by Amanda Ong
Since 2017, Indigenize Productions has been showcasing queer and trans Indigenous joy in different ways, from hosting variety shows to dance parties. Indigenize was founded after a group of Indigenous talents met through a burlesque and variety show called “Dear White People” with an all-BIPOC cast at the University of Washington Ethnic Cultural Theatre.
Howie Echo-Hawk was an original founding member of Indigenize Productions who has lived in Seattle since 2009, but was raised in a village in Alaska. There, they grew up surrounded by other Indigenous folks, and found themselves facing culture shock in Seattle. They got involved with Indigenous organizing at the University of Washington. Echo-Hawk is also known best for their stand-up comedy, and found themself disappointed by the lack of Native representation in that area. In light of their newfound place in stand-up, they were invited to be a part of “Dear White People.”
“Being a part of ‘Dear White People’ was really significant to me,” Echo-Hawk said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “It was an all People of Color cast, and we were given a way to say whatever we wanted. As a performer, I had seen that people wanted me to make my comedy more palatable for white people. And so I was like, I would love to do one of these ‘Dear White People’ shows once a month. And that’s how Indigenize Productions was born.”
Their first variety show in 2017, You Don’t Have To Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here, included comedy, poetry, and more. The name of the show was explicit in its message to colonizers.
An Echo-Hawk show unabashedly put white people on the spot. Ticketing was on a sliding scale from “self-identified colonizer” to Indigenous people. Their shows also featured intimate cultural stories and moments, stories of police violence and lived experiences — including one where Echo-Hawk cut their own hair onstage while sharing a personal story.
“To me, I didn’t expect it to be such a healing place,” Echo-Hawk said. “I never would have said that it was like a healing space or anything like that. But looking back, it always was. The show has always been about creating community and spaces to heal … to have fun, do cool art, and just be awesome.”
Though the pandemic complicated Indigenize Productions’ shows, it has not only returned to comedy and variety shows, but has also brought together a series of monthly dance parties. It has hosted special dance parties for Pride and to celebrate the anniversary of the death of certain colonizers, including one that featured a piñata in the shape of George Custer.
“My current thing is I want people to shut up and dance, because I think that the community is hurting, and the healing space is not necessarily word-based right now,” Echo-Hawk said. “The healing space is getting in our bodies and, like, having fun. Joy varies every single time. Bringing community together and having them have fun and get to know each other, make memories, and make friends is my goal.”
Whether a dance party or comedy show, Indigenize Productions events, regardless of topic, allow queer and trans Native people and other BIPOC folks to be able to come together. To have genuine community, depend on each other, dance, and relearn to be human together. Especially when the pandemic has taken many temporarily out of the community, these shows can be a special healing space.
Echo-Hawk says that the work of Indigenize Productions is similar to a Māori proverb they learned from a relative that translates as, “What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.”
“People are hurting right now, people are not well, and we’re starting to hurt each other at a higher frequency,” Echo-Hawk said. “I think we just need to have more time and investment in people, for people to rest and for people to spend time recovering. … People know that there’s a future where colonialism no longer exists. It’s real. And in the meantime, we can have a lot of fun. Peace inside of yourself is possible, and with communities.”
Indigenize Productions hosts Indigiqueer, a monthly dance party, and other events regularly. For more information about dates and locations, check out the Indigenize Productions Instagram page.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Indigenize Productions creates spaces for healing, joy, and connection that centers queer and trans Native and BIPOC people. Pictured: a crowd dancing at Boujee Natives at Union Coffee and Wine in June. (Photo: Indigenize Productions)
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