Blood Tribe members say Peter Pan play highlights racism in neighbouring town

Tamara Pimentel
APTN National News
Cardston is a small Mormon town in southwest Alberta and right across the street is the Kainai Nation, or Blood Tribe.

The people of the Blood Tribe frequent Cardston to shop or see a doctor but they say doing those things includes experiencing racism.

“This intolerance to the Blood Tribe and Blackfoot people – it has existed a long, long time. It’s deeply rooted,” said Rick Tailfeathers.

Sharon Unger moved to Cardston several years ago and became part of the Mormon community.

“I was really shocked when I moved here. I recognized the racism, I heard the comments and it really hurt me,” said Unger.

She left the Mormon community and began sundancing.

“It’s also taught me that we have a wealth of information from our First Peoples of our country and we are ignoring it,” said Unger. “We’re doing worse than ignoring it, we’re oppressing it and not giving them the opportunity to teach us.”

An example was a Peter Pan play put on by the local theatre company.

Photos of actors wearing Indigenous “costumes” and face paint made its way around social media.

“Our people no longer accept the images that have been portrayed of us in movies and plays,” said Tailfeathers.

Having a connection with Cardston and the Indigenous community, Unger saw the play as an opportunity to educate people at the theatre.

“I thought most people in 2017 would have cultural sensitivity and have understanding. I do understand that there is a severe amount of ignorance in the community and I don’t mean that in a mean way – it’s just the truth. If someone did understand they would never put on that play,” she said.

Blood Tribe members contacted the theatre company and asked for the play to be cancelled.

Instead, the owner of Carriage House Theatre wrote an apology.

“The Carriage House Theatre would like the First Nations people to understand that there was no intent to offend in our production of Peter Pan. But saying that, in our ignorance we have offended,” the statement said.

“We recognize in this situation, we too have much to learn and feel sorry for all that has transpired due to our lack of cultural awareness.”

The theatre removed the costumes but for the people of Blood Tribe they would have liked to see the play cancelled.

They do hope it opens the door to reconciliation.

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11 thoughts on “Blood Tribe members say Peter Pan play highlights racism in neighbouring town

  1. I’m not going to defend or excuse the actions those who put on the play… they were wrong and should have done more research, used more cultural sensitivity, and showed a better effort of reaching out to consult with the Blood Tribe. Though, I think it is important to call out Sharon Unger for her ignorance and bigotry. I thought most people in 2017 would actually have enough cultural sensitivity and understanding enough to know better than to say an entire Mormon community is severely ignorant. Her words “… I do understand that there is a severe amount of ignorance in the community… and I don’t mean that in a mean way… it’s just the truth… they don’t actually understand….” are completely her own opinion, are unfounded in any facts, and are religiously intolerant and just as culturally insensitive. Where are the protesters, news articles, and reports exposing her reverse discrimination against a small, minority religious population?

  2. I am discouraged by such claims and inflammatory remarks as “Mormons ride one bus while the natives have to ride the reserve bus, even though they don’t stay in town.” This is absolutely and unequivocably half truths at its best. I have lived and worked in Cardston and rode a bus to school the entire time. To segregate the population into Mormons and Natives is to do a gross injustice to the rest of the wonderful people who live here and rode the bus. Secondly, natives don’t just ride the reserve bus. It just so happens that non native bus routes are not allowed on the reserve because they have their own service which employs their own people. If anything, no mormons are allowed on reserve buses rather than the other way around but non of us are worried about that apparent segregation because its a non-issue.

    Also the Peter Pan issue is being treated as if every First Nation person feels that this was a cultural insensitivity, this is not the case. Also it is poor journalism to not report that the directors of the play attempted to involve and get consultation as well as First Nation actors but after advertising for this and having no response they moved along doing the best they could. Their intent was to put on a play, not to insult First Nation people. Let’s try and remember that, and perhaps ask the question, what is the intent of those making violent threats and gross characterizations of people involved in the play.

    If you want to bridge the apparent gap and reduce the divide between the two cultures, then use an appropriate forum, like 1 on 1, or personal contact with those involved.

  3. Minimizing bad behaviour, I agree with Sharon’s comment on that BUT the tendency to minimize the bad behaviour comes from us not reporting the bad behaviour such as theft, harassment for “change” discrimination against the minority (“white” people) and NO the play should not have been cancelled and the threats that were directed towards the theatre should be investigated and those individuals should be charged.

