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'An Act Of Native Sovereignty': Dartmouth Hosts Cherokee Theater Piece

A person sits on a stage with purple lights in the background.
Betty Smith
/
VPR
DeLanna Studi will perform "And So We Walked" at Dartmouth's Hopkins Center on Saturday, Jan. 11.

Five years ago, accompanied by her Cherokee father, DeLanna Studi retraced the northern route of The Trail of Tears – or as many of its 990 miles as are still accessible. It’s the path taken by the Cherokee in the 1830s when they were forced by the federal government to abandon their ancestral lands in the East for reservation life in the West.

Now Studi is touring the country with a theater piece based on her experience called “And So We Walked: An Artist's Journey Along 'The Trail Of Tears.'” And this week, she's brought it to Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center.

Studi’s own cultural, ethnic and racial identity is varied. But the Cherokee part of it had been nearly erased, so Studi decided to reclaim it.

“I always jokingly say that I fit into the world because I’m between two worlds,” Studi said. “I don’t have to try to be a Cherokee woman. I just have to be. I am a Cherokee woman. My ancestors live through me. And just being alive today and going out and sharing the story is an act of Native sovereignty.”

In sharing her own story, Studi hears from others with historically marginalized voices.  

“One of the things I’ve learned about doing the show is by making it as specific as I can, it’s become more universal, and it’s not uncommon for me after a show to have students waiting for me to speak to me,” she said. “And I have students from the LGBTQ-plus community. I have students whose parents are immigrants. And I also have women and women of color wait for me after the show to talk about what comes up for them.”

Studi has some basic advice for anyone wishing to reclaim a hidden or obscure indigenous identity, as, for example, many Abenaki are now doing in Vermont.

“I would encourage any young person of indigenous heritage to speak to their elders, learn the language, learn the ceremonies, because that’s the only way our culture is going to keep evolving,” she said. “I’m working on the language skills as we speak. Whenever I go home I try to go to ceremony with my father. I try to keep the heritage going.”

Saturday’s performance of "And So We Walked" begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Moore Theater at Dartmouth's Hopkins Center.

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