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Colonial Williamsburg embraces American Indian presence

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Many hundreds of tourists visiting Virginia’s historic revolutionary city of Colonial Williamsburg have benefitted from a live presentation of “So Far From Scioto,” a story that chronicles the lives of three Shawnee emissaries who came to Williamsburg in 1774 as part of an agreement with Lord Dunmore to cease raids on the Ohio Frontier.

In the re-enactment, the American Indian characters express their dismay in the wake of Lord Dunmore’s fleeing from Williamsburg. As a result of Dunmore’s untimely departure, the Shawnee must choose to either honor their agreement with Dunmore and stay in Williamsburg or return home.

The presentation features an all Native cast consisting of Shawn Michael Perry, who played Neawah; Zahn McClarnon, who played Chenusah; Mike Crowe Jr., who portrayed Cuttemwah; Kody Grant, served as the narrator; and Larry Pourier, who was the character production manager.

According to Jim Bradley, Colonial Williamsburg communications manager, the response has been extremely positive and the crowds have been standing room only. “(People) are just blown away. The actors are great. I have seen this probably 12 times and I never get tired of it.”

“I thought it was awesome – extremely good,” said Varna Bennion, Potawatomi, of Sacramento Calif., who watched a recent performance. “I loved their costuming, their hairstyles, everything was right on. The indignation was also right on. When my great-grandmother was growing up, it was taboo to be an Indian. This was fabulous. I am glad I can now say I am Potawatomi.”

Perry played Neawah, one of the four characters in “So Far From Scioto.” He is Bitter Root Salish and is also a musician that has placed on the Nashville country music charts, as well as having achieved success as an actor.

“I am tickled to death. I think Native American history is American history and the fact that this foundation has graciously asked us to come out and be a part of that is a great beginning to something very special.”

Perry also mentioned his positive feelings regarding performing for a largely European-American demographic that visit Colonial Williamsburg. “Sometimes we do have blinders on because we are on the Rez or other communities. … to see all walks of life come through here and appreciate what we are doing from all different angles. ... is overwhelming.”

McClarnon, Hunkpapa Lakota, played Chenusah. He is an acting veteran and has appeared in numerous television and film productions including Simon Baker’s recent film “Not Forgotten” and played a leading role in the Steven Spielberg mini-series “Into the West.”

“It is a real privilege to be here,” McClarnon said. “We are telling a story that is part of the beginnings of our country right here in Williamsburg. This is the soil of liberty and independence, and we are standing in it. The Native American story is part of that and I feel very privileged to be telling that part of our history.”

“I hope they (the audience) realize that we are all not the same and that we all have our own culture and language,” Crowe said. “We are still here after all these years and we are not extinct. And hopefully they come away with a better understanding of Native people.”

As a Cherokee, Grant specifically noted a distinction in the way he felt delivering a message to the audience. He said it was not pride he felt. “With Cherokee, I was told it is never pride, it is honor, because pride will get you killed. I am honored to be who I am and to do what I do.”

Woodard said the performance was the result of a lot of research and combining of efforts of Williamsburg administrators and Native people.

“There has been a lot of networking and we have had a lot of hands in this pie, Native and non-Native, to get us to this point. It has been extremely well-received. I have heard nothing but positive comments. People love it. People want more. People want to know what

happens to this group after this scene and they want to know what happens to them in history. Tell us about the beadwork, the quillwork, the silver. Tell us about the haircuts are these real Indians?

“We hope to bring it back in the spring,” he said.

“So Far From Scioto,” was presented in Colonial Williamsburg Oct. 3 – 24 as a result of gifts from Colonial Williamsburg donors and through the Colonial Williamsburg American Indian Initiative.