Why Australia Should Care About American Original Peoples

Posted on 3 August 2015 | No responses

People may wonder why they should care about what Rio Tinto is doing to indigenous peoples overseas. What difference does it make to us?

The world has become a very small place. Environmental damage done in one part of the world can and does affect the environmental well being of other parts of the world. That’s how global warming works. We have to see ourselves as one humanity, facing one future, affected by our acts as a species.

The damage we do to one another makes it almost impossible for us to see we are one global family. And as a family we need to cooperate in order to ensure everyone’s survival in the future—and I do mean everyone, privileged white anglo saxon males as well.

Rio Tinto has maintained various “philanthropic” programs when it comes to Australian aboriginal peoples. However, anything they do here is more likely to be seen by Australians, who can call upon the government to curb Rio Tinto behaviour. You can only behave so badly inside your own country. Other people’s countries, on the other hand, have been disgracefully pillaged by various empires since the beginning of “civilisation”. These sorts of circumstances are what brought about the rise of Mohandas Gandhi, as he worked to free India from the British Raj.

What Rio Tinto is doing to the San Carlos Apache is in contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In particular

Article 8
States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and
redress for:
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing
them of their lands, territories or resources;

Article 26
Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and
resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

Article 32
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

This UN Declaration was adopted by a majority of 143 states in favour. The deeply saddening fact is who voted against this well thought out document: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. We should be embarrassed and ashamed of our culture.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States are signatories to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and it clearly states:

Article 17.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his [sic] [recte their] property.

The San Carlos Apache are having their sacred ground in Oak Flat Arizona arbitrarily taken without recourse. Whenever anyone is being deprived of their human rights, we should be concerned. Whenever Australians are involved in the abuse of peoples here and abroad, we should be concerned. A national character that accepts abuse as a regular means of relating to people who are “other” is going to ultimately damage everyone’s world.

According to the Museum of Australian Democracy: “Australia’s system of government—its institutions and practices—reflect British and North American traditions combined in a way that is uniquely Australian.” It is important to note that US democracy was in fact modelled not so much on Grecian democracy but upon the governmental system of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy: a group including the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. Benjamin Franklin in particular was much influenced by these peoples. Whether Australians know it or not, they owe American Indians a certain debt of gratitude.

Peace and kindness,


I recently spent some time in the US. Sadly, not Oak Flat. I did have a chance to meet with the deans at Evergreen State College in Washington State.


This higher education institution has an impressive Native American Studies program and I fell in love with House of Welcome Longhouse Education and Cultural Centre.


Evergreen is an institution of education that conveys the lessons of the past to the leaders of tomorrow. Through Native American and World Indigenous Peoples Studies, Evergreen transcends the limits of education to reach out to people of all backgrounds and beliefs.

—Billy Frank, Jr. (Nisqually), former member of the Evergreen Board of Trustees

Protest on the behalf of the Apaches–Rio Tinto Head Offices, Melbourne

Posted on 7 July 2015 | No responses

Why I am protesting Rio Tinto on the behalf of the Apache:

Singing in protest with a friend. Sadly, two other friends came down with winter colds, but they have stood with me on two other days.

Thank you Andrew Phillips for coming out to film during his lunch break!

Peace and kindness,


Australia: Find Your Heart and Find Your Wisdom

Posted on 7 July 2015 | No responses

This is what we look like in Australia to the rest of the world:

From the Tucson Weekly.

Help protest Rio Tinto’s grabs of indigenous lands here and in San Carlos, Arizona.

Peace and kindness,


A Bigger Picture

Posted on 3 July 2015 | No responses

It is better to simply love, than frantically search for true love.

Better to allow life to unfold, than cling to rituals for controlling outcomes.

Better to visualise peace and sufficiency for all, than imagine Versace handbags and Ferraris for yourself.

Better to take action for a better world, than sit at home waiting for the world to come to you on a platter.

Better to join others and create change with your own heart, mind, and hands, than wait for a chosen one.

Better to share responsibility and power, than make of yourself a chosen one.

Better to show compassion, than dismiss those who are suffering as somehow deserving of their hardship.

