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New developing play, 'Bluejay's Canoe' weaves Indigenous perspective throughout pandemic story

Photo provided by Theresa May.
Marta Clifford on a tour of the Kalapuya Talking Stones with students.

An Indigenous play that touches on community radio and COVID-19 is in progress, building on a collaboration between a University of Oregon theater professor and a Grand Ronde elder.

“Bluejay’s Canoe” follows the 2014 work, “Salmon is Everything”, which examined a massive fishkill on the Klamath River. In this new story, a teenage intern works at a Willamut* Valley radio station for a DJ with a secretive past.

UO professor Theresa May (left) and Grand Ronde tribal elder Marta Clifford (right.)
Photo provided by Theresa May.
UO professor Theresa May (left) and Grand Ronde tribal elder Marta Clifford (right.)

UO drama professor Theresa May and actor Marta Clifford say their newest work will also incorporate Native American elements.

“The neat thing about Native stories and theater, is that the teaching happens while you’re not looking,” said May. “The teaching happens while you’re thinking about the play and what happens next. So it’s not didactic in that way.”

“Native theater is also Native people telling their own story, but you get to tell it to a whole group of people at one time,” added Clifford.

“All the stories that we’re using in this we have permission to use and they’re not winter ikanums. Ikanum is what it’s called when it’s only a traditional winter story.”

Clifford will play an elder named Goldie, drawing on her Chinook and Cree heritage and childhood memories.

Production of “Bluejay’s Canoe” is at least a year away.

The Center for Environmental Futures and the Center for the Study of Women in Society are supporting the development of the show.

* The Kalapuya spelling of Willamette.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.