Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Spiderwoman Theater Troupe

S p i d e r w o m a n   T h e a t e r! b2ap3_thumbnail_NewTribeLadies.jpg

Spiderwoman Theater is the country’s longest running women’s performance group, founded in 1976 by Muriel Miguel in conjunction with Miguel's sisters, Lisa Mayo and Gloria Miguel. The three Native American sisters are of Rappahannock and Kuna heritage.  The theater troupe can be reached at

Spiderwoman Theater has held workshops and residencies as well as performances in venues and festivals all over the world.  The group uses a specific working technique they call Storyweaving, which they describe as “creating designs and weaving stories with words and movement.”

Spider Woman is the Holy Creatrix of several Indigenous nations of the American southwest. As Laguna Pueblo scholar Paula Gunn Allen writes in her seminal work The Sacred Hoop: "In the beginning was Thought and her name was Woman...She is the Old Woman Spider who weaves us together in a fabric of interconnection....the Eldest God." 

The troupe's website states that "Spiderwoman Theater’s work bridges the traditional cultural art forms of storytelling, dance, and music and the practice of contemporary western theater. Born in Brooklyn, [our] work springs from own lives and experiences as 'city Indians'."

Wikipedia includes this information about the troupe: "Spiderwoman Theater...premiered their first work [in the 1970s], Women in Violence, at Washington Square Methodist Church [in Greenwich Village, Manhattan]. The play combined the actresses' stories of violence, contrasting serious subject matter with slapstick and sexual humor. For the piece they created a simple lighting design and a backdrop made out of Native American quilts. They toured the play in the United States and Europe. At a theatre in Nancy, France the women refused to sweep their performance space before their show. Hecklers gathered at the performance, upset that a male producer had to sweep the floor. Organizers of a later performance in Bologna, Italy cancelled it for fear of riots." b2ap3_thumbnail_promo-787x1024.jpg

The Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS) at the University of Oregon hosted Muriel Miguel in a short residency in 2015. CSWS information for Miguel's visit states that she "represents an embodied 70-year history of Native American theatre and performance.  Her achievements have been recognized by numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from Miami University, where Spiderwoman Theater’s archives launched the Native Women’s Theatre Archive. Her performance career has been widely acknowledged by Native Studies, Theatre Studies, and Queer/Gender Studies scholars."b2ap3_thumbnail_Muriel_headShot.jpg

"Miguel grew up performing with her family since the age of twelve and was the cofounder, with Louis Mofsie, of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers. She is a pioneer in the development of a culture–based methodology for the training of Indigenous theatre students and is an instructor of Indigenous Performance at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre (CIT) in Toronto. Miguel was a Program Director for the Aboriginal Dance Program and an instructor of Indigenous performance at The Banff Centre for the Arts [in Alberta, Canada] for seven years, where she choreographed Throw Away Kids and She Knew She Was She. She has developed four shows for The Minnesota Native American AIDS Task Force working with inner city Native youth on HIV/AIDS issues."

Miguel and her sisters' work in performing arts, Native advocacy, and education show us how very involved Native American peoples are today in their own and in non-Indigenous communities. Indeed, along with the power of performing arts, the troupe has proven time and again the key role education plays in healing a society that continues to ail around race, sexual orientation, and women's issues. b2ap3_thumbnail_spiderwoman_20160214-190539_1.jpg

One of the troupe's most well-known plays is Winnetou's Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City , which is a satire of the EuroAmerican, and particularly German, fascination with Native Americans. (See this article from Mother Jones magazine, replete with amazing/shocking photographs, about Germans & Czechs playing American Indian and why they do it: The play's primary focus is to dispel stereotypes about Native Americans, and they do this by satirizing the practice of individuals and groups pretending to be Native or who believe they possess authentic Indigenous spiritual knowledge. (Sorry, but wafting sage around makes a person authentically "Indian" about as fast as wafting incense around makes a person authentically "Catholic".)

b2ap3_thumbnail_SOSN_Gloria01.jpgA play currently on tour is Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, which is "Gloria Miguel’s humorous and poignant look at being an elder in her community and the treatment of elders in our society. Tu Tu Kapsus, a Kuna woman, comes down from the stars to land in the Brooklyn of the 1920’s. Through her journey, she rediscovers the influences that shaped her life and recounts stories of her daily life as a “senior” in our culture."

b2ap3_thumbnail_3LadyPipes.jpgOne of the most important parts of the theater troupe's performances, indeed of their very existence, is to witness the joy of Native women engaged in telling their own history and expressing their own experiences. This is called agency, the right to represent your identity and tell your own story--and Spiderwoman Theater has it to the moon and back!

The theater troupe can be reached at 333 DeGraw Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231; phone (347) 828-5370; and at to bring them to your community. Photographs used here are taken from the Spiderwoman Theater website and the University of Oregon's CSWS webpage.


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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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