April 01, 2008

Navajo boarding school play

Journey of a lifetime:  Play revisits early Indian boarding schoolsThe journey of life is hard enough the first time.

When a person does it twice, however, he has the chance to gain insight and clarity.

That's the basis of Sharon Hatch French's play, "Joseph of the Village," which shows this week at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center.

The play follows the playwright's grandfather, Joseph, in what French calls a historically accurate portrayal of American Indians' experiences in boarding schools.

"It's about the tragedy of the first boarding schools," she said. "The schools' theme was to kill the Indian, but save the man. It caused some really deep wounds. The schools took everything away from the young Indian children and tried to make them white."
More on Joseph of the Village:The play is set in the deserted Village of Old Oribi and follows the adult Joseph as he comes to terms with hardships and injustices he faced while growing up on the reservation. Part of the journey is a realization of his dual heritage—the man's mother is Navajo and his father is Anglo.

Joseph left his village in 1878 to attend boarding school. The school was only a couple of miles from the village, French said, but runaway students sometimes died when they tried to find their way back home.

"After being educated, Joseph didn't fit in with the others," French said. "He wanted to leave the reservation, but the white men didn't want half-breeds."

Fast forward several decades, and Joseph still is searching for his identity. Inspiration comes in the form of a little girl who leads him through his painful past. The girl, called Sapling, helps Joseph face the past, including confronting himself as a child.
Comment:  Joseph left "his village"? Why would a Navajo/Anglo boy be living in the Hopi village of Oraibi? Especially when it's deserted.

Did he run away from his home hundreds of miles away to hide in Old Oraibi? Did he steal food from the Hopis in nearby New Oraibi? Did he live ferally in the ruins like an animal?

On the surface, this doesn't make much sense. Traditionally the Hopis haven't gotten along with the Navajos. Could it have something to do with the picturesque stage scenery, which looks "Indian" even though it has nothing to do with Navajos?

For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

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