DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — A Duluth opera celebrating American Indian culture is being criticized for its failure to cast Native Americans in principal roles.

The Duluth Festival Opera’s production of “Pocahontas: A Woman of Two Worlds” opens this week. Native American opera soprano Lyz Jaakola, a member of the Fond du Lac band, says there’s no excuse for not casting American Indians.

Duluth Festival Opera director Craig Fields tells the News Tribune the auditions didn’t generate interest from American Indian opera performers. Jaakola says the casting crew didn’t try hard enough or in the right ways to attract Native Americans.

Fields says there are parts of the opera that call for only American Indian involvement and that Fond du Lac singers and drummers are involved with the production.

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Comments (18)
  1. Jake says:

    When you wade into the PC waters . . . .

    1. Tara J. Ryan, Tijer Lily Co says:

      I dare everyone on this board responding in such an utterly ignorant fashion to write a comment like this one or those below to do so about a news piece written about this Opera House if they had cast a non African-American as an African-American character or person.

      The sound of crickets, oh no wait, that would be the sound of the NAACP, the ACLU and all of REALITY raining down on why this is categorically unacceptable.

  2. oh brother says:

    In other words, the parts were supposed to come as some sort of hand out. Fields didn’t understand the concept of entitlement. He was supposed to bend over backwards until facing front, even if it meant giving a “Native American” unable to sing a note the parts. His real mistake was going anywhere near the material.

  3. jan says:

    Lots of native Americans know how to sing and very well at that. I’ll bet you’d be talking out the other side of your mouth if the play were about George Washingtono and they cast a Native American in that part.

    1. so audition already says:

      Yes. Like all human beings, Native Americans are intelligent and multi-talented.In theater actors often portray people of other ethnic backgrounds and gender.Hollywood made a mess of things however. It would not bother me one bit if a non-white performer played the part of George Washington. I understand that Native Americans are rightly hyper-sensitive about how their culture is portrayed, but I think Jaakola is engaging in overkill for attention and Fields should have stayed away from the material. Native American issues are a minefield, and good good intentions aren’t going to get anyone through it.

  4. Quit Whining says:

    Ridiculous. Let the best person get the part. Perhaps the best singer for the part just happened to not be native. Who cares. It is a play! Put your discrimination cards away.

    1. Swamp Rat says:

      Bravo! I agree. Maybe the Duluth talent pool is a bit lacking in some areas. It’s only an opera produced locally so you have to deal with the talent at hand. Enough of the PC rhetoric and ersatz propriety.

  5. mel says:

    Usually I am counter PC, but I actually think they should have made an extra effort to find a qualified Native American to play Pocahontas. I mean if no one qualified auditioned that’s one thing, there’s probably more to the story than what is being reported.

    1. Swamp Rat says:

      Good point here! What gives?

  6. Richard in Minneapolis says:

    Where was the hubbub when Denzel Washington was cast to play a Spanish prince in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”?

    Which, by the way, is an accurate description of this ‘blowup’ – much ado about nothing.

  7. RaeRae says:

    I wonder why Lyz Jaakola is so upset? She obviously knew about the auditions and obviously didn’t get the part. Tough break, better luck next time, but obviously she didn’t NOT get the part (please excuse the double negative) because of her race. Sounsd entitled and angry to me. Where’s the news story in this anyway?

  8. Duh! says:

    Did she try out and NOT get the part? Sounds to me like she wasn’t even at the auditions. i’m not a theatre director, but even i know that a person has to SHOW UP if they want the part!!

  9. Double Duh!! says:

    If you don’t agree with the casting, don’t attent the performance.

  10. Mark says:

    @mn nice
    your comment is vile and disgusting and has no place here or anywhere on the internet for that matter

  11. Chief Drives-With-Buzz says:

    hahaha… and it begins.

  12. lyz jaakola says:

    Media will focus on inflammatory issues & ignore the rest.
    1. I WAS involved in the early plans for DFO’s Pocahontas. The artistic director lied about my involvement, writing that I was a Co-Director when I had only said I’d help him find Natives. I believe he did this to make his grant application more appealing to the state arts board. He also did some other equally sneaky things, but nobody seemed to care that he lied to get the money. I gave him “an inch” and he “took a mile”, I have paperwork to prove it. Sound familiar? So I walked away before they even started.
    2. I never wanted to sing a role in Pocahontas. 1st because 3 years ago I decided I was done singing with that director. 2nd, it’s written as a “love story”! Pocahontas was a preteen when she met John Smith, & was a POW used to try to get her father to release British prisoners. She was taken back to England with other members of her family (she as a “Princess” and other women as ladies in waiting) and the rest of the “wedding party” was displayed around until they were shipped to the Caribbean and sold as female slaves. That isn’t a love story, it’s violence against women which set precedence for the rest of history as we know it. Native women are still victimized at 3.5x the rate of any other demographic in the US & Canada.
    3. I’m an Anishinaabe tribal member but I also have mixed heritage that I am proud of. To imply that I am a racist is ridiculous. Most of the 10s of 1000s of people that I have taught, consulted with, performed for, or otherwise know would argue on my behalf in that regard. I am an advocate for all peoples as they try to tell their own stories amidst the oceans of half-truths and outright lies in regard to the genocidal history of how America began. I teach college music & American Indian Studies. Every semester I have students of many American subcultures who know NOTHING about Native peoples!! Some are even surprised that we are still alive! I believe that it is due to the fact that “romanticized” art, literature, & music perpetuates the mainstream culture’s desire to remain ignorant to the atrocities Native peoples faced and continue to face today.
    When peoples aren’t empowered to tell their own stories, this is the kind of thing that happens. In fact, it’s rather “convenient” for the dominant society to say “They can’t tell their story so we are going to tell it for them” That’s oppression at a fundamental level. If Pocahontas’ people wanted to do an opera, they would. And arts boards should give them the money to do so, instead of giving the money to someone else to “speak for them”
    Lastly, There are few Native opera singers, yes. And if I ever get $100k to do an opera with Native characters, you can be damn sure I’m going to bend over backwards to recruit each one of them.