When Robin Sigo was around six years old, she watched the Disney movie version of Peter Pan, and fell in love with Tiger Lily.
“She was the first Native American character I ever saw on TV,” said Sigo, who is a member of the Suquamish Tribe. “And she was such a badass.”
But while the princess Tiger Lily was beautiful, smart, and courageous, other Native American characters in the 1953 film were not, Sigo saw. Tiger Lily’s father, for example, “Big Chief,” was depicted using canned, racist stereotypes.
“They made him stoic and unreasonable with a big red nose. It was very conflicting” watching the movie, she said.
When Sigo, now 42, got wind that her daughters’ theater troupe – the Kitsap Children’s Musical Theatre – would be putting on the stage musical version of “Peter Pan” this fall, she said she was uneasy.
“I immediately emailed [executive director Kerby Criss] and said, ‘Uh, what?,” Sigo said. “Help me. I want to understand what we’re doing.”
Criss told Sigo, “Tell me what you guys want to do. I’m open to all sorts of suggestions,” Sigo related.
Sigo thought it would be difficult to address negative stereotypes of indigenous people.
“It takes courage to challenge the narrative,” she said.
Sigo and Criss discussed their options. Their first idea was to remove depictions of Native Americans altogether.
“It would be easier to eliminate it, because that just avoids controversy altogether,” Sigo explained, speaking to a group of teenage cast members at an event at the Suquamish Tribe Youth Center over the weekend.
“But the more we thought about it, the more we wanted to use it as a chance to share our culture and talk about how KCMT adapts to the community that we’re a part of.”
With the help of Sigo and other Suquamish tribal members, KCMT decided to put on a slightly different version of the play – one that includes authentic, rather than stereotypical, depictions of the language and culture of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
At a workshop on Saturday, the cast learned how to weave skirts using wooden looms – with tunics for the boys – in styles that are reminiscent of traditional Suquamish regalia. The garments will be used for costumes in November.
Students handled balls of yarn while listening to Sigo and Suquamish Tribe cultural co-op chair Kate Ahvakana talk about the recent history of the Suquamish people in the region.
In adapting the play, some alterations are being made. For example, a stage direction – to deliver a line in what’s called a “pompous Indian voice” – is restated to a “pompous voice.” And where some song lyrics used Native American words of unknown origin – possibly made-up – actual Lushootseed words will be used in their place.
“This is not a perfect fix, but when communities get together to collaborate, it builds knowledge, visibility and healing,” Sigo said.
Perhaps fitting, Sigo’s oldest daughter, 17-year-old Kylie Cordero, will play Tiger Lily.
Rehearsals for the play are ongoing. The show will run from November 1-18 at the North Kitsap Auditorium. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.kcmt.org.