Native News Network Staff in Entertainment. Discussion »
WASHINGTON 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.
Chief Standing Bear
Equality Under the Law
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,”
“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" three years ago when it was presented at the United States District Courthouse in Omaha, Nebraska, 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.
Performance of "Waaxe's Law"
Wednesday, December 12
Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater
Admission to the staged reading at the Newseum is free, but space is limited. For tickets and more information, www.newseum.org
posted December 5, 2012 10:20 am est