Huff – Poison Exposed and the Issues of a Largely Non-Aboriginal Audience

In viewing Huff I felt a great uneasiness. As the play exhibits some very dark issues, such as rape, death and alcohol abuse, I questioned whether these issues should be presented to a presumed mainly “non-Native” (Nolan, 2015, p. 29) audience as I was worried about how these images may be the only ones that the audience becomes familiar with; that the Aboriginal university professors, good parents and partners, youth workers, etc. were not visible in the performance. However I believe this play can be viewed as exposing poison. Through Wind’s survivance story poison exposed is at almost every turn of the story. The poor conditions of some First Nations reservations living conditions are mentioned as well as stating that his brothers are the “products” of the reserve school system (Nolan, 2015, p. 29). By accusing the audience of not caring and often acknowledging the white audience for it there is this accusation of non-Aboriginal Canadians at large. When the non-Native Canadians see on the news that a reserve has poor drinking water or that there continues to be many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (higher amount than other women) they can be exhibited through this play as doing nothing to help. They are just witnessing parts of the issues while Huff exposes the poisons that his community and family face and where these poisons came from. Non-Aboriginal Canadians are then called to not just view these issues but do something about it as it is a wider Canadian problem, not an “Aboriginal problem.” This is exhibited by an audience member taking the duct tape and bag off of Wind, though as we see later the individual must also work to survive and ultimately Wind decides to live.
I remember after the show, hoping that Cliff Cardinal (who performs this one-person show) had a great support system of friends and/or family because performing a play like this must take such a toll on a performer; living these events each day over and over would be draining of the spirit, mind and body. Therefore I wish that decolonial love was and is practiced plentifully. Also, in reference to the issue of a mainly non-Aboriginal audience, I hope that the audience walks away with feeling at least some form of responsibility for working on changing these systems that perpetuate these living conditions and issues.

Nolan, Y. (2015). Medicine shows: Indigenous performance culture. Toronto, ON: Playwrights Canada Press.

3 thoughts on “Huff – Poison Exposed and the Issues of a Largely Non-Aboriginal Audience”

  1. Thank you for sharing Danielle! I didn’t get the opportunity to view Huff. One of my friends went to the play. She had no knowledge of the material that would be presented and walked out of the theatre hall extremely upset. I think it is great that the poison is being exposed, but prior knowledge of the content to be presented can help prevent showing this play, full of extremely hard issues, to audience members who have been though similar situations. Sometimes theatre can act as a medicine to heal, but in other cases it can open old wounds and bring back memories. Exposing poison in the way I have heard was done by Huff is brave and powerful, but audience should be aware of the content they are walking into.

  2. Danielle, Thank you for your interesting post with a different perspective on Huff. As I have no seen Huff, my opinions on the content of the performance is largely naive and incomplete…
    However, your comment on the emotional weight of the performance really made me think: “performing a play like this must take such a toll on a performer; living these events each day over and over would be draining of the spirit”.

    In the news today, we hear of the Attawapiskat First Nations crisis where citizens are in a state of emergency due to the large numbers of suicides and homelessness. Part of Huff, I think, is exposing the “poison” that many rural and impoverished Indigenous reservations face on an everyday basis. Cliff Cardinal likely faces the weight of this depressing and emotional performance, however it is only a performance of a reality that many Indigenous people face today. While the Nation of Canada is faced with solving the problems on Attawapiskat, the poison of colonialism is being exposed – the lack of opportunities, housing, jobs, education that the Indian act created through residential schools, the 60s scoop, racism, the Potlatch ban, disenfranchisement, and diaspora.
    Right now, I believe, we need to address the legacy of colonialism for communities such as Attawapiskat – but we need to remember that this is not an isolated incident for one person/community but it is a problem faced for many reservations across Canada.

  3. Danielle,

    Thank you for your point of view. I attended the play, but this was something I didn’t think about. You were worried about the dark content being shown to a mostly non-Indigenous audience. I had the opposite response, I felt worried that for Indigenous people who had experienced these traumas in one way or another that the play would open new wounds. In all of the interviews with Cliff Cardinal, he talks about the play as being funny and lighthearted. Though there was humour, we experienced a really heavy play. I think maybe this is needed for a lot of the audience to go. But I watched an interview with him before seeing the play, and I have to be honest, I felt a little like I had been tricked (trickster at work?). In the end, this play was an act of medicine for me. I think it can be really good medicine through poison exposed and raising awareness about important issues. Maybe that outweighs the bad medicine it could be for those whom it would open old wounds.

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