Featured artist and performer fabian romero with one of their pieces.
Featured artist and performer fabian romero with one of their pieces. Photo Courtesy of Kim Saito.

“This show very much so owes itself to Dear White People—not the TV show, though,” said Howie Echo-Hawk of the origins of You Don’t Have To Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here, the one-night-only multidisciplinary performance he's staging at Annex Theatre this Friday. “It was a performance put on by Boom Boom L’Roux, who is co-producing with us. She is Puerto Rican and an amazing person… my sister [Abigail Echo-Hawk] and I went and watched that show [in November 2016], and we were like, ‘That’s incredible.’ It was very confronting with white people, and has a mission that in ways is very different than our show, but to see that and not see a Turtle Islander-identifying performer in there made us think, ‘well, we need to make something that has Turtle Islanders in it.’”

In advance of You Don’t Have To Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here, which features an all-indigenous Turtle Islander cast—Haliehana Stepetin, fabian romero, Abigail Echo-Hawk, Delia Gomez, Howie Echo-Hawk, and Sydney Bearchum—I sat down with Echo-Hawk and romero to discuss the position of identity, history and culture within the show, their personal journeys, and the indigenous experience at large.

What is Turtle Island, and what does it mean to be a Turtle Islander?

Echo-Hawk: Calling ourselves Turtle Islanders is very common among us indigenous folks. The thing here is that the word ‘indigenous’ is not specific to any particular land base, and in what is now called America, if you say ‘I’m Native,’ people will get it sometimes, but then someone will come along and say, “oh, I’m a native Seattleite,’ and it’s like…. well, no you’re not. I am of the Pawnee nation of Oklahoma and Athabaskan, and I don’t like the terms ‘Native American’ or ‘American Indian’ personally. A lot of people do and that’s fine, but there is just no one specific way of identifying for any indigenous person out there, there just isn’t. But Turtle Island as the continent, as far as I know, is fairly universal—even if it is not specific to your tribe, people like that, and it also acknowledges that we were here long before it was ever renamed to what it is named now. I just wanted to make sure that that intention was clear.

romero: Basically, [the name] Turtle Island connotes a borderless land. I think that with the nations that separate us—I was born in what is now called Mexico, but I am of Purepécha descent—saying “Turtle Island” feels like a decolonial term. Many of us, including my people, were nomadic. We moved from what is now called South America to Mexico, and we traveled a lot. So for me, having that term fits a lot of what my people did historically, and for me as an immigrant, I am a Turtle Islander, but the borders would tell me that I am not of this land, but I am from here. So it feels like a term about love and about actually going back and learning history. It really challenges people to learn that history when you say that you are a Turtle Islander.

Performer Haliehana Stepetin of the Unangax tribe.
Cast member Haliehana Stepetin of the Unangax tribe. Photo courtesy of Haliehana Stepetin.

What are your intentions behind doing this show?

Echo-Hawk: This is not to teach anybody anything. If somebody does, that’s fantastic, but this performance is more so about being able to have a platform for Native folks to perform, period. If they want to teach something, that is also great. But this is also an active refusal just as much as this is a show—we are commodified all the time in this land, and so I recognize that any of my work is challenging because I exist.

romero: While I write for other native/indigenous folks, and write a lot on the concept of authenticity, how it is a construct and how it is a force that often separates us, it is used against us at times. For instance, with my people, it’s not official—for example, I don’t have a card. When I crossed the border, it was obvious that I would be treated as an immigrant Mexican, rather than have any regard to my indigenous connection or heritage. So this is speaking back to this concept of authenticity, and challenging it. I speak to indigenous and non-indigenous people in my writing, mostly because I get that there will always be non-indigenous people that are there… but it’s not like ‘Hi, I am here to teach you,’ but more like ‘Hi, this concept was constructed. It was constructed for you, and you are benefiting from it, and we are sitting over here and struggling.’

What can audience members expect, and what should they know before going?

Echo-Hawk: It’s going to take people on a journey. It’s just as much a journey for us as it is for them, probably more so in many ways. We are going to do the show, and it’s going to be amazing, everyone is super awesome — I feel very humbled and lucky to have the artists and performers that we do. We have Fabian, we’re having someone debut their drag persona, my band’s not that bad… it’s really going to be amazing! There have been a few times in my life where I have done things like this, and gotten Native folks together and done this, and it was amazing and one of those things that I get to carry forever, and you don’t always get that because of the genocide.

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romero: It is really rare to have a group of Natives come together and have a Natives-only show. There have been so many times where I have done things where I was the only Native. We are so often treated like spectres, ghosts of the past, and we are doing this to say that we are here, we have always been here, and we will continue to be here. That’s sometimes hard for people to understand when they have been raised with the construct that we have been exterminated. This is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the amount of work and labor that Native people have done in Seattle, and will continue to do, in the arts and in all areas.

Echo-Hawk: If there is anything that anybody gets out of this show, and you’re not a Native person, or a person of color, it is to question your positionality in this stuff. I’m trying to make clear what position people are holding in these spaces — where they are on this land, what they are doing here, and what that really means. I have also been thinking about names for follow-up shows, because we are thinking of doing more, and one is ‘You Don’t Have To Go Home, But You Could.’ I really want people to think about that and to question it.

You Don’t Have To Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here is presented this Fri., June 8, and will be accompanied by traditional sage and smoke. Get your tickets here.