Better to create meaning out of your life, than accept an imposed meaning.

Better to live in a complex world where compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness exist, than a simple black and white world with no mercy.

Better to live in a world of kindness and wisdom, than a reductive world of statistics.

Better to see whole human beings, than conveniently definable and useable meat robots.

Better to have the humility to acknowledge truth, than lose one’s self in stubborn religious, political, or scientific righteousness.

Better to care and to act, than to hide inside what is familiar especially when it is unjust.

Better to make friends, than to find fault with everyone and therefore refuse to care or cooperate.

Peace and kindness,


Theatre: Who Pays and Why

Posted on 3 July 2015 | No responses

Traditionally arts have always had a difficult time in gathering money for the creation of new works and the support of our artists. Main sources are governments, rich philanthropists, audiences, and extra jobs.

With governments and benefactors it always feels like begging. Funding through ticket purchases feels like a purer relationship. The problem is that until you are a known quantity, you are back to begging in order to get bums on seats. Working extra jobs gives you less time to develop skills and express your art. I know far too many actors and writers who are chronically deprived of sleep and suffer from extreme stress. The starving artist is a trope people laugh about, but if you live it…it’s absolutely miserable.

For collaborative endeavours such as theatre, the permutations of money gathering are even wider. A producer can pay for production in order to reap a percentage of the profits. A director can pay in order to ensure they get to select the work, the actors, and control the vision. The playwright can pay in order to ensure their vision is abided by one hundred percent. An actor can pay so as to have a leading role, perhaps a specific sort of leading role. A group of actors can pool money so that they have the opportunity to perform.

To a degree all these permutations are valid, provided everyone has equal access to funds and has some choice in the matter. However, we do not live in that sort of world. We live in a world where the “Golden Rule” is largely in force: those who have the gold make the rules. More than that: those who have the gold get to tell the stories.

I sat in on an event where a local playwright was discussing theatrical production. His opinion was that the playwright should pay for putting up his plays and that ethically he should only go forward with a show if he has the money to pay the actors. The actors loved hearing this, and I completely understand why. We all want to make a crust doing what we love. But the position is problematic.

This local playwright had a regular job as a highly paid lawyer. Another self-funded show I saw recently, the playwright was a fellow who was a highly paid IT professional. These white men could afford creating theatre and paying everyone. Because they are both good at what they do, the money mostly comes back. However, not all playwrights have this luxury. And to develop as a playwright, you need people willing to perform in your works from the very beginning, when you aren’t so polished and may not make your money back.

Australian Arts Minister George Brandis has cut $105 million from the arts budget and has stipulated that remaining funds must go to large traditional arts groups such as the symphony or opera. Small to medium arts endeavours are likely to disappear under this arrangement. Those that remain will be the ones where rich white men, who may or may not have any talent, can afford creating something rather than buying a Ferrari.

To be fair some of these rich white men will be on the side of a humane society. However, this means women, young people, elderly, disabled, ethnic, gay, and others who are disempowered will have little opportunity to have their own voices heard, their own worldview understood. Since the 1970s 85% of all Australian films were directed by men. The proportion of men to women screenwriters and directors has not changed much for twenty-five years, with women making up less than 20% of the market in those fields. To say to your culture’s sub-classes that they shouldn’t create theatre, if they can’t afford to pay the actors, is a cool way to knock out competition and ensure only the stories of the dominant class are given public currency while appearing righteous.

I would say what is being done by the Australian government goes further than making it difficult to create art. They are in fact doing what they can to shut down dissent. Dictatorships regularly employ this tactic in order to entrench their power. People find it easy to see art as a luxury, but artists are the people who ring the alarm bells, hold a mirror up to society, create alternatives, and engender resilience, bonding, and cooperation. Healthy societies have a healthy artistic community. If you are seeing less and less new art, local art, community art, then understand you are in a country that is self-destructing. If artists are being silenced, then you are in a country that has turned into a despotic regime.

Let’s start creating change.

