Deanna StandingCloud: Rebuilder, Trailblazer

Cohort 10 Rebuilder Deanna StandingCloud (Red Lake Nation) is a Rebuilder and a trailblazer. As an actor and playwright, she’s making a difference in the Native theater space. Deanna also recently served as the first female emcee for the Leech Lake Labor Day Powwow. We sat down with her to find out more about what motivates and inspires her work.

Native Governance Center: Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.

Deanna StandingCloud: I grew up in Minneapolis in the American Indian community, really close to Franklin Avenue and right next door to Center School, which is one of our historic survival schools. I was always in the community. I had connections to Red Lake in some ways ways—visiting family—but I didn’t really know about being a citizen or what sovereignty was until later. I have two children, and they’re both also enrolled in Red Lake, which is awesome.

A image showing a Native mural that reads "I see generations"

Nation building and Native theater

NGC: What linkages do you see, if any, between your work as a playwright/actor and nation building?

DS: I was able to visit Standing Rock when everything was going down over there and perform. I was there only a little over 24 hours, but it opened my eyes. I remember some women from the Mohawk Nation, they stopped and talked with us about storytelling and theater. And they said, I had a dream that this is how we would tell our stories to our communities in the future. And this is what is going to bring our people back to the stories. And that always stuck with me. Because storytelling is such an intricate part of being Indigenous, theater is so natural. And nation building can look so many different ways, including like theater. With New Native Theatre, the company that I’ve been involved with, we don’t write stories to educate white people. We write stories from our experience so that Native people can just feel at home. We don’t try to explain ourselves. We’re just telling our own stories. Nation building, in that way, can definitely be expressed in theater.

NGC: Is there anything else you want to add about why it’s so important to have Native-led theater?

DS: For myself, I’ve been a playwright, I’ve been a stage director, I’ve been a general manager, and I’ve been an actor. And throughout every responsibility, there’s always some healing that happens. All the stuff that happens in our communities that we don’t really talk about. But to bring it out, to get rid of it, and to be able to process it so we can do nation building. And tackle those bigger things.

Paving the way for female powwow emcees

NGC: Let’s talk about the Leech Lake Labor Day Powwow. How did you feel serving as the first female emcee?

DS: It was crazy because I’ve done smaller, 100-person school powwows. And there was a call out from Leech Lake for female emcees. I actually sent them a video with a clip I did for a Minneapolis Institute of Art project. I don’t have an emcee portfolio or anything. I didn’t hear back for about a month. And they finally asked. At first, I thought, no. It’s daunting when you think about how many people are out there. Your voice is what they hear. It’s kind of scary. So, I thought, no, but I cannot pass this up. Because this would be such a pivotal moment, not only in my career, but also so that other women can see that there are female emcees. I knew that I had to do it, not only for myself but for women in general. I took it one step at a time. I used a lot of my medicines. It was actually not that easy. But I just pushed through. People would come up and offer gifts and words of encouragement. And shaking my hand. That truly, I think, got me through everything.

Reflections on ten years of Rebuilders

NGC: We’re in the tenth year of the Rebuilders program. Can you speak to the impact, if any, that the program has had on your own leadership journey? What impact do you hope that it has on others during the next ten years?

DS: The way the program is framed is really appealing to me because it’s asset-based. The program says, let’s build ourselves up. We have these assets in place. We have all of these things. We have our culture. Let’s build on that instead of the deficit model. We all already know about all of the statistics. Within the next ten years, the younger people will start to be able to take these opportunities. I’m at this perfect place where I’m able to mentor and also get mentored as well. I just want to invest in whoever is a part of the program in the next ten years. People are wanting to make a change in every community, so I think it’s just going to grow.