Two years in the past, the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States held a listening to on the homicide and disappearance of Native girls. Native girls are murdered on reservations at a price ten instances the nationwide common; there have been greater than 5 thousand reported circumstances of lacking Native girls in 2016 alone, and many extra circumstances go unreported. Among the witnesses at the hearing was Mary Kathryn Nagle, the authorized counsel for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Nagle, in her testimony, famous that tribal nations don’t have authorized jurisdiction over non-Natives who commit crimes on reservations. This is one in all the causes, she mentioned, that those that assault or homicide Native girls are so not often caught and prosecuted. The Supreme Court revoked that jurisdiction in 1978; it was restored, in 2013, by a brand new provision in the Violence Against Women Act, which was reauthorized that 12 months. But funding for VAWA had expired in February, 2019, and Nagle urged that or not it’s swiftly reauthorized. Later, the subcommittee’s rating Republican, Paul Cook, famous the presence in the room of Wilson Pipestem, of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, and mentioned that he’d as soon as seen Pipestem in a play that had introduced dwelling for him the significance of VAWA for Native peoples. The chair of the subcommittee then slipped a chunk of paper in entrance of Cook, who lifted it as much as learn it above his glasses. He turned to Nagle. “Oh!” he mentioned. “I just found out you wrote the play.”
Nagle is one in all the main legal professionals in the United States advocating for tribal sovereignty—and additionally one in all the nation’s most-produced Native playwrights. Her briefs have been cited in Supreme Court arguments, and her performs have been carried out at main regional theatres throughout the U.S. The play that Cook noticed was “Sliver of a Full Moon,” which interweaves testimony from Native girls abused by non-Native males with an account of the authorized battle to reauthorize VAWA. The play was staged at Joe’s Pub, in New York, and later at the legislation colleges of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. (Cook had seen a manufacturing in Cherokee, North Carolina, in 2015.)
A month after the listening to, the House voted to reauthorize VAWA. Senate Republicans then blocked a vote on reauthorization. A new version of the invoice was launched by the Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, however it stripped away the jurisdiction for tribal courts. “Ernst’s bill is based on the assumption that the protections for Native victims in VAWA 2013 must be rolled back because tribal courts are not capable of fairly administering justice,” Nagle mentioned, in a statement issued by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, calling these “paternalistic restrictions” a “disguise for prejudice.” Joe Biden, who sponsored the unique VAWA in 1994, promised to make its reauthorization, with tribal jurisdiction, a precedence for his first hundred days as President. On March 17th, the House handed a brand new such model of the invoice, with twenty-nine Republicans becoming a member of each Democrat in the chamber in assist. The invoice’s destiny in the deadlocked Senate is unsure.
Nagle believes that restoring tribal sovereignty will depend on beating again degrading stereotypes that prop up discriminatory authorized frameworks, and that the theatre is one place the place that combat must occur. “Most people have never seen an authentic Native person portrayed onstage,” she instructed me. “The more we become humans that non-Natives have to interact with, the more difficult it becomes to justify a legal narrative that dehumanizes us.” She factors to particular moments when the prejudice evident in American tradition knowledgeable legal guidelines that deprived Native individuals. The 1978 Supreme Court choice beneath dialogue at the subcommittee listening to, as an example, relied on an 1823 precedent that dominated Native Americans couldn’t train sovereignty as a result of they have been “savages”—a ruling that paralleled the rise of redface efficiency in the age of Andrew Jackson. In Nagle’s performs, on the different hand, Native actors painting advanced protagonists confronting injustices each historic and up to date. “If Arthur Miller had gone to law school, and also knew the true story of the lands we stand on, that would be Mary Kathryn,” Madeline Sayet, who runs the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, and is a member of Mohegan Nation, instructed me. But difficult prejudice in American theatre, Nagle has discovered, is, in some methods, no simpler than difficult it in American legislation.
Nagle is in her late thirties. When she was a younger woman, in Missouri, she appreciated to fake that she was Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” “I had a little basket with a dog that I would carry around, and I would sing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ and people had to call me Dorothy,” she instructed me, over lunch, at a brewpub in Portland, Oregon. “If they called me Mary Kathryn, I wouldn’t respond.” When we met, in 2019, she had simply attended the first rehearsals for her play “Crossing Mnisose,” a fee from Portland Center Stage, which tells parallel tales about Sacajawea as a younger Shoshone girl, main Lewis and Clark throughout the Mnisose—which European explorers renamed the Missouri—and younger Standing Rock protesters opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline alongside the identical river, two centuries later. Two days earlier than, she’d taken a red-eye to Washington, D.C., to talk at a Smithsonian symposium on violence towards Native girls. She’d simply flown again that morning. In the interim, she had extensively rewritten the play. “I’m severely sleep-deprived, so my brain isn’t functioning,” she mentioned, chopping into an elk burger. “I haven’t eaten since 3 A.M.” Then she gave me an impromptu twenty-minute lecture on misrepresentations of Sacajawea and her connection to the protests on the Missouri River.