Peace and kindness,


Meet the San Carlos Apache

Posted on 30 June 2015 | No responses

Get to know the people Rio Tinto are dispossessing.

Peace and kindness,


Rio Tinto Protest: Seen by Executives

Posted on 29 June 2015 | No responses

I am receiving such kind support from The Society of Friends in helping to protest Rio Tinto’s grab of Apache land. After the vigil for the First Peoples of Australia, three of us went to the Rio Tinto offices and held signs.

One gentleman came up to us and wanted to know more. I spoke at some length about what our Australian company was doing to vulnerable peoples overseas. We had a few genuine smiles and one thumbs up from passersby.

Just as we were about to wrap up, a group of executives came out of the Rio Tinto building. A couple of them individually came over to read the signs. Both just stared at us and then smirked before going back to their group, which closed in even tighter. It was odd and a bit scary. The others glanced at us until a large taxi pulled up and they all climbed inside and left.

I know of a number of stories about individuals and small groups who after standing up for what is right eventually succeeded. I also know of a number of stories where people were crushed and had to go into hiding. I have no idea how this will play out. Maybe nothing will happen…which would be sad, since we need all the many cultures that exist in this world. Not only is land being stolen, but the Apache spirit and our environmental future. I also know that I have a choice about whether or not I work toward raising people’s awareness and help to create change when it comes Rio Tinto’s mining ventures. The San Carlos Apache do not have that choice.

This planet is facing serious issues that will be threatening our ability to survive. The aboriginal peoples of this world may have insights critical to ensuring our children, grandchildren, and great-granchildren can live peaceful, sufficient, and meaningful lives. This is important to all of us no matter where we live or the colour of our skin.

Below are a couple more articles about the San Carlos Apache situation.

Apache Spring: The Fight for Oak Flat by David Zlutnick of Upheaval Productions (very moving)

The Apache Way: The March to Oak Flat By Roger Hill, Truthout

Congress Raids Ancestral Native American Lands With Defense Bill By
Michael McAuliff, Huff Post

Here is a site where you can help:

Apache Stronghold

2015-06-14 Katherine Phelps and spectators

Thank you again for the photo Lilybet!

Peace and kindness,


Acting Issues

Posted on 24 June 2015 | No responses

I have been directing people to get good comic performances for some time. Recently, I was asked to teach a course in comic acting. Acting for comedy is different from dramatic acting, and not enough attention has been focused on the distinctions. Nevertheless, I dipped back into some of my favourite standard acting books (the ones by Uta Hagen), then looked beyond to unexplored works by respected trainers.

I was disheartened by much of what I saw. A number of prominent acting techniques do not do enough to protect the emotional well-being of the actors. Worse, some techniques come off as religious cults, where people are expected to accept abusive behaviour. Here is an example from Sanford Meisner On Acting, documenting a real class Meisner held:

“Don’t do anything, never mind say anything, until something happens to make you do it. What’s the text?”
“‘Mr Meisner.'”
“Good. Turn around with your back to me please. Concentrate on the text. Don’t do anything until something happens…” Casually he reaches around her shoulder and slips his hand into her blouse.

This is unacceptable. Actors are asked to represent life, all of life, but such representation must come from informed consent, not pressure to conform. When an actor agrees to take on certain characters who are going to be experiencing traumatic events, then great care must be taken to ensure the emotional well-being of that person. This will be true in comedy as well. Actors need to remain aware of when what is being enacted is humorous only to abusers.

I decided to write a list of issues that need to be addressed when training or directing actors.

  • We need actors learning how to cooperate in order to build scenes with one another and the director.
  • We need actors to let go of their daily persona.
  • We need actors to let go of acting as a form of wish fulfillment.
  • We need actors exploring the diversity of human being.
  • We need actors exploring painful and uncomfortable emotions.
  • We need actors to be both thoughtful and spontaneous.
  • We need to create a safe space for exploration.
  • We need to be respectful of boundaries.
  • We need to ensure there is space for actors to give informed permissions for certain behaviour, and have their decisions respected.
  • We need actors practising emotional warm-ups and warm-downs to ensure their mental and emotional well-being.
  • We need to help actors and creators of all sorts to maintain their sensitivity and capacity for vulnerability, and all the creative potential that lays within these states.
  • We need to nurture the creativity of all involved in theatre-making from playwright to director to crew to actors.
  • We must keep people’s empathy, ethics, and compassion in tact every time we create art and in particular theatre.
  • We must ensure that no art devolves into a form of coercion.
  • We must demand respect for actors and crew, as well as producers, directors, and playwrights. Theatre is a collaborative art.

