The conflicts, identity crises and deaths from the Trail of Tears still weigh on many hearts today, including that of DeLanna Studi, a Cherokee citizen.
Studi performed excerpts from her first play, “And So We Walked,” at the Prichard Art Gallery Friday to explain the importance of her ancestry. The theme for National Women’s History Month at the University of Idaho this year is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”
Visiting the Trail of Tears with her father was a life changing experience that strengthened their relationship, Studi said. Since Cherokee is her father’s first language, he was a great help in communicating with the native people.
They departed on their journey nearly three years ago in 2015 on her birthday. It was an experience she always dreamt of, but never thought would actually happen.
“Walking along the Trail of Tears is something I have always wanted to do since I was a little girl,” Studi said. “The topic was too painful to talk about in my household and I wanted to find out where we truly came from and how it shaped us. It was so rewarding to take my father back to our homestead.”
They planned the trip a year in advance, booking hotels along the way for the comfort of her father and determining how many miles of the route they would travel each day. While much of the trail today is interstate and private land, many homeowners have preserved wagon ruts and other historical landmarks.
The Native American word “gagudi,” used during Studi’s theater tour, means to celebrate, support and promote. She believes the Trail of Tears is an important part of everyone’s shared history that isn’t talked about or taught in school as much as it should be.
Her visitation was sponsored by the University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department, the Women’s Center, the Office of Equity and Diversity, the American Indian Studies Program, the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences and the Idaho Humanities Council.
Director of the Women’s Center Lysa Salsbury said this is the first year Women’s History Month has been introduced by a Native American woman. While Native Americans are gaining a stronger voice and more prominence, they are still under told in many ways, Salsbury said.
“DeLanna’s story is powerful, meaningful and incredibly relatable,” Salsbury said. “She speaks on the resilience of an entire people and I am thrilled that everything fell into place for her to visit and share her talents.”
Women’s History Month revolves around the awareness of all forms of discrimination and ways to fight against it. Rather than focusing on the negative light often shed upon women, now is the time for celebration, acknowledgment, honoring and lifting women up, Salsbury said.
Studi shared never-before heard material during her visit to Moscow to gain feedback and any constructive criticism from the audience. “And So We Walked” has not been published yet, but will be performed in 48 different locations, beginning in March and ending in May. The official preview will be shown at Portland Center Stage March 31.
In the play, Studi inhabits 28 different characters by herself. The script was originally 30,000 words and six hours of material, so she narrowed down the most prominent experiences and people that made her trip the most enriching.
Linda McGraile, a UI professor and student, attended the event because she has been closely associated and interested in Native American culture for over 35 years. She is currently enrolled in a Native American literature class and learned a lot from Studi’s performance.
“Studi was amazing at representing different characters visually and through her voice fluctuation and tone,” McGraile said. “Theater is a beautiful way to reach people and Studi brought her story alive and really moved me personally.”
Allison Spain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org