through the world premiere of the opera "The Trickster and
the Troll" in Brookings last Sunday, it occurred to me that
I was watching a Thanksgiving story more appropriate to the South
Dakota experience than that feast in 1621 from which our national
holiday supposedly originated.
sources, including Pilgrim Hall Museum and Scholastic.com, peg the
first Thanksgiving as the celebration of a successful harvest in
the autumn of 1621 by Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe.
The sources, then, support what I learned as a kid back in first
grade at Reliance, so they must be true.
Sunday's performance by the Heartland Opera Troupe, on the other
hand, was based on a story written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve,
a Lakota author born on the Rosebud reservation and married to a
Mix of legend, history
Driving Hawk Sneve drew upon that mixture of Lakota and Norwegian
to create the tale of the "Trickster and the Troll." One
of my granddaughters had a part as a duck. That's how I came to
be in the audience for an opera about how people sometimes lose
themselves when they try to function in a modern world by leaving
behind their heritage and the stories passed down from generation
to generation. Whether Lakota or Norwegian, such people can find
themselves without the foundation of history and culture and with
little understanding of their past.
trickster in Driving Hawk Sneve's story, Iktomi in the Lakota culture,
often is depicted in oral tales as a crafty little dickens, up to
no good and full of mischief. In this story, the character comes
to represent the heritage and culture that many Lakota people rejected,
sometimes willingly, often through the force of the majority culture.
troll plays a similar role for the Norwegian family in the tale,
a being that helps and protects a family until he is rejected as
the younger generation moves to America and tries to establish a
new life in a new land.
pretty well accepted that government policy from the time of the
Indian wars of the late 1800s through at least the early half of
the 20th century included attempts to persuade or force the Native
people to turn their backs on their culture and become white. I've
known a number of Lakota and Dakota people who were told as youngsters
that they shouldn't spend time learning their own culture because
"you'll have to learn to live and survive in a white world."
It has seemed to me, from conversations with those people, that
the process left them adrift, not really white, not quite Native
A. Turning back to their culture and learning of their history and
heritage doesn't mean they can avoid living in a non-Indian world.
It simply means they have a sense of themselves, an appreciation
of the ancestral stories that shaped their lives.
that's true for the Lakota people, it also could be true for the
Norwegian family that left its ancestral home, moved to America
and tried to turn its back on its culture, as symbolized by the
troll in Driving Hawk Sneve's story.
the story, the trickster and the troll, each suffering rejection,
realize they are stronger together than alone - that their very
survival depends on accepting each other. When their Lakota and
Norwegian families, who've missed the old stories the trickster
and troll symbolize, accept those characters back into their lives,
well, it's a grand moment.
grand moment, too, came during curtain calls when the mostly white
audience stood as one and applauded a white-haired Lakota woman
whose life has been devoted to examining her heritage and her state.
It was a moment for thanks and for hope.
Terry Woster at 224-2760 or firstname.lastname@example.org