Isabella Madrigal of Temecula, a member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians, and senior at Orange County School of the Arts and enrolled in the Acting Conservatory, was recently one of 10 girls chosen nationally to receive the National Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of America.
She was chosen for the prestigious award for having written, directed and performed a play about indigenous women who have gone missing or were killed.
“Menil and Her Heart” incorporates traditional Cahuilla stories woven into the contemporary issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.
“Initially I thought that it would kind of be about the lack of native representation in the arts,” Madrigal said. “I go to a performing arts high school and I’m in the acting conservatory, so I do a lot of theater and I was just kind of noticing that there’s not a lot of indigenous roles and not a lot of indigenous perspectives coming out in the types of pieces and the material available.
“That’s largely because there’s not a lot of indigenous writers and stuff,” she said. “That’s kind of where this idea of a play came to be. But as the project kind of evolved, I realized, you know, it’s not just enough to see a native face in the media because the defining, you know, cultural stories are also missing from the national narrative.”
Madrigal said as a storyteller herself, she has embraced the revitalization of the movement by the indigenous community to bring back the songs and stories that are close to disappearing.
“So, I kind of started researching and remembering these traditional stories,” she said. “And I ended up selecting Cahuilla stories and that’s the tribe that I’m enrolled in. There were about four of them. And you know what I found as I was reading them as they really inspired the play but also that they all kind of connected to this larger theme of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. And that’s when the play really took shape and identified the issue – social justice through theater. From there it was the journey of something that’s incredibly personal to me, the missing and murdered. Also, how do we heal as a community?”
Madrigal received a $5,000 scholarship to produce the play and has since performed it at the Indian Child Welfare Act Conference at Pala Casino and several schools and locations in Southern California. She has received another grant which means she will continue performing it this year.
“This issue of missing and murdered indigenous women is really kind of gaining momentum right now with the protests that are going on, it’s largely from within the indigenous community,” Madrigal said. “But what’s great is that there are allies that are bringing this issue forward and acknowledging it for the first time.”
The Girl Scout award is given to high school-aged scouts who demonstrate leadership in developing solutions to local, national or global issues. She recently did that on a global scale.
“I recently spoke at the United Nations and I was able to bring the play, but also the call for global legislation for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls,” Madrigal said. “I think artists such have such an incredible way to bring about change. And I think especially theater and community theater.”
Winning the award has afforded her more opportunity to share her story, she said.
“What’s really great about that is it gives you kind of the national platform, this truly national place to share your story,” Madrigal said. “So what’s been incredibly phenomenal is that I’ve gotten to meet these other girls who are doing such great work in their community and the allies that are empowering them.”