By Bob Shuman

Don’t Feed the Indians, a comedy revue now playing at La MaMa until November 19, doesn’t get around to ascertaining the politics of the horrific 2016 dog attacks on Native Americans, at the Dakota Pipeline, defending sacred burial ground.  The show also doesn’t mention the issues being raised by Idle No More, the Canadian grassroots movement protesting neo-colonialism. Instead, Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective Projects’ divine comedy pageant embraces the Broadway and Tin Pan Alley versions of aboriginal lives, as caricatured in Peter Pan, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific and Good News—without much outrage. Muriel Borst-Tarrant, humorous, tough, and tart, might be at home in an early talkie, (“Hello, happy Caucasians”). She’s a stand-up comedienne, not exactly sanguine about European settlers having had the chutzpah to ask Native Americans to give up the “rights to all your resources.” But she’s over it: “Get it?  Got it?  Good.” 


Perhaps part of the point in Don’t Feed the Indians is that Native Americans feel so integrated into American mainstream culture that their invisibility is on par with Danish-Americans or Swiss-Americans.  Perhaps also, the Broadway versions of indigenous peoples acted as ways to have an identity in popular culture—the shtick was held onto, no matter how inauthentic.  The eight Native-American actors in Don’t Feed the Indians know they’re in a “shitty show,” but they can’t figure out how to get out of it—and as standards go, rolling out “Pass That Peace Pipe” and “Bali Ha’i” isn’t too shameful. 

The script doesn’t find appropriation offensive or the stereotypes less than comic.  In fact, the pageant seems to want to learn from musical comedy, as in a distressing speech about the winner of a National Native-American Poetry Contest, reminiscent of Sammy Williams’s gay-themed monologue in A Chorus Line (performed well by Nic Billey).  The easy history lesson and wigwam wiggling might be part of a road company that remembers the days of Gypsy: old-fashioned,  unoriginal, inoffensive vaudeville—certainly lacking contemporary edge or passion.  On the way out of the play, theatregoers next to me were mentioning seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie in the Seventies.  Don’t Feed the Indians has a retro feel, presenting indigenous people as having the same issues as those in mainstream American society (“I’m an Indian, too”). Show business may be being used to buffer painful issues in the Native American community—and, thankfully, Sainte-Marie is still out there.  Are Native Americans living in a time warp?  In Don’t Feed the Indians, the audience isn’t asked to investigate or witness an alternative.

© 2017 by Bob Shuman

World Premiere

‘Don’t Feed the Indians—A Divine Comedy Pageant’


Visit La MaMa:

Conceived, Written and Directed by Murielle Borst-Tarrant [Kuna/Rappahannock Nations]
Musical Direction by Kevin Tarrant [Hopi/Hochunk Nations]

A Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective Project


Henu Josephine Tarrant
[Hopi/ Hochunk/ Kuna/ Rappahannock Nations]

Nic Billey
[Choctaw/ Delaware/ Creek Nations]

Danielle Soames

John Scott-Richardson 
[Haliwa-Saponi Nation]

Press: David Gibbs, DARR Publicity

Photos, from top, by Maya Bitan:  

Danielle Soames (Mohawk/Kahnawake Nations);

John Scott-Richardson (Haliwa-Saponi Nation), Danielle Soames (Mohawk/Kahnawake Nations), Kevin Tarrant (Hopi/Ho-Chunk Nations), Nicholson Billey (Delaware/Choctaw/Creek Nations), George Stonefish (Delaware/Chippewa Nations) 

Murielle Borst-Tarrant (Kuna/Rappahannock Nations), Nicholson Billey (Delaware/Choctaw/Creek Nations)

Henu Josephine Tarrant (Hopi/Ho-Chunk/Kuna/Rappahannock Nations), Danielle Soames (Mohawk/Kahnawake Nations), Nicholson Billey (Delaware/Choctaw/Creek Nations)


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