Monologue to tell tale of Standing Bear, tribes
By Travis Coleman,
Sioux City Journal staff writer
Four years ago, Christopher Cartmill was no more than a curious outsider interested in the tales of Nebraska's American Indian tribes. Now, he's being trusted with telling the story of its members and one of its most heralded chiefs.
That transformation is documented in "The Nebraska Dispatches," a monologue based on journal entries Cartmill wrote while researching a play he was set to write on Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.
Standing Bear successfully argued in U.S. District Court in Omaha that an American Indian is a "person" deserving of certain rights. The decision allowed the Poncas to return to their land in modern day Knox County, Neb., that had been previously taken from them by the federal government.
But before he could write that play, Cartmill said he needed to learn more about the area's tribes, which led him to Renee New Holy, an Omaha tribal member from Macy, Neb.
"I felt that it was vital," said Cartmill, a playwright originally from Lincoln, Neb.
But after first meeting on the Omaha Indian Reservation, New Holy questioned why Cartmill, a non-Indian, would be interested in the stories of Standing Bear and other tribal people.
"(I told him) to tell this story, you have to understand what we've been through as Native people," New Holy said. "I saw myself as a gatekeeper. If you make it past me, you may have a chance to do something pretty awesome."
Cartmill wanted to write about the "powerful" story of Standing Bear's desire to go home, Cartmill said. But "Dispatches" details the changes he and New Holy went through in the year they spent together, also featuring the "bad use of cowboy boots and a very small car," Cartmill said.
"I was pretty ill prepared for the journey," Cartmill said.
"The Nebraska Dispatches" can be seen for free at 4:30 p.m. today at Valentine Parker Jr. Center in Macy. Following the performance, New Holy is set to perform a poem on American Indian youth suicide.
"Dispatches" is the first of three plays, with the last two using actors to tell Standing Bear's story. Those performances are set to be performed in the Omaha and Ponca tribal languages, Cartmill said. Cartmill has performed "Dispatches" in Lincoln and shows are planed in New York City later this year.
While those plays are still in production, the lessons Cartmill learned on American Indian life over the past year continue.
"It will never be done now," Cartmill said. "It's too much a part of my life."