The Sacred in Unexpected Spaces: Humor, Healing, Land Protection, and Embodied Sexuality in Native North American Drama

Alesha Claveria
Theater and Dance
UC Santa Barbara

Birgit Däwes and Shari Huhndorf (Alaska Native) decry a profound neglect of Native drama, calling it the most overlooked genre in Native American literatures. More neglected still are four crucial aspects of Native drama—the theatrical creation of sacred space, an intra-Indigenous rhetoric of service, embodied sexualities, and humor. I argue these four crucial discourses provide indispensable touchstones for critical analysis of NNA drama, and cumulatively undergird a new hermeneutic for reading, analyzing, and staging the sacred.

This project proposes to revolutionize our theoretical approach to Native North American drama and performance, first by proposing that no NNA performance is devoid of sacred power—the Apache call diiyii (Ines Talamantez, Apache). This project contests Christy Stanlake’s assertion that Native American drama is secular in the Euro-Western sense. Furthermore, the work expands on Hanay Geiogamah’s (Kiowa & Delaware Nation) division of Native drama into sacred, ceremonial and secular, and contemporary genres. It proposes instead that NNA drama and performative events mobilized sacred power to varying transformative ends across all these categories, with each text or event situating itself relationally to serve its community. In this paradigm, humor and sexuality become significant carriers and reflections of cultural belief systems.