SANTA FE, N.M. ? The struggle between balance and what is civilized is brought to focus by Kiowa author and Pulitzer winner, Dr. N. Scott Momaday’s compelling play, “The Indolent Boys” that premiered last week.
Based on an actual event, the story weaves the struggles of a young Kiowa man, John Pai, who is looking for meaning and balance in a life caught between the encroaching white man’s world and the world of his ancestors, around his daily life at boarding school.
When three younger students run away after being whipped by a teacher, they perish in the frigid Midwestern winter and John must come to grips with the choices he has made for his future.
“I am beside myself,” Pai says in the play, “I see my reflection in the pool, and I wonder who I am.”
Momaday explained he’d heard the story of the boys who froze to death since he’d been a child, in the preface to the play, and explains that it is deeply and every more dimly embedded in Kiowa oral tradition. He said after thinking about those boys for many years, he determined to commemorate them in a play.
“When I think of this phenomenon, I think also of the numberless souls whose stories have fallen beyond reach,” Momaday said.
The play is important because it brings to light a part of American history that is often overlooked. The fledgling American government used Colonel Richard Henry Pratt’s theories of assimilation, to kill the Indian but save the man, to solve the “Indian problem,” and boarding school was the important first step and targeted youth.
Boarding school was aimed at eliminating the concept of tribe in the Native community.
“Momaday puts the burden of proof of the morality of being civilized and disciplined on the white people not on the Indian people,” said “Native America Calling” Host Harlan McKosato, who attended the premier performance.
Lead actors in the play include well-known film and television star (Yaqui, Zuni and Mescalero Apache) Michael Horse, who plays Embotah, the school’s handyman and father of one of the lost boys.
Leilani Taliaferro (Cherokee and Italian) who is Mother Goodeye, a Kiowa woman with one eye and who is determined to kill the teacher that punished the children.
Noah Watts, who is John Pai. During the play Pai’s acceptance into an East Coast Seminary is stressed constantly as evidence that the boarding school concept is successful, but Pai is always yearning for home. Pai’s desire for home is the turning point in the play.
Performances in Santa Fe took place from Aug. 22 through 25 at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; they then moved to Albuquerque, N.M., for performances on Aug. 30 and 31 at the UNM’s Rodey Theater. For information call 505-244-3633.