M:ST News

Glossolalia: Speaking in Tongues

Reona Brass, in a long sleeved shirt and thick grey pants, sits with a roll of barbed wired resting between her feet. With only gardening gloves to protect her hands she begins to unravel strands of steel and thorns. She proceeds slowly, making all contact with the wire deliberate. The weight of the roll is magnified. After a moment, she pays attention to the sheets on the music stand beside her. She begins to read from the Indian Act (this is mentioned in the M:ST program guide; yet, it would be easy to discern the nature of the text from listening to it). Brass reads details about how to identify and “Indian.” She reads rights and restrictions, and manners in which these may be modified or limited to suit the desires of non-Indians. She reads of jurisdictions, management, and segregation of Indians, her voice calm and monotone, and all along she continues to unravel wire. The wire grows in volume on the floor, a tangled mess. Brass continues working wire with the same slow, deliberate motions she started with. At times, wire threatens to scratch her face. When she finishes a page of the act, she slips it off the music stand lets it fall to interact freely with the wire. Many pages are flown off the stand unread.

Brass stops unwinding, and stops reading. She stands and slips on a pantyhose mask with braided legs. Then she falls to the floor and begins to struggle into the barbed wire. Thorns snag on her clothes and mask, and scratches soon appear on her hands (the gloves are off). Images of soldiers come to mind – barbed wired across enemy lines intended to immobilize personnel, to disturb and disorient, to set up targets for snipers. Brass moves with difficulty, trying to get involved with as much wire as possible. Once she has crawled into the mess, she tries to crawl out. As she makes her slow, laborious exit she flattens the barbed wire with her hands and knees, reducing its volume. When she finally emerges, and is able to stand on her feet again, Brass reads once more, this time in her Native tongue, with more purpose this time, as though stating a manifesto. She lifts up the wire mass, drops it to the ground, and exits. The event spans about 25 minutes.
The directness of the comparison, between crawling through barbed wire and the Indian Act, is not shocking, and the physical pain endured does not elicit a great deal of wincing – the metaphor is not particularly imaginative nor captivating. But perhaps that is the point – the Indian Act exists much like Brass’ crawling through barbed wire; the faces that suffer from it, those pained expressions, are obscured just enough for observers not to feel the requisite dose of sympathy that would prompt an intervention. Suffering is obvious, and blood visible, but the face is hidden just enough to prevent discomfort from flourishing.

Posted by: Samuel Garrigó Meza