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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Play Brings Christmas In Indian Country To Life
by Will Chavez - Native American Times Correspondent

TULSA, Okla. – Ebenezer Screech Owl is a mean and cranky character but those who have seen Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" know there is goodness in him–somewhere.

Screech Owl was part of the American Indian Theatre Company performance of "A Song of Winter," written by Will Hill, a Muscogee Creek actor, storyteller and playwright. For inspiration he used the Dickens classic.

Hill also brought Screech Owl to life in the play, which enjoyed its fourth year on stage. Humor was found throughout the play, and Hill used the Creek language to emphasize it was a play set in Indian Country during Christmas. Along with the Muscogee Creek language, Hill wove the tribe's music and traditions into the play, which was held in the Liddy Doenges Theater in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Dec.18 and 19.

Hill said he had the idea of bringing a production based on "A Christmas Carol" to the stage in Tulsa for "a long, long time."

"I'm a big fan of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. The way they weave words is so beautiful and elegant," he said. "It's more of an adaptation or a homage to Dickens, but it's also something to celebrate Native America. We have our own celebrations whether it's an old country church or a ceremonial ground or powwow…everybody has their Christmas get together where they give out gifts. I said, why can't you do that with this one, but incorporate this beautiful storyline."

He added he saw distinct parallels between Dickens' popular story and some of the things Native people have endured.

Hill's play is set in the early 1900s in Indian Territory while Dickens' story is set in the late 1800s. Dickens' descriptions of British orphanages and the poor of Victorian England are similar to the experiences of Hill's grandparents who endured boarding schools and forced assimilation early in the 20th century.

Screech Owl is a boarding school product. Like many children of his time, he was left at a boarding school during the holidays because his father would not send for him.

The play also takes place during the season of "Thluhfoh Yuh Hay Gee Dah," the season of the popping trees. Hill said he used the parallels he saw in the "A Christmas Carol" and the folklore shared by Native people, especially when it came to basing Eb Screech Owl on Ebenezer Scrooge.

"I named him Screech Owl because it sounded scary. Among our Native people the name owl is scary. I chose that name Screech Owl specifically because it sounded like Scrooge," he said.

A distinctly Native highlight of "A Song of Winter" was an "Ode to Commodity Cheese," as well as the song of the same name written by Hill's long-time performance partner, Jehnean Washington, who played Screech Owl's niece Roberta Coachman.

Screech Owl is a "mean and cantankerous" store/smoke shop owner, Hill said, who torments his employee Bobcat Hatchit played by Mike McEver, Cherokee.

Other cast members included actor Michael Buckendorf, Jr., Winona Henderson, Cherokee, and Butch McIntosh, traditional elder and dancer.

Roberta is Screech Owl's beloved and deceased sister's daughter. He allows her to question his meanness and bitterness toward other people, and she understands his personality originated in the boarding school.

Hill said the Screech Owl character has elements of his uncle, his grandmother's brother. His "cantankerous" personality was a product of the time he and his sister spent in a government boarding school.

"They had a very hard life and that kind of shaped him," he explained. "A lot of time when people are not nice, you look at them as being unadulterated evil, but if you look at their past and listen to their stories you may find out there may be some more history that has caused them to be that way."

He said he wants people to come away from the play understanding they can sympathize with an unkind character and they can change their future for the better.

"My grandmother was totally the opposite," Hill said. "She was loving, kind and generous and helping people all of the time."

Hill shares his grandmother's generous spirit. Before the play began he invited a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation diabetes staff to speak to the audience about diabetes information available outside the theater.

The diabetes message is incorporated into all of Hill's plays since he lost his right leg to complications caused