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The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour

February 7, 2023

The Bad Girls Book Club selection can be a bit hit or miss. Sometimes after 10 or so pages one or more of us decides life’s just too short and we give up and move on to something more interesting in our pile. Sometimes everyone absolutely loves a particular selection.

I can’t speak for the others yet, but I absolutely loved this month’s book. So much so that I sat up in bed until four in the morning finishing it.

In a nutshell… The year is 1972, during the nascent days of the American Indian Movement. A dance troupe from a Saskatchewan reservation has been invited to perform in Sweden, Germany and Italy. Just before they are about to depart, the entire group, including Nadine, the choreographer and co-ordinator, are laid low by food poisoning. The chief cajoles his brother John, one time pow wow dancer and now long time rancher, to go in Nadine’s place, taking with him a ragtag troupe consisting of: Desiree, a pretty 19-year-old whose father, another chief, wants to get her away from the boys on the rez: Edna, her arthritic aunt; and Lucas, an unknown-to-all dancer (and chancer) from the US.

This book cracked me up from start to finish.

It also made me smile for another reason.

A lot of Germans are obsessed with Native American culture. Well, that’s not true, because they actually know next to nothing about the culture, past or present. They are obsessed with a myth created by films and a 19th century German writer named Karl May, who wrote a series of books about a “noble savage” named Winnetou – stories loved by generations of German children (including, apparently a young Adolf Hitler).

The Karl May Festival at which the Prairie Chicken Dance Group perform actually existed then and still exists. 

At the festival the protagonists are somewhat bemused to see many hundreds of heavily made up Germans dressed like this.

French actor Pierre Brice, who played Winnetou in a number of films, with German actress Karin Dor, who played Ribanna, the chief’s “sexy” daughter. For more on this “racist fetishization”, read this article.

Why did all this make me smile? Well, back in the 1990s this German obsession worked to the advantage of Greenpeace and the First Nation bands with which it was working to save the remaining old growth in the Great Bear Rainforest. One of the many markets Greenpeace was seeking to influence was in Germany. This was an international campaign, not just a Canadian one and the folks who worked for Greenpeace Germany knew that it would help persuade German executives to come to the coast to see the destruction for themselves if the invitation came from actual chiefs. In feathered headdress. They came. The Germans went. Pressure was applied. An agreement was negotiated. 

Anyway, back to The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour

I’ve just run into one of the other Bad Girls, who told me she simply could not get into it, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I seriously urge you to read this very funny book.

From → Reading

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