September 09, 2006

Indians at the opera

History in the MakingBeginning with X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, in 1986, and continuing with Under the Double Moon (1989), Tania (1992) and Amistad (1997), Anthony Davis has created dynamic operas that reflect American life and culture.

In March 2007, as the centerpiece of its forty-ninth season, Opera Omaha will present the world premiere of Davis’s fifth opera, Wakonda’s Dream. The opera is a meditation on the 1879 trial of Ponca Indian Chief Standing Bear. It was a landmark case: the Poncas had been ordered off their land near Omaha and removed to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma). When the land that the government had given them proved useless—among other things, they were not able to support themselves by hunting—Chief Standing Bear and his followers returned to Nebraska to reclaim their land. They were arrested, jailed and abused but eventually went to court to try to win their right to return to their home. The trial was a significant event in U.S. history, because the verdict stated for the first time in American jurisprudence that Indians were “persons within the meaning of the law” and therefore had the rights of citizenship. It allowed Chief Standing Bear to reside in the original Ponca territory and to bury his son there.

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