Women find strength through unity

Play relives the abuse of American Indian women

The placement of North American Indian youngsters in residential boarding schools � and the abusive treatment they received there � is a part of our history that is seldom talked about.

Playwright Vera Manuel has written a dynamic drama, "Strength of Indian Women," that addresses that silence and how talking about the past, although painful, can help heal future generations.


Aaron Paden/Journal-World Photo

"Strength of Indian Women" will be performed Friday and Saturday at Haskell Indian Nations University. From left, Lorene Brant, Dianne Yeahquo Reyner, April Pleasant, Mia Peck and Michaela Henry rehearse the play.

The two-hour play, directed by Pat Melody, will be presented by the Thunderbird Theatre Thursday through Saturday at Haskell Indian Nations University.

"The Strength of Indian Women" is about five elder women who are preparing 13-year-old Susie for her coming-of-age feast. As they work together, the women reveal the secrets of their boarding school years:

Suzette, Susie's grandmother, was molested at the boarding school.

Eva, Suzette's daughter and Susie's mother, always felt unloved because her mother would not touch her.

Lucy, who became pregnant at the boarding school, was married, through her parents' arrangement, to an older man who already had children. She outlived all of her 14 children.

What: "Strength of Indian Women"When: 8 p.m. Thursday through SaturdayWhere: Hiawatha Hall, Haskell Indian Nations UniversityTicket prices: Free with Haskell student ID, $6 for general admission and $4 for senior citizens and other studentsTicket information: 749-8433

Agnes is a former-alcoholic-prostitute-turned-activist.

Mariah, who is light-skinned, carries guilt because she was treated better by boarding school officials because she was "almost white."

"They decided they need to speak of things they've never talked about, things about the boarding schools and the repercussions on them and their children," Melody says. "They hope to stop (the pain) with the grandchild as she comes out of the ceremony."

Born in Kamloops, British Columbia, Manuel is the eldest daughter of political leader George Manuel and spiritual leader Marceline Manuel. She is a Secwepemc and Ktunaxa writer and healing workshop facilitator.

"I didn't make up the stories in 'Strength of Indian Women.' They came from pictures my mother painted for me with her words, words that helped me see her as a little girl for the first time," Manuel has written about the play. "Other stories came from feelings attached to the little knowledge I held of my father's experience as a residential school and tuberculosis survivor, a world of violence and isolation."

Melody said images of boarding schools from the Haskell Archives will be projected onto screens during the play.

Cast members are Diane Reyner, Mia Peck, Autumn McDonald, Michaela Henry, Lorene Brant and April Pleasant. Scenic designers are Blanche Wahnee, Haskell art faculty member, and Patrick Carrierre, KU doctoral candidate in scenography.


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