissal overcome, but the price is high if it eclipses the voice of the poor and marginalized in Canada.
By underplaying what the downtown East Side is to the modern Canadian consciousness – a Neo-conservative reiteration of the 19th century under the guise of diversity – is to dismiss what a ‘neighborhood’ and ‘community’ is in a large city in Canada.
Perhaps Heather White should visit the downtown East Side and see for herself what this repository area, this solution for Vancouver, has to do with marginalization and with First Nations nation-to-nation agenda.
The poor are there to be appropriated by anyone who has a voice today in Canada -as when I was a child in Canada in the 1950’s- the poor are invisible and silent and spoken for, once again.
We can aim higher than that.
All the best,
From Imago Theatre: Feb 1, 2016
We appreciate that you took the time to share your response with us, and agree that the dialogue needs to be bigger than just about Indigenous issues. In our conversations about what this show means and who we include for guest speakers we have tried to be clear that this show is meant to represent all groups that have been marginalized, dismissed, or written off.
In the version of the play we are using, you’ll notice that the Dying Woman is never referred to as an indigenous woman. She is, however, a drug-addict and a prostitute. While it isn’t necessary that she be an indigenous woman as well, it’s true that a third of Pickton’s victim’s were Indigenous, and there is an over-representation of missing native women in Canada. We felt it was important to include this conversation in the production of this play, because there are social circumstances that incline Natives to a vulnerable lifestyle. To cast anyone but an indigenous woman in that role would have excluded that conversation, which is one that, through guest speakers like Heather White, is clear needs to be had.
Perhaps because the indigenous community has been trying for so long to finally have a voice on the national stage, that particular conversation became louder than the other conversations, but that doesn’t negate that there are other voices within this script that need to be heard. One of the challenges we have found in finding guest speakers is that the Native community was the most willing (in some cases) to speak.
Associations that focus on sex work, drug addiction, or homelessness were either too underfunded, overworked, or unwilling to speak at the performances. In the case of organizations for sex-workers, they still feel unfairly represented in the arts and media (as strippers and prostitutes, objects for pimps) rather than as individuals. Much the same challenge that still troubles the indigenous community (as Heather mentioned, working as a native actress). They were wary of representation.
Certainly society can do better, and we hope this show will help begin more conversations to affect change. It is great to hear your thoughts. Micheline wonders if we could share you e-mail on our blog (anonymously if you prefer) so that it can help keep a broader perspective on this show.
Edith Hughes: Feb 2, 2016
Thanks for your message.
Feel free to publish any messages from me in any way you choose. The point is to get a conversation going.
I agree with the Indigenous actor in the role of Dying Women.
I feel the Police Officer character could have been better used. Downtown East Side, like Gastown before it, does not enjoy anything like community policing. The self-help addicts network group refuses any notion of police protection. Police in downtown East Side arrive in a show of force with three of four squad cars about once a month in front of the Carnegie Centre and the dealers run away only to come back no more than 15 minutes later. Police arrive at the United Church, which is a shelter, in the same fashion -in three or four squad cars – to arrest anyone for whom they have a warrant. They travel into the United Church in a group and a crowd gathers to jeer and insult and yell at them.
Police do `walk the beat` in pairs but it is to go down Hastings to give out tickets for $250.00 to those who have laid a blanket on the sidewalk to sell odd things: anything from shoes, sweaters, coats, to a Bic pen or an empty mason jar with a lid or a watch or handbag.
The large police station – and the court house across the street – are set in the middle of the downtown East Side, but if you want to contact the police you must speak from the intercom at the base of the front door stairs about 2 metres away. Only police use those doors. You are better off calling 911 and they will come when they are ready.
Downtown East Side is a place of impunity. The ‘Robert Pickton’ character expresses the nature of this impunity well when he states, more than once, ‘I tried to help you, you would not let me help you, I am a good person.’
We know a great deal about poverty in Canada, especially since the 1960s. Poverty is not a mystery and overcoming poverty or redeeming oneself is not largely a matter of being feisty and colourful right up to the last moment. But we know very little about self-determination, a key element in the First Nations voice.
By situating the play, self-determination becomes an issue. Downtown East Side is a place where one is meant to go and disappear. The media of the time pointed the finger sternly at the police letting Robert Pickton go after his initial interview. It is believed up to 68 women were executed by Pickton on his farm. He is not clever, using the same truck, using a women to help him, prostitutes in the downtown East Side issued an early warning to their `members,` but still in a race for a “speed balls” for free out she goes…
Self-determination is different for every First Nation, and different for every group in a place like the downtown East Side. The police could be different certainly, but freedom and community are not inclusive only for the well off in Vancouver. Downtown East Side is a repository for Vancouver. Documentary film-makers have come with a microphone to stick under the nose of the rescuers and the colourful-feisty-truth-speakers and create a village of the poor. Families come in from Abbotsford and new Westminister regularly, as a Christian duty, to give out donated socks, gloves, blankets, and hot coffee from a thermos. Tables are set up on Sundays by Christian groups of young students with clothes, shoes,coffee, cookies, etc. It is hard not to think they are glad to come here, here where the poor are in all their `glory“
We all need community. It is more than a hug. It is an identity we carry with us and it develops wherever we are. Poverty or not community organizing has disappeared in the large cities in Canada as gentrification took advantage of any organization which had been done.
Heather White surely knows what identity has to do with marginalization, and what addiction and destitution has to do with life chances. Perhaps at the next talk-back others can be invited to round out the stage group. So when the man puts up his hand and says Dying Woman was feisty, it will not be accepted as a kind of redemption. Art can be full of redemption, but it is from another time. It no longer makes us feel good or included.
All the best
Edith Hughes: Feb 4, 2016
Let`s have an open conversation. This is Canada after all. There is nothing to be afraid of.
One last word on feisty, if you will allow me.
The blog has a picture of feisty downtown East Siders in an iconic 1960s march, a picture shot from below.
In the 1960s police stopped marches. Today media is a price of doing business, in this case the gentrification of the downtown East Side with condos. The police got rid of Gastown and will get rid of downtown East Side in the same way: go upmarket. ‘It is super-expensive land and we want super expensive people on that land, so we can do real policing, property crimes with coherent individuals like themselves.’ For the police addiction is a medical problem, not a community problem.
Dying Woman says to us “I will not be the next missing woman.” She is aware of the problem but she is feisty and can take care of herself, she does not need to heed or trust any warnings. She tells [Killer] the Sister will mobilize the RCMP. In the end paternalism wins out…
She says to the Pickton character, “I will kill you” and he replies “I will kill you.”
Watching feisty women is a staple of rape court hearings. It is boring to watch a passive, overwhelmed, and tearful woman. The audience wants some spirit – a cockfight.
What happened to the phrase “cycle of poverty?.” Poverty is not exciting or shocking. It is a grind in a jungle. The cycle of poverty changes you. “Feisty” soon becomes violence and bullying against other homeless people. We don`t want to talk about this self-hate
We all need community, and it is the making of bridges with Vancouver city and its citizens through open conversation at all levels. Downtown East is a community of adults all of whom are required to align with a single purpose advocacy group, align with a certain territory.
If sex trade workers are ever to be accepted they must have safe working conditions.
First nations racism and feisty individuals are only a part of the answer. They should open a window, not remove a pane in a window for the art community, if this story is not to become a convenient fiction. Women are in the majority, a challenge for the women`s movement is to get the balance right. in my view.
Downtown East Side is an intentional slum for the people of Vancouver.
All the best,