Nagle acquired the fee from Portland Center Stage in 2016. She had change into pissed off by the historic narrative that had been constructed round Sacajawea, which insisted, as Nagle put it, that “Sacajawea’s life was so hard because Native men are so violent. True,” Nagle went on, “she was kidnapped when she was ten by a Hidatsa raid. She was Shoshone.” But then, Nagle identified, a French fur dealer, Charbonneau, bought her. “It’s documented in Lewis and Clark’s journals that he beat her,” Nagle mentioned. “For two white men in 1804 to document that, it must have been very grotesque. And we know from Native oral histories that men with Lewis and Clark were raping Native women,” she added. “So, I’m, like, ‘Right, I’m writing about Sacajawea.’ ”
Nagle discovered a replica of Lewis and Clark’s journals and started interviewing descendants of Sacajawea. Then she received a name from a former roommate, Jodi Archambault, who instructed Nagle that her brother Dave Archambault, then chairman of the Standing Rock Tribal Council, had been arrested, and wanted assist. Nagle went to Standing Rock. “Where that fight at Standing Rock happened is where Lewis and Clark came up the river,” Nagle instructed me. “The Army Corps of Engineers that approved the pipeline is the subsequent entity for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. So, to me, the parallels were obvious when I was there in person.” In addition to writing “Crossing Mnisose,” Nagle filed an amicus transient in Standing Rock’s case towards Dakota Access in federal district courtroom, arguing that the Army Corps’s evaluation of the penalties of constructing the pipeline had did not correctly consider its results on the public curiosity. The Army, Nagle contended, had not thought-about the elevated charges of violence towards Native girls that might stem from the transient “man camps” assembled for pipeline labor, exacerbated by the authorized loophole that stops tribes from prosecuting non-Natives. The remaining part of her transient was titled “Increasing Violence Against Native Women is Not in the ‘Public Interest.’ ” (As she famous in her House testimony, the physique of 1 lacking girl from a reservation in North Dakota, Olivia Lone Bear, was discovered in 2018 in Lake Sakakawea. In March, 2020, a federal choose halted the pipeline and ordered the Army Corps to redo its environmental evaluation.)
“I don’t know how much sleep she gets a night,” Crystal Echo Hawk, a pal of Nagle’s who runs #IllumiNative, a corporation that goals to extend Native visibility, instructed me. “She goes into the zone on her little laptop, and you never know if she’s working on a legal brief or a play.”
Nagle determined she needed to change into a lawyer when she was in the first grade. Her grandmother had instructed her that Nagle’s great-great-great-grandfather John Ridge was the one in all the nation’s first Native attorneys. Ridge helped the Cherokee Nation win a Supreme Court case upholding its jurisdiction, in 1832. But Andrew Jackson refused to implement the choice, and Ridge, going through the lack of Cherokee lands, signed a treaty to relocate the nation from Georgia to what’s now Oklahoma. The nation was pressured onto the Trail of Tears, and one other Cherokee faction assassinated Ridge and his father as traitors. In 2015, Nagle wrote a play, “Sovereignty,” which intercuts Ridge’s story with that of a twenty-first-century Cherokee lawyer who’s abused by her non-Native husband, and who argues a case earlier than the Supreme Court to uphold the tribal jurisdiction that Jackson was devoted to destroying.. “Everyone in my family has desecrated Andrew Jackson’s grave except me,” Nagle instructed me. “My grandma spit on it. My sister peed on it.” Later, she added, “Well, I guess I did it in ‘Sovereignty.’ ” In 2018, “Sovereignty” turned the first play by a Native author to be carried out at Arena Stage, in Washington, D.C. After performances started, she acquired a be aware, in a sublime envelope, commending her on the present, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Ginsburg was the second Supreme Court Justice to laud Nagle’s theatrical work: in 2011, a studying of one in all her performs at the Smithsonian was launched by Sonia Sotomayor.)
Nagle wrote her first performs as an undergraduate at Georgetown, the place she majored in peace and justice research, and acted in scholar productions. One of the performs she carried out in was “Cloud 9,” by Caryl Churchill, in which the identical forged portrays a rigidly patriarchal household at the top of British imperialism in the first act and, in the second, the descendants of that household, in sexually fluid, post-colonial London, a century later. “There was an artistic statement in her doubling that you can only do in theatre,” Nagle instructed me. “There’s something about watching a live, human actor go from one character to another.” This method has change into an indicator of Nagle’s type: her performs overlay the previous and the current to disclose patterns that persist. In “Crossing Mnisose,” Sacajawea doubles as Carey, a Standing Rock activist who questions the reliability of Lewis and Clark’s journals. Lewis, scouting commerce routes for the Corps of Discovery, turns into the colonel working the Army Corps of Engineers, securing the Mnisose River for the oil pipeline.
