Ponca members and youth had the unique opportunity to see their history, culture and language shared on stage during January and February, with performances of “Return to Niobrara,” and a special performance of the traditional Ponca story, “Coyote & the Turkeys.”.
The Rose Theater in Omaha presented the play, “Return to Niobrara,” January 25th through February 10. “Return to Niobrara,” written by Mary Kathryn Nagle (citizen of the Cherokee Nation), is a play that blends the history of the Ponca Tribe with current events. The main character, Steven, is a member of the Ponca Tribe, and a great-great grandson of Chief Standing Bear. When Steven is bullied at school on account of his long hair, he finds himself speaking out for his rights, as school administration tries to force him to cut his hair. Steven’s struggle is set against the backdrop of the story of the Ponca Trail of Tears, and the trial of his relative Chief Standing Bear, 180 years ago, where Standing Bear stood up in court to demand that the federal judge recognize Indians as persons under the law.
On Saturday, February 9th, following the matinee performance of “Return to Niobrara,” at the Rose Theater in Omaha, Ponca youth and audience children participated in learning Ponca words, and acting out the traditional Ponca Story, “Coyote & the Turkeys,” using beautiful costumes and masks made by Diana Vallier, Ponca.
In “Coyote and the Turkeys,” Coyote, perhaps the most famous of the Ponca tricksters, flatters the Turkeys with song, convincing him that he is their friend. This story is told to teach values, such as, “curiosity can be harmful,” and, “know your true friends.” The play was created by Daniel SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca), and is based on the Ponca story as told by Suzanne LaFlesche (Omaha/Ponca) to J.O. Dorsey and revised by Henry A. Lieb, Jr. and Kinsel V. Lieb (Ponca).