Faulkner Center event features Native American family’s complex history

Mary Kathryn Nagle / Courtesy photo

An influential Cherokee family’s legacy with ties to Fayetteville’s past and present will be featured during “A View from the Ridge: An Evening with Playwright and Ridge Descendant Mary Kathryn Nagle.”

The free, public event will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, in the University of Arkansas’ Jim and Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center. A reception will follow.

The event will feature readings from Nagle’s play, Sovereignty, which wrestles with the Ridge family’s legal legacy and how the broken treaties of the past reverberate in the Cherokee Nation today.

It’s part of a series of events centered on modern-day playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, her ancestor John Ridge and his influential Cherokee family’s legacy.

From the UA:

In Sovereignty, Sarah Ridge Polson, a young Cherokee lawyer fighting to restore her nation’s jurisdiction, must confront the ever-present ghosts of her grandfathers.

With shadows stretching from the 1830s Cherokee Nation (now present-day Georgia) through Andrew Jackson’s Oval Office to the Cherokee Nation in present-day Oklahoma, Sovereignty asks how high the flames of anger can rise before they ultimately consume the truth.

Community and university faculty experts will also provide further perspective on the themes the play explores and how the family’s legacy lives on in Fayetteville in the objects and ideas that survive.

Featured speakers include:

  • Mary Kathryn Nagle, playwright, lawyer, descendant of John Ridge, and an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation
  • Stace Treat, interpretation manager, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
  • Anne Shelley, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault
  • Stacy Leeds, U of A vice chancellor for economic development, professor of law, and an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation
  • Kathryn A. Sloan, professor of history and director of the humanities program
  • Sean Teuton, associate professor of English, director of indigenous studies, and an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation
  • John Walch, assistant professor of theatre and head of the M.F.A. program in playwriting
  • Amy Herzberg, distinguished professor and head of the performance area in the U of A’s Department of Theatre, will direct the reading.

Mary Kathryn Nagle

Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She currently serves as the executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. She is also a partner at Pipestem Law P.C. in Tulsa, where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian Nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. Her play Sovereignty premiered at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2018.

John Ridge

John Ridge signed the bitterly divisive Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which removed the Cherokees from their land in the eastern United States. While many view Ridge and the other Ridge-Watie family signers as traitors, others see them as dissenting patriots who were willing to sacrifice their own lives to preserve the Cherokee Nation – having no idea of the atrocity that was to come through the Trail of Tears. After Ridge was killed in the Indian Territory, his widow, Sarah Bird Northrup Ridge, their five children and a teacher, Sophia Sawyer, moved to Fayetteville in 1839. Their home, The Ridge House, located just off the downtown Fayetteville Square, is the oldest house still standing in Fayetteville.