After school, Nagle studied environmental legislation at Tulane, and clerked in federal courts earlier than changing into an legal professional for Quinn Emanuel, a white-shoe agency in Manhattan. She continued writing performs, however she didn’t think about her craft as way more than a passion at the time. Then, in 2011, the National Museum of the American Indian held a staged studying of Nagle’s play “Waaxe’s Law,” about Chief Standing Bear, a Ponca chief who was a part of the courtroom case that first acknowledged Native Americans as individuals beneath federal legislation. Wilson Pipestem, who has his personal legislation agency in Oklahoma, which advocates for tribal rights, noticed a staging of the play in 2012, and approached Nagle about it. “I have blood relatives who are Ponca, and I asked her what the basis was for her writing about Chief Standing Bear,” he instructed me. “She said that some of the play came directly from transcripts of his actual trial. I was amazed.” He invited her to affix his agency, the place she is now a associate.
That identical 12 months, Nagle acquired a fellowship to be a part of the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theatre, in New York. She spent a part of her time there workshopping “Manahatta,” a chronicle of land fraud towards the Lenape individuals by Dutch colonists in the seventeenth century and Lehman Brothers in the twenty-first. One actor performs Jane Snake, a monetary analyst newly employed on Wall Street, and additionally Le-le-wa’-you, a Lenape fur dealer; one other portrays a chief of mortgage-backed securities at Lehman Brothers and additionally the head of the Dutch West India Company, bent on turning communal, matrilineal land into personal property. The Public Theatre staged a workshop efficiency of the play in 2014. At the time, Nagle was near giving up on getting produced. “Theatres didn’t know how to read scripts about Native people,” Nagle instructed me. “They don’t know how to judge what’s authentic or what’s not. All they know is what they’ve seen in Western movies or on the back of a football jersey.” Ned Blackhawk, a Western Shoshone professor of historical past at Yale, took a gaggle of scholars to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre to see a staged studying of “Sliver of a Full Moon” later that 12 months. Afterward, he recalled, he approached Nagle. “I told her, ‘I would like to work with you and bring this to Yale.’ She said, ‘I’m done doing these plays!’ She was sitting there with a knee injury on crutches in New York, having had to find funding and run a production of a bunch of people in a city where most of them didn’t live. The logistical challenge of running a mobile theatre was kind of killing her.” Blackhawk subsequently created the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program to assist the work of Native playwrights. It launched in 2015, with Nagle as its govt director.
Two years later, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one in all the nation’s largest repertory theatres, introduced that it could produce “Manahatta” in its 2018 season. But having access to big-budget theatres introduced its personal challenges. The preliminary set design at O.S.F. had Lenape characters posed in a seventeenth-century diorama. Nagle “was triggered by it,” Laurie Woolery, the play’s director, who restaged it at Yale Rep final 12 months, instructed me. “She said, ‘I don’t want to see another play where we’re reduced to a diorama.’ So we scrapped the design.”
At Portland Center Stage, Lauren Cordova was introduced on as a Shoshone cultural guide for Sacagawea’s story, and Suzanne Blue Star Boy was employed as a Dakota guide for the Standing Rock narrative. “If you want to tell a Native story,” Cordova, who’s Shoshone-Bannock and Taos Pueblo, instructed me, “consult some Native folks who are from the same tribe or Nation as your characters.” She and Nagle shared a joke a few remark posted, by a non-Native, under a video of the Standing Rock protests, about how “the sacred winds are blowing,” Cordova recalled. “Neither of us knew what that was supposed to mean!” Mocking non-Native stereotypes about indigenous individuals is a dependable supply of humor in Nagle’s performs. At the rehearsal desk for “Crossing Mnisose,” one in all the non-Native actors dangled a purple feather from a keychain. “This is my spirit feather,” he joked. Nagle added, “From a purple eagle!” “Its name was Fruit Loop,” the actor Robert I. Mesa, who’s Navajo and Soboba, mentioned solemnly.
One of the most-produced plays by a Native playwright in latest years is “The Thanksgiving Play,” by Larissa FastHorse, of the Sicangu Lakota Nation. It’s a satire of white liberals making an attempt to create a culturally delicate college pageant about the first Thanksgiving. The punch line: to be really respectful, they determine, they’ll’t embody any Native Americans. The meta-joke is that the “The Thanksgiving Play” doesn’t embody any Native characters, both. FastHorse was uninterested in theatres telling her that they couldn’t discover Native actors for her performs, so she wrote one which anyone might produce. It labored.
