The Rez Sisters Study Guide

The Rez Sisters

The Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway

The opening scene begins with Pelajia Patchnose nailing shingles on her roof on the fictional Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. She is joined by her sister, Philomena, with whom she discusses her longing to leave the reserve, to which Philomena receives skeptically: "But you were born here. All your poop's on this reserve". They are joined by their half sister, Annie Cook, who they treat disdainfully, and who shares the news that she is expecting a package before leaving to pick it up.

Meanwhile, Marie-Adele is playing with Zhaboonigan, while Nanabush, in the form of a seagull, watches on. This is where we first learn of Marie-Adele's (cervical?) cancer, and Veronique's insecurity about having no blood children of her own. The various tensions between the seven sisters, such as shared lovers and stolen husbands, is slowly exposed. This is also when we first hear rumors about THE BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD, a possibility which all the women are ecstatic about. Soon Annie arrives and the women march to Emily Dictionary's store to discover the details.

Once the women are gathered at the store long suffering tempers flare and the scene dissolves into the sisters tussling and exchanging verbal attacks, during which Zhabooginan wanders to the side stage and re-accounts her brutal rape by two white boys with a screwdriver to her audience, Nanabush, who is experiencing "agonizing contortions" during the retelling.

However, as soon as news of THE BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD is confirmed, the women promptly stop their squabbling and cooperatively plan how to fund the trip to Toronto in order to attend. A mad flurry of activities ensue as the women plan the trip and raise money in various ways. Once they have consolidated their efforts and funds, they set out on the drive in a borrowed van.

They encounter several diversions, a flat tire, Marie-Adele collapsing (and having another encounter with Nanabush, this time as a nighthawk), but the most notable part of the scene is the emotional stories the women exchange: Emily re-accounts witnessing her lesbian lover die in a motorcycle accident, Marie-Adele expresses her fear of dying, etc.

Finally they arrive at THE BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD, where Nanabush plays the bingo master and the audience plays along. At the end of this climatic scene, Marie-Adele dies just as the other women are losing. The play jumps back to Wasaychigan Hill, and Philomena has won $600 and got a new toilet, but otherwise things remain largely unchanged.

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