Back To Schedule
Friday, March 13 • 9:00am - 10:50am
On William S. YellowRobe: Understanding Native Tribal Identity through Native Drama: A Panel Discussion of the Plays of Assiniboine Playwright William S. YellowRobe

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

Understanding Native Tribal Identity through Native Drama:  A panel discussion of the plays of  Assiniboine playwright, William S. YellowRobe

Chair:  David L. Moore, University of Montana

Katie Kane, University of Montana:  “Better-n-Indians: A Reading” [title to be revised]

Margo Lukens, University of Maine:   “Art That Works: William YellowRobe’s Star Quilter as Open Letter”

George Price, University of Montana:  “Afrophobia in Native American History: Reflections on William S. YellowRobe's Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers” 

Respondent:  William S. YellowRobe



1)    David L. Moore, as chair, will briefly offer a context for the panel and introduce the panelists. 

2)    Katie Kane, University of Montana

“Better-n-Indians: A Reading” [title to be revised]

Katie Kane, professor of English at the University of Montana, will read William S. YellowRobe’s formally innovative and thematically anti-colonial play, “Better-n-Indians,” drawing on interviews she did with Mr. YellowRobe during the late stages of production of the play.  In addition, Mr. YellowRobe’s relationship of affiliation and distance from the plays of Luis Valdez and dramaturgy of Oskar Eustas will be explored. 

3)    Margo Lukens, University of Maine

“Art That Works: William YellowRobe’s Star Quilter as Open Letter”

In the context of Claudia Rankine’s calling out of unexamined racism in contemporary American art, and of art’s failure to make us confront and think creatively in response to racism, the importance of reading plays by William Yellow Robe is undeniable.

In “The Star Quilter” William YellowRobe examines racism with the absolute clarity that his audience might include anyone—from Assiniboine people to Native Americans and African Americans to white Anglo protestant people like myself—and everyone in between.  No surprise there—like Rankine, YellowRobe lives the experience of an American of color, where one is responsible for being aware of many perspectives outside one’s own.

YellowRobe’s play depicts four private encounters between Mona Gray, a traditional Assiniboine star quilter modeled on YellowRobe’s mother, Mina Rose Forest YellowRobe, and Luanne Jorgensen, a wealthy and politically “well-connected” Montana rancher’s wife.   YellowRobe’s work of art, aimed at public performance, makes public a private exchange mirroring so many private exchanges that have taken place between white and Native American people—in a way that shows the intricacy of racist behavior and self justification, and illuminates for his audience the complexity of possible responses to unexamined racist behavior.  YellowRobe’s depiction gives all the participants (readers, actors, audience members) a chance to walk a while in someone else’s shoes, and to try on attitudes in a safe way.  This immersion in a moment of art (a poem, a song, a scene from a play or story) is different from taking the stance of academic argument that too often aligns with one’s most rigid preconceived notions.  Even reading aloud—giving breath to words from the page and hearing how they sound coming from one’s own mouth—is a way of trying on the pain or fear or courage or questioning of another person’s experience. 

I will argue (from experience) that the Assiniboine aesthetic informing YellowRobe’s work provides a model for the work art could be doing, and an exemplum of the change we all need to learn to make.

4)    George Price, University of Montana

“Afrophobia in Native American History: Reflections on William S. YellowRobe Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers

The popular concept of “race theory,” as a way of explaining human diversity, was unknown among indigenous peoples of the Americas before European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. Shortly after the U.S. confiscation of Native American lands west of the Mississippi River, the creation of the reservation system, and the arrival of millions of racist Euro-Americans to live in close proximity to, and some cases actually on, the Indian Reservations, Afrophobia and other racial concepts began to filter into Native American social discourse and experience. William YellowRobe’s play, Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers, sheds much light upon this historic occurrence as it played out in one Northern Plains tribe in the 20th century, along with its aftereffects and ongoing challenges. I plan to comment on this history and how it is illuminated in this play, along with the consequences and current issues related to it. One question that I hope to explore is how and why did the Buffalo Soldiers come to represent all African Americans in the minds of many Native people of Northern Plains tribes, and how much of that perception was based on their actual interactions with African Americans, as opposed to hearsay and general allegations? 

5)    William S. YellowRobe as respondent, will comment on the papers, the plays, and the themes of the panel. 

avatar for Katie Kane

Katie Kane

Associate Professor, University of Montana
Katie Kane is a professor of Cultural Studies, English Literature, and Colonial Studies at the University of Montana. The author of a study on the links between Ireland and Indian Country as they emerge out of a shard history of land appropriation and the use of reserved land, Kane... Read More →
avatar for Margo Lukens

Margo Lukens

Professor, University of Maine
Wabanaki literature and storytelling, intertribal drama, decolonization, teaching white people about privilege, acting, directing, community theater

George Price

Lecturer, University of Montana
Besides my official UM faculty website, http://www.cas.umt.edu/nas/faculty/staffInfo.cfm?ID=1071, where you can find the usual professional information, I have a new blog, Learning Earthways, at http://georgepriceblog.wordpress.com/, which better describes my current concerns, or... Read More →
avatar for William S. YellowRobe

William S. YellowRobe

"'You are a good actor, but we have no Indian roles,' is what I heard as an actor in school. I started writing plays and I heard, 'It is a good play but we can’t do it because we have no Indian actors,'" said William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. of his life in American theater. William... Read More →

Friday March 13, 2015 9:00am - 10:50am MDT
UC Theatre UC

Attendees (0)