[Workshop reflection] From Storytelling to Storyweaving: Muriel Miguel, A Retrospective

by Carolyn Brave Heart

To watch a full video of the workshop click here. 

On October 24, 2013, Muriel Miguel presented a talk with a slide/video accompaniment on her life work.  I felt quite honored to meet, sit and listen to Muriel speak. 

Muriel Miguel has spent her life working in the performance arts.  She is an actress, dancer, choreographer, educator, playwright and director.  Muriel began her work in the Arts, in New York City, dancing at pow-wows with her family.  She was a Fancy Dancer.  She co-founded (with Louis Mofsie) a Native dance group, at the age of twelve, named the Little Eagles; and, also studied dance with Alwin Nickolais, Erick Hawkins and Jean Erdman.  Eventually, she went into theater work.  She worked in open theater, but felt misunderstood.  No one made the connection, she said, that she was Native and liked to tell stories.

When Muriel first spoke, at the beginning of the presentation, she began with telling the group who she was.  She explained the importance of identity.

Who we are

She calls herself a “city Indian”.  She is Kuna on her dad’s side and Rappahannock on her mom’s side.  She is from the Star Family, she said.  It is precisely this voicing of identity that reverberates in Muriel’s Spiderwoman Theater group.  It took her time to understand how to bring together her identity as a Native woman, the theater and dance together. 

Muriel and two sisters Gloria Miguel and Lisa Mayo

I didn’t understand, but I understand now

Muriel describes Spiderwoman Theater as the “oldest, ongoing feminist theater group in the United States”.  She formed the group with her two sisters and a select group of talented women in 1976.  It is the combination of music, dance, power of voice, artwork backdrops, physical objects (props) and the expression of spirit through body movement that create a powerful testimony.  It is a conscious, layered weaving of story.  Over the years, Spiderwoman Theater has sought to tackle issues that are not always easy to talk about.  They knew that audiences might be shocked and view their theater group as radical.  But, they also realized the importance of what they were doing.  Some topics were:

Cultural Theft: Winnetou’s Snake Oil Show From Wigwam City

Misuse of Native Spirituality: Power Pipes

Taboo subjects: Hot N’ Soft

Failed Noble Mothers: Red Mother

Violence: Violence-the Next Generation.

The productions are about cultural understanding, remembrance, persistence and resistance.  They are filled with powerful expressions of human emotion and identity. 

Muriel shared a moment when she presented a part from her Winnetou’s Snake Oil Show From Wigwam City production with Native young people in Washington State:

That’s who’s important

Muriel works with Native/First Nations young people to encourage them and teach them about the performance arts.  Muriel has taught at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto


In my interviewing fieldwork experience, for the Oral History Program at Columbia, I have acknowledged and explained my reasons for doing the work I have dedicated myself to do, in recording collective memories of Native peoples.  I always have the young ones-the next generation in my mind.  I want to leave something for them.  Muriel voiced this, too, at her talk in reflecting what she would like to leave as her imprint for the future generations.  It is really important for her too.  It is the next generation, who will carry on the traditions, along with recognition of who they are.  Thus, generation-to-generation, the people will live on. 

It is in our identity as individuals that we find our place in the Universe, how we live our lives on this Turtle Island and accumulate that knowing of who we are.  We hear and understand our responsibilities to our communities and share the knowledge we have learned with those “coming up”.  Muriel has done this in her life work.  She knows and understands who she is.  And, she doesn’t intend to stop or ever give up weaving stories of importance to present to the world. 

Tell me a story Muriel, I’m just waiting to hear.

Muriel’s website-