Black Elk Speaks by Christopher Sergel.Reading directed by Telia Nevile for The Company. Weston Park, January 27, 1998, only.
Someone must have danced, and danced well, after Sunday's wind and rain postponement. 29 degrees, gentle wafts, green pines, blue sky, sun setting as Black Elk spoke. Traffic on the parkway across the lake was an almost soothing distant reminder of modern living. In our little amphitheatre among the pines, symbolic of Pine Tree Ridge and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1876, people were quiet before the play began, maybe a little nervous of their sense that the earth should not be disturbed.
As Black Elk told his story, in simple pictures so we could understand, the Tuggeranong Parkway became, slicing through Aboriginal land, like the road to the goldfields murderously forced through Cheyenne country. As the story of Tambo, taken to America as a circus exhibit, currently on display at the National Library, indigenous people in the 19th Century were effectively seen as more animal than human. "Before the road signs were erected to their memory, these were people" says Black Elk, an old man remembering what he saw at Wounded Knee.
"What about the human beings who already live here?" asks a person ordered to leave her country in favour of the settlement of US citizens. "You're not citizens" is the government official's reply. "Red skin people are not mentioned in the bible, which raises the question of whether they are actually human beings."
This play is a pageant of the the invaders' hypocrisy and betrayal of the American indigenous peoples. As Marlon Brando mentions in his autobiography, almost 400 treaties were signed, but all were broken "with the blessing and sanction of our courts". Among the pine trees, the rocks and ridges, if this had been not merely a reading but a fully costumed production, it would be powerful theatre in education indeed. Despite the devastation of more than two centuries, Black Elk concludes: "We offer you the wooden cup filled with water. It is yours. We have spoken." He turned, an old man, to climb the final ridge. The audience remained silent, respectful of the earth and indigenous history. A fine moment of reconciliation for Australia Day.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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