“White Indian” is a performance piece by Pyramid Lake Paiute artist Gregg Deal that explores issues of identity, blood quantum, and indigenous representation. The performance will take place on January 29, 2016 at the Denver Art Museum. The event is part of the Denver Art Museum’s “Untitled: Family Matters” series.
Deal is the current Native Arts Artist-in-Residence and is an acclaimed muralist, performance artist, and painter. His works address pressing issues facing Native people in the 21st century.
Previous performance pieces by Deal include “Ethnographic Zoo,” where he sat in front of the Denver Art Museum dressed in stereotypical Native American attire, complete with a headdress, watching Dances with Wolves and listening to the Pocahontas soundtrack. A sign in front read “Do Not Feed the Stereotype”.
“White Indian” approaches Native American identity from another angle, using blood quantum as the lens through which Deal explores issues of “Indianness”. He came up with the concept about five years ago, and realized that if he wanted to have a conversation about blood quantum, performance art would be the perfect medium to do it.
The performance is divided up into three parts. The first part, White Indian, is a tongue-in-cheek look at the unusual phenomenon of white people appropriating a Native American identity for themselves. The second part, Indian Pop, looks at how Native Americans are represented in popular culture. Deal is especially interested in how mainstream perceptions affect both non-Native and Native understandings of what it means to be Native American.
The last segment is Indian Pedigree. This segment is a spoken word piece where Deal will have a tattoo artist putting Deal’s tribal ID number as well as his entire blood quantum, in fractions, on his forearm. Deal got the tattoo done previously since live tattooing violated building policy, but during the performance he will have a tattoo artist there to recreate the process.
Deal hopes that viewers of his piece will come away with a more critical look at how Native Americans are quantified and documented in this country. “I think blood quantum is a serious issue,” Deal says. “It is something all Indians know about but no one really talks about.” He’s hoping to spark a conversation and encourage people to re-think how the system is set up.