Last night, the Native American Law Students Association brought to campus a genre-defying work that tackled a variety of urgent but under-addressed national issues.
Written by Native-American playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by Madeline Sayet, “Sliver of a Full Moon” centers on the passing of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which restored legal authority to tribes for the prosecution of crimes committed by non-natives on tribal lands for the first time since this authority was taken away in 1978. Billie Jo Rich and Lisa Brunner, two activists who portray themselves in the play, gave testimonies to Congress in 2013 that were ultimately integral to the act’s passage.
“There’s a saying: ‘Congress sneezes, and Indians end up in the hospital.’” History and American Studies professor Ned Blackhawk said.
A large part of the play’s aim is to educate about the complexities and failings of the laws that govern Native Americans today. Nagle said that while the VAWA was a “huge victory” for Native Americans, it does not extend to tribes in Alaska, and even the tribes that are covered will only be able to prosecute certain types of crimes. The testimonies presented in the play, which are direct transcripts of real-life testimonies, are by women who have suffered because of the absence of such protections.
The unedited testimonies presented in the play are unique in modern theater and give it much of its emotive force, according to Nagle and Sayet. Nagle, who played Millich in Tuesday night’s performance, said she experienced firsthand the personal nature of the activists’ speeches when she felt unable to fully replicate the emotions behind the testimonies.
“Me struggling to speak Diane’s words really underscored the need to create a space where people can tell their own stories,” Nagle said.
Sayet said the play also highlights a culture and a people that have been largely omitted from modern theater. In modern drama, she explained, the norm is red face — non-Native actors playing Native characters in a way that often relies on exoticizing stereotypes.
The format of “Sliver of a Full Moon” is a departure from traditional Western theater, Nagle said, noting that rather than being a master over the characters, the playwright assumes a cooperative role.
“What we’re doing is very indigenous to the land in that everyone is a storyteller,” Nagle said.
“Sliver of a Full Moon” featured several Native-American undergraduates in Tuesday night’s cast and was co-sponsored by several Native-American organizations on campus. The Blue Feather Drum Group, for example, wrote a song to commemorate the event. Dineé Dorame ’15, an actor in the play and founder of Native-American women’s organization Yale Sisters of All Nations , attended a “Teach In” at the Native American Cultural Center in February as a preface to the event. For many of the people involved, “Sliver of a Full Moon” coming to campus was part of a wider increase in Native-American activism on campus. Discussing the Law School, Reed Bobroff, one of the play’s undergraduate actors, said “Having a Native American cohort has changed that place,” adding that the NALSA had brought many “high-level” speakers to campus. CQ Blackhawk said he thought it would be “one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
“The amount of support we’ve gotten from various entities on campus is incredible,” said Reed Bobroff ’16, one of the play’s actors.