RCAH Student Jenny Crakes Awarded Prize for "The Runaways"

On Monday, February 3, 2014, RCAH student Jenny Crakes was awarded the third place prize for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advancing Inclusion Through Research Award. At a ceremony at the Kellogg Center, Jenny was awarded for her play "The Runaways," a piece inspired by Louise Erdrich's poem Indian Boarding School: The Runaways.

About "The Runaways," from Jenny Crakes:

"The Runaways" tells the story of two Ojibwe sisters at the Wahpeton Indian School in North Dakota, in 1912. Restless and unhappy with life at the school, and strengthened by a powerful dream, Alice and Nina plan to escape by train to their home on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.

The Indian Boarding Schools, run by the U.S. Government, intended to assimilate Native American youth into mainstream White society. However, the schools did not work for equality in any way; as well as facing insults and maltreatment, students were often overworked to support the system and received very little education. They were often removed forcibly from home. Beginning with Carlisle in 1879 and inspired by Captain Richard Henry Pratt’s words “Kill the Indian and save the man,” the system was longstanding, abusive, and devastating to Native American cultures, families and communities.

The rich narrative of Erdrich’s poem inspired the characters in my play, and I put effort into researching and representing the stories of Indian Boarding School survivors as accurately as possible. After gaining awareness of much misrepresentation of Native American cultures in the media, I also made it my goal to represent the specific Plains Ojibwe culture truthfully. It was important to show that many survivors, through great courage, were able to maintain their sense of self and continue their lives in empowering and healing ways despite these schools. This period in history seems little known among most North Americans, and it is a crucial one to understand in comprehending the meaning of our country’s settlement and that liberty for some came at high cost to others.

My play explores themes of memory and survival, maintaining one’s culture and sense of self through times of great difficulty. A few of the former Indian Boarding Schools are now chartered by tribes, affirming Native American cultures and creating a positive and welcoming environment for their students. With this play, I would like to honor the students of the Indian Boarding Schools for their bravery and resilience.

I co-directed my play with Sarah Denick as part of the Roial Players’ production “Crossings: An Evening of One Acts” in March 2013, in the RCAH theatre. I thank the cast and members of Roial so much for bringing the story to life.

Excerpt

(A workroom at the Wahpeton Indian School. There is a laundry basket and ironing board. Ida is ironing sheets when Alice enters.)

Alice: Ida? Aanii…aaniish e-izhi-bimaadiziyin?

Ida: Please don’t speak that way, it makes me afraid for you. What are you doing here, Alice?

Alice: I wanted to talk to you.

Ida: We’ll have to talk right here, because I need to finish these by dinnertime.

Alice: It’s so hot. Why do you have to do the ironing now?

Ida: Because I was told to – that’s enough of a reason. It’s not your place, or mine, to ask

why. You ask too many questions.

Alice: Do you want me to help? You’d get finished quicker.

Ida: You would just be in the way.

Alice: (Pause.)  I’ll go then.

Ida: Oh, Alice, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. Come, we can talk.