Ponka Nation Festival to Read Play Based on Seminal Civil Rights Case
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will present a free staged reading of Waaxe’s Law, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s historical reenactment of one of the most astonishing cases in this history of American civil rights, on Friday, October 7, at 7.30 p.m.
In the actual 1879 case, United States ex rel Standing Bear v. Crook, 25 F. Cas.695 (D. Neb.), a Federal judge ruled that a Native American was a full person, with all the rights implied by that term. The lawsuit grew out of the Federal government’s effort to remove the Ponca tribe of Nebraska from their ancestral homes. Tribal leaders signed an agreement to move which they believed would assure their relocation to a reservation already established near Omaha. In fact, the agreement removed them to unsettled territory in Oklahoma.
The Indian Agent removed some of the Poncas to the Oklahoma territory (others refused to go when they discovered what the agreement actually provided), but failed to supply them with the necessary farming implements required by the agreement. A third of the removed tribe starved to death, and the remainder travelled to the Omaha reservation. The government sought to move them back to Oklahoma, and the Federal lawsuit followed.
Standing Bear was one of the Ponca chiefs. Although his command of English was unsteady, he delivered a line at the trial which was startlingly reminiscent of Shylock’s famous speech in Merchant of Venice: “This hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”
The reading will feature two Native American actors familiar to DC audiences – Michael Nephew, who has appeared in productions at Arena, WSC Avant Bard and the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and Jonathan Wilhoft, a reader and scholar with Georgetown University and Folger Shakespeare Library.
Waaxe’s Law, which is being co-produced by the Great Plains Theater Conference, Metropolitan Community College, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Museum, is part of a two-day festival, “We Are a People: The Ponca Journey” at the museum beginning Friday, Oct 7th, which will feature music, dance, panel discussions and the film premiere of “Standing Bear’s Footsteps.”
Reservations are recommended for the free reading of Waaxe’s Law. Call 202-633-7020 or email here. (The Smithsonian adds that a reservation does not ensure a seat; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Limited walk-up seats available on the day of the show.)
The National Museum of the American Indian is located at 4th Street SW and Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC. General information, call 202-633-1000.
For a downloadable guide to “We Are a People; The Ponca Journey”, click here.