Thursday night I attended a showing of William S. Yellow Robe, Jr.’s play, “Spam Rants: How to Recover Your Files and Other Things You Value.” Having previously met and conversed with Mr. Yellow Robe, Jr. I was eager to see him and his creativity at work.
Yellow Robe, Jr., from my interactions, is a very respectful, intelligent, and fun elder. He’s the type of elder who can size you up within minutes of first meeting you and then teaches and tests you based on his quick (and accurate) observations. These characters are shown within his work and analysis on Native culture and people today.
“Spam Rants” is a compilation of short scenes and experiences. The scenes represent an array of Native struggles, misunderstandings and oppression. This includes the environment, politics, elder-to-youth interactions, education, health, religion, and racism. Yellow Robe, Jr. breaks down the meaning of “Spam Rants” as a metaphor for a mess of thoughts and issues as a reflective element of today’s society.
Much of today’s Native youth dismiss elder teachings as crazy talk from the past and has no relevance to life today. Yellow Robe Jr. recreates it in a scene between an uncle and his nephew. The nephew just bought a new rifle and had been bragging about its accuracy and power. The nephew reveled in his description of the death of a deer from a mere grazing of a bullet. In response the uncle described his time hunting with relatives. In the old days and traditions they would share one rifle, and respected the animal, they didn’t “treat hunting like a game.”
An interaction between elders and youth, especially Native males such as this is an example of society’s impact. The “new” Western culture has taught Native males that they need to be focused on material things and getting ahead, instead of showing respect and care to their surroundings the way they traditionally were. The western population has a colonial way of thinking, the idea that old things or old ways should be thrown away for their lack of current relevance regardless of its importance or accuracy in its end result.
Yellow Robe Jr. presents these scenes and concepts gracefully. Graceful in the way that he uses some comic relief so that it is not harsh or offensive and yet still shows understanding and respect for the races and cultures involved. He also doesn’t diminish the impact of the ‘settlization’ that occurred and continues in the Americas and brings plenty of focus to the change that needs to occur in the current thought process of the population.
While the show allowed an entertaining look into Native struggles and mistaken identity, the post show was what I found the most beneficial. It included an analysis of the work as well as any questions from the audience on the subjects, actors, and the writing process of the play. The dialogue that Mr. Yellow Robe, Jr. wishes to create from his works is clearly successful in the mere 20 minutes dedicated to the post show. Yellow Robe Jr. hopes this dialogue will help continue and examine the movement of ‘decolonization’ as well as invoke action to change the mindset and teachings for the population in the Americas.
The play was held at the University of Maine, was free, and open to the public. For those that are near the area or hear of any of Mr. Yellow Robe, Jr.’s productions I definitely recommend attending. His work speaks truthfully on the many issues within the Native community and is incredibly thought provoking. If you get the opportunity to discuss or see any of his work you will absolutely leave with more than you arrived with.