Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer take on the courts in this satirical play

A mischievous fable on the nuances of land claims

0
968
A curved stage featuring a dead forest set design in the background. In the spotlight, from stage right: a woman in a white power suit, a bald man with a neck brace, the Little Red Warrior dressed like a lumberjack, and a judge
Little Red Warrior at The Cultch’s York Theatre. PHOTO: Emily Cooper

By: Meera Eragoda, Editor-in-Chief

Content warning: mention of sexual harassment in the fourth to last paragraph.

Full of dance offs, wit, slo-mo, and a never ending commentary on land claims, Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer is a satire that brings out the deep absurdity of the colonial legal system. 

Little Red Warrior is the last of the Little Red Warrior First Nation. Played by Sam Bob (traditional name Tulkweemult) of Snaw-Naw-As First Nation, Little Red becomes enraged when he discovers industry on his lands. Uttering the words “Little Red smash,” he hits an engineer in the back of the head and ends up in jail. Court-appointed lawyer, Larry (Shekhar Paleja) realizes Little Red might have a land claim and capitalizes on the opportunity, inviting Little Red to stay with him. 

Written and directed by Kevin Loring of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, the play is based on Nlaka’pamux story traditions. Specifically, that of Trickster snk̓ y̓ép or Coyote. In the director’s note, Loring explains in Nlaka’pamux culture, the Coyote “embodies the worst of human character.

“Yet no character in this play is named Coyote or snk̓ y̓ép; rather, the Trickster is the universe of this play. Transformation is possible, nothing is certain, and everyone is suspect. In Trickster Stories, no one walks away unscathed.”

Little Red Warrior is indeed imbued with characters with shifting morals and plot points where moments of hope and revelation are twisted. Larry starts out as a greedy lawyer, turning environmentalist by the end of the play and fighting hardest against Indigenous-led industry efforts. And Larry’s wife, Desdemona (Luisa Jojic), is the perfect encapsulation of a problematic white woman, complete with appropriation and fetishization. 

Meanwhile Little Red, initially fighting for his land, sells out to oil companies, much to the chagrin of his ancestors. The play points out the hypocrisy inherent in all these characters, commenting on land claims and the problems with convenient allyship and white environmentalism, among others.

Little Red’s court case is punted through different levels, decided through dance offs, references to status-quo-upholding precedents, and a special appearance by a pole dancing Queen Elizabeth II. The whole thing seems like a farce because it is. The humour — which may not be for everyone — is at times witty, crass (I could have done without the prison rape jokes), slapstick, and very dramatized. Life imitates art, and this play showcases the ineffectiveness of long court cases, lawyers exploiting land claims through money, and Indigenous peoples needing to reveal trauma to settlers in the court system and beyond.

As Loring states in the director’s note, “The Trickster behaves in ways counter to the Customs and Beliefs of the people.” But rather than simply antagonizing him, this story encourages individuals not to follow the Trickster. Instead, Loring encourages the audience “to enjoy and understand his faults in relation to their Values and Laws.” The moral is clear: no one should be aspiring to become these characters.

Though Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer has wrapped up its Vancouver dates, Loring has published Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer: A Trickster Land Claim Fable, available through Talonbooks. Additionally, The Cultch has a number of other plays to check out through the end of March.