Yolanda Bonnell | Image source: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Yolanda Bonnell is powerful in White Girls in Moccasins. In the play she portrays, Miskozi, a brown Indigenous girl growing up in a dominating white-settler society who creates an inner white girl in order to survive while suppressing her Indigeneity. This resonated with me, because I too, was a brown Indigenous girl who grew up in a dominating white-settler society.
“Growing up, I was so obsessed with wanting to pass as white or wanting to fit in. Wanting to be normal. I didn’t want to stand out in the wrong way,” said Bonnell. “While this story was coming to me, so was this idea of having an inner white girl – and a feeling that there were other sides to myself. There was this whitewashed, indoctrinated, colonised, partisan versus this cultural, Indigenous girl learning about who I was, my clan, how they were going against each other, how they were working together, what they were, and how they were similar.”
A satire of The Wheel of Fortune – The Wheel of Privilege – is weaved throughout the story as a critique of the white beauty standards that were prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s, and the effect they had on people of colour growing up. It’s a pain that Bonnell conveys powerfully throughout her performance. She shows us how that transcends into feelings of unworthiness, isolation, and toxic relationships. We are also shown the effect this had on boys as well.
“The boyfriends were such an important part of who I was allowed to think was attractive because the beauty standards for men were the same. It was like, the white boys were the beautiful ones. Those were the ones that you had to think – yes! So, I just fell in line with what I was being told,” she explains. “That’s so much easier than going against it. I tricked myself into thinking that I belonged there so much that maybe then I would eventually feel like I did. Unfortunately, that wasn’t that wasn’t true.”
Bonnell is accompanied by two characters that master the art of fluidity: Waabishkizi (Elizabeth Staples) and, Ziibi (Ravyn Wngz). Staples represents Miskozi’s inner white woman, as well as the “competing” white woman, and the “friendly” white woman. Wngz portrays her spiritual guide. All three of them have perfect chemistry and comedic timing.
White Girls in Moccasins is a deep introspective reflection across time about what it means to be an Indigenous woman or women of colour living in a white supremacist society. It’s a representation of stories that could never be told before because it wasn’t for who was the norm or who was the standard. It also reflects the resilience of Indigenous women surviving and the restoration of something inside of us that was never lost because we carry the blood memory of our ancestors before us.
Yolanda Bonnell got to chat with Erica Commanda about White Girls in Moccasins, what it means to restore yourself, and rejecting the societal norms enforced upon us growing up.
You can get tickets here: buddiesinbadtimes.com/white-girls-in-moccasins/
You can get digital tickets here for screenings between March 26-April 2: manidoons.com/