  4. Not all people in Cardston are mormon or white-so that is ignorance on your part! The blood tribe chooses to have their own bus co-op.

  5. I noticed in the statement that the term ” Mormon” is used several times. Perhaps that is racist towards religion. Should the members of that church rise up and protest? No, they are peaceful and don’t get upset over such things. Rick Tailfeathers attended Cardston High School and was very popular. He never experienced racism there that was apparent. He and several others were very welcome and integrated well. Too bad he didn’t keep up that same ideology so he could continue to help his people more in a better way.

  6. they can’t blame it on such a thing. Cardston is just next door to the largest reserve and thy have had pow wows there for the past ten years. And to top it off the buses are segregated too. Mormans ride one bus while the natives have to ride the reserve bus, even thought they don’t stay in town.

    1. What are you talking about? What buses and what the hell do buses have to do about this AND if there were such a thing as riding different buses has it ever crossed your mind that it may be the other way around?

    2. What are you talking about ??? There is no segragated busing. The bus routes are set up in geographical areas not by race or religion. The blood reserve has it’s own govenment system that includes schools. Many families opt to bus their children into Cardston to attend school. They have their own bus co-op. That was infrastructure that was set up by the blood tribe.

      One thing to note too is there were shooting and bomb threats reported from some less than peaceful people. That doesn’t build bridges. Seriously the avg age range of these performers was high school age children.

      These were the same children that on Feb 15th were all involved in pink day at their high school and as part of that day abrigional students came in traditional dress and a majority of the students danced by invitation with them while some students drummed. This community is a far cry from the epic center of racism that is being painted to be. It makes me so sad.

    3. I lived in cardston and I am white. You are wrong to assume that all mormons are white, and that there are no native mormons. Mormonism is a religion and has nothing to do with anything. White people cannot live on the reserve. That is why there are no white kids on reserve busses. I lived on a farm where they picked up both white, native, and asian students, because the bus picked up anyone on that bus route. Literally everything you just commented is incorrect. Don’t make assumptions.

  7. I happen to like the story Peter Pan it just seems I have to give up my culture in order for others to feel better about theirs there is almost a demand for everyone to like respect feel badly for First Nations people. I am not allowed to have a culture I am the enemy since I am white now islands are being renamed signs are being renamed ect. Personally I don’t think it’s fair.

    1. White settlers (I’m White, btw) renamed almost everything when we arrived in what we call North America (which some indigenous peoples refer to as Turtle Island). Aboriginal people are not changing the names of places, they’re returning to what these places were called for about 15,000 years before our ancestors arrived.

      Like you, I love European culture. When I admire old European architecture, music, literature, sometimes it feels like what we have here in North America is very new in comparison. What is 150 years compared to over 2,000 years of European history? But that’s not to say there isn’t a history here in this land. There is, and it’s as rich and beautiful as any European culture. I would like to learn to embrace the history and culture of right here, where I live. I appreciate learning the aboriginal names for places because then it gives me permission to use those names and feel like I truly belong here, instead of feeling like I’m native to neither Europe nor North America.

      I think the anger that some indigenous people feel toward White people is very often legitimate, and it can make me feel very uncomfortable. However, I can choose how I respond to that. I could get angry and defensive in response, for example, or point out that anyone can be racist. Instead, I remind myself that the anger is not about me personally (hopefully!), but about White people as a whole. It’s frustrating to be seen for the characteristics of our group, isn’t it? – rather than as indviduals who may be personally sympathetic toward the struggles of indigenous peoples. So I ask myself, what are we, as a settler people – the Canadian people – doing to improve life for aboriginal people, and is it enough?

      Clearly, it’s not enough. We need to try harder, we need to listen harder, we need to respond with more urgency. We need to spend the same amount per capita on schools for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis as we do on settler schools. Ditto for healthcare and social spending. In some places we need to spend more, because of long-standing neglect, and because of the costs in remote Northern communities. Until we can honestly say we have done these things to the best of our ability, that we share in the hardships we have imposed on the descendents of the original inhabitants of this beautiful land, tolerating their anger without being defensive seems to me like the very least thing we can do.

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