Actors may be a dime a dozen in the field of performance. However, they are still human beings not “cattle”. The quality of your public storytelling will only be as good as the actors you bring on board to tell that story. Those actors will only be at their best when they are respected and actively engaged as co-creators. In the fields of theatre, cinema, and television it is important for actors to maintain a good reputation as someone who is easy to work with, respectful, and cooperative, but these qualities have to go both ways.

It is time to build acting techniques that are known to be not only effective, but are humane and nurturing of the humans that are lending their personal experiences and creativity to build great theatre.

Peace and kindness,


Rio Tinto Protest: The Mistreatment of Vulnerable Peoples

Posted on 22 June 2015 | No responses

Today I spent an hour participating in the Aboriginal vigil, then walked over to Rio Tinto’s offices and spent an hour there. Two people from the silent vigil joined me. We held signs while standing on St Michael’s property and I sang one of my favourite Sharon Burch songs: “We Are Here”.

Silent vigil for Aboriginal justice 2015 January 26

We are grateful to the Uniting Church for the right to stand on their sacred land in an effort to protect someone else’s sacred land. I was nervous Rio Tinto would send security to shoo me off their footpath. On the previous Sunday a photographer friend, Lilybet, agreed to photograph my protest. We were invited into St Michael’s service. Later we were given an opportunity to speak to people publicly during tea and biscuits, at which time we were given permission to stand on their property. In the photos you will note the irony of their proximity (Rio Tinto would you take and dig up St Michael’s?)

Katherine Phelps and Dr Francis Macnab

Australians, please think about what our corporations are doing to the environment, what they are doing to our own people, and what they are doing to peoples overseas, because these are all interconnected. You have a responsibility and an opportunity to act with foresight, integrity, and compassion.

St Michael's and Rio Tinto next to each other

Peace and kindness,


A special thanks to Lilybet for the last two photos!

Here Are the Problems

Posted on 19 June 2015 | No responses

So long as we rely on a capitalist society to survive, we will have people pushing other people to consume more than they need and more than the planet can sustain.

So long as we maintain a culture of status, whereby we are endlessly jockeying for higher positions, people will find ways to disenfranchise, dehumanise, and dominate other people.

So long as we believe that fear is the strongest and best motivator, people will endlessly manipulate one another, punish one another, and ultimately alienate one another as we come to isolate ourselves out of terror.

So long as we feel the need for absolute control over our lives, we will fight to control others lives, stripping them of freedom, and work toward stamping out the natural world in order to overcome chaos and temporality.

So long as we are fearful of being manipulated we will shut down our emotions rather than learning self-awareness, self-control, and emotional maturity. Without emotions we lose our capacity for bonding and our abilities to care, cooperate, and take action to improve the state of the world.

Fear and control.
Fear and control.

These leave little room for truth, freedom, kindness, cooperation, peace, joy, and love.

We are making ourselves addicted to so many self-destructive things: hedonism, narcissism, sensationalism, fury, terror…

We must find ways to let go of these addictions. We must learn how to extend goodwill to one another and develop mature skills in cooperating and forming friendships. We have to learn how to moderate ourselves, how to care, and how to share.

We need to participate more in bonding exercises such as making music, dancing, producing theatre with groups of people. We need to play more non-competitive games together like hackey sack. We need to celebrate the seasons together without the event being about spending or excess. We need to celebrate the passages of life: birth, childhood to adulthood, adulthood to parenthood, then on to community sage.

I know what a peaceful beautiful world would look like and feel like. We already have glimpses of it now. We just need to teach one another to share the vision.

Peace and kindness,


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