Combatting Native erasure is a vital mission for Nagle. At the finish of “Manahatta,” Jane Snake says, “We are still here.” In the theatre, the line has a double resonance. The Lenape haven’t been worn out from the continent, regardless of centuries of genocide and colonialism, and they’re bodily current, onstage, at that second.
Reviewing “Sovereignty” for the Washington Post, the critic Peter Marks wrote that, whereas his two hours in the theatre “did not feel misspent,” the expertise had “less to do with aesthetics than edification.” The play, he added, “might have felt much lighter had the playwright not believed she had so much explaining to do.” Nagle regards this as a blinkered perspective on her work. “My plays are educational because we’ve been erased,” she instructed me. “By sharing our stories, we’re educating a non-Native audience. A lot of white male critics think they’re supposed to go to the theatre and not learn anything but be entertained. And as soon as they start learning something, then it’s educational—it’s not art.”
When “Sovereignty” was staged at Marin Theatre Company, in the fall of 2019, Nagle received in a public debate with the critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Lily Janiak. Janiak had referred to as the play’s characters “two-dimensional,” and described a few of their actions as “arbitrarily imposed by a playwright’s conceit instead of emerging from how real people would actually act.” In explicit, Janiak wrote, “Why would a super-smart, self-confident Cherokee woman whose whole life is dedicated to protecting the women of her tribe marry a white guy whose anti-Indian prejudice needs only a few drinks and a nudge to come to the surface?” Nagle wrote a prolonged response, arguing that Janiak’s interpretation revealed a wide range of prejudices—intelligence doesn’t save girls from abusive relationships, she famous, and anti-Indian bigotry is usually, as in the case of this character, a way of wielding energy and asserting management above all. “Writing his behavior off as a blatant ‘anti-Indian’ prejudice exposed by a few drinks of alcohol misses the entire reason so many of our Native women are raped, are murdered, or go missing: many non-Indian men have discovered the legal loophole, and they use it,” Nagle wrote. (In a later column, responding to criticism from Nagle and others, Janiak wrote that “arts criticism is a two-way street,” and that she depends “on artists and readers to tell me when they think my work has missed the mark.”)
Nagle typically says that she walks in the footsteps of earlier generations of Native playwrights: N. Scott Momaday, who’s Kiowa; William Yellow Robe, who’s Assiniboine; and Lynn Riggs, who was Cherokee, and whose play “Green Grow the Lilacs” could also be the solely work by a Native playwright to be produced on Broadway, in 1931. (Rodgers and Hammerstein later tailored it, although not without erasures of their own, into the musical “Oklahoma!”) And she instructed me that she attracts power from the different Native playwrights who’re rising with her, amongst them Larissa FastHorse; DeLanna Studi, who’s Cherokee; and Tara Moses, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. “Native Americans have been telling these stories for a very long time,” Nagle mentioned. “What’s different now is that non-Native theatres are letting us tell them outside our own homes.”
Last 12 months was, after all, an not possible time for American theatre, however Nagle continues to develop new performs. Shortly earlier than the pandemic, a collaboration with the Cheyenne and Hudolgee Muscogee author Suzan Shown Harjo, “Reclaiming One Star,” about the origins of the Washington N.F.L. workforce’s title, premièred at the Colorado New Play Summit. (Five months later, the workforce introduced that it could change its title.) Nagle can be engaged on a fee from Yale Repertory Theatre to adapt the Osage writer Charles Red Corn’s novel “A Pipe for February,” about the Osage murders in the nineteen-twenties, and on a brand new fee for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions history-play cycle. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival just lately has put its manufacturing of “Manahatta” on-line; it should stream till April 24th. And Nagle’s authorized advocacy has continued unabated. She submitted an amicus transient to the Supreme Court in a case debating whether or not the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation in Oklahoma existed; she argued that upholding reservation boundaries was important to defending Native girls from sexual assault. In July, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in the Nation’s favor. A number of months later, the American Bar Association hosted a digital studying of “Sliver of a Full Moon,” and Deb Haaland, then a congresswoman, joined the post-show dialogue; final month, Haaland was confirmed as the first Native Secretary of the Interior.
Nagle additionally continues to work on the marketing campaign to reauthorize VAWA. She instructed me that attending the ceremony, in 2013, the place President Barack Obama signed the reauthorization into legislation was one in all the excessive factors of her life. “Hearing the President say he was affirming the inherent right of tribal nations to protect their women on tribal land—I never in a million years thought I would hear an American President say that,” she recalled. “It was like a complete turnaround from the Andrew Jackson days.” She hopes she will get to listen to it once more earlier than lengthy.