On March 10th, a group of Yale students and faculty visited the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma as part of the “Oklahoma Sovereignty Tour.” Organized during the first week of Yale’s spring break, the trip included visits to different Native Nations across the state of Oklahoma, including the Sac & Fox Nation. Anna Smist (’21) played a central role in organizing the events the group’s visit to the Sac & Fox Nation and also crafted much of this story.
Members from the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program (YIPAP) performed a staged reading of the play My Father’s Bones, co-written by playwrights Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee) and Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Huldogee Muscogee). Nagle and Harjo wrote the play to raise awareness of the Sac & Fox Nation’s repatriation case of famous Sac & Fox Olympian Jim Thorpe (Thunder Clan).
Jay Fife (’22) and Truman Pipestem (’23) played the roles of Thorpe’s sons, Jack and Bill respectively. The play narrates their legal struggle to repatriate their father’s remains back to Oklahoma. Professor Alanna Hickey joined students Nicholas Collyge (’23), Amanda Luke (School of Drama ’21), and Daniel Inojosa (’23) in the cast.
My Father’s Bones begins in 1953 when Patricia Askew “Patsy,” Thorpe’s third wife, famously interrupted his Sac & Fox burial ceremony in order for his remains to be shipped and sold to Pennsylvania where local authorities had purchased Thorpe’s remains. After building a memorial to Thorpe in hopes of attracting tourism, the two towns renamed themselves into the newly incorporated town of “Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.” Despite protests of his children, tribal leaders, and members of the Sac & Fox Nation, Thorpe’s remains are still located there today even though Thorpe himself had never visited either of these towns.
Artist Tony Tiger (Sac & Fox/Seminole/Mvskoke) and Anna Smist (’21) present shirts to YIPAP members on the day of their performance of My Father’s Bones at the Sac & Fox Nation headquarters. Tiger designed the shirts to commemorate Jim Thorpe’s life and legacy.
Several members of the Sac & Fox Nation attended the staged reading, which took place at the community building located at the Sac & Fox Nation headquarters on Jim Thorpe Wa-tha-huk Memorial Park. Wa-tha-huk is Thorpe’s Sauk name, meaning “Bright Path.” The reading was the first time the play, written in 2015, had ever been performed at the Sac & Fox Nation. YIPAP had previously staged the play on Yale campus during the program’s inaugural year in 2015.
Tribal member Curtis “Dagwood” Wakolee (Fox Clan) had been roommates with Jack Thorpe when the two served together in the military, and he remarked that Jay, who played Jack’s character in the reading, sounded just like him and exhibited a similar fire and passion.
Dagwood and other tribal members expressed their appreciation to the students and faculty for telling Jim Thorpe’s story. Former Principal Chief Mary McCormick (Deer Clan) was moved by the reading and thanked the performers for reminding the tribe how important this history still is today. To cap off their time spent together, the Yale visitors and tribal audience members gathered for a traditional meal.
The April 2020 edition of the Sac and Fox News covered the performance and featured it as their headline story (see image and link below).