Jonathan Thompson, senior manager of media relations
NEWSEUM PRESENTS STAGED READING OF ‘WAAXE’S LAW’
Performance will feature dramatic retelling of the first federal court decision to declare Native Americans to be “persons” under the law
WASHINGTON — The Newseum will host a performance of “Waaxe’s Law” in the museum’s Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, at 7:30 p.m.
In 1879, a Ponca Indian chief stood up, extended his hand, and made one of the greatest arguments for equality under the law in the history of the United States. Chief Standing Bear demanded that a federal court afford him the same rights as whites under the law, despite the fact that his skin was a different color.
Cherokee playwright and attorney Mary Kathryn Nagle wrote “Waaxe’s Law,” a play that tells the story of the forced removal of the Ponca tribe to present-day Oklahoma and Chief Standing Bear’s subsequent journey for justice — a journey that resulted in the first federal court decision declaring Indians to be “persons” under the law. Although Chief Standing Bear won his fight for equality in 1879 — a full 75 years before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education — very few Americans know of his story or the freedoms he won for Native Americans.
“The Ponca tribe of Nebraska would not be where we are today if it was not for Chief Standing Bear; in fact, we may not even exist if it were not for this great chief. ‘Waaxe’s Law’ is more than a play; it is a part of our tribe’s history,” says Rebecca White, chairwoman, Ponca tribe of Nebraska.
Oliver Littlecook, member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma’s Tribal Council, adds, “To the Ponca people, the story of Chief Standing Bear is one of courage and sacrifice: the courage to fulfill a commitment against all odds and adversity, and the sacrifice of your own life in the pursuit of what you believe.”
The performance features a cast of 13 performers, including the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma’s honored elder, Louis Headman, who reads the part of Chief Standing Bear. Headman’s grandmother, Virginia (Big Soldier) Headman, survived the Ponca’s forced removal in 1877, when the government made the Ponca leave Nebraska and walk 600 miles to what is now Oklahoma. Today, Headman is one of only four individuals who speak the Ponca language fluently, and he has dedicated his life to the preservation of his language and the culture of his people.
“We are honored to present ‘Waaxe’s Law’ at the Newseum,” Nagle says. “Chief Standing Bear did for Native Americans what Martin Luther King Jr. did for African Americans, and being invited to present this story at the Newseum is a significant step towards ensuring that all Americans will come to appreciate Standing Bear’s legacy.”
Nagle first wrote “Waaxe’s Law” years ago when it was presented at the United States District Courthouse in Omaha, Neb., on the 130th anniversary of Judge Elmer Dundy’s seminal ruling. Since then, Omaha’s Great Plains Theatre Conference, produced by Metropolitan Community College, has worked to develop the play into the success that it is now.
Mary Kathryn Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been performed in New Orleans, Oklahoma, Omaha, Washington and New York. She is currently a writer in the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater in New York, where she also works in litigation at a national law firm. Her article “Standing Bear v. Crook: The Case for Equality under Waaxe’s Law” was recently published by the Creighton University Law Review.
About the Newseum
The Newseum — a 250,000-square-foot museum of news and history — offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits. Within its seven levels of galleries and theaters, the Newseum offers a unique environment that takes museum-goers behind the scenes to experience how and why news is made. The Newseum ranks as one of the top attractions in Washington, D.C., and more than 3 million people have visited since it opened in 2008. For more information visit newseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
About Metropolitan Community College and the Great Plains Theatre Conference
Great Plains Theatre Conference, presented by Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Neb., is entering its eighth year providing a collaborative environment for playwrights to develop their craft and create new work. Metropolitan Community College, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, is a comprehensive, public community college. Founded in 1974, MCC serves more than 50,000 students annually. In addition to academic offerings, Metropolitan Community College’s mission is carried out through high-quality artistic events like the Great Plains Theatre Conference. For more information visit www.mccneb.edu/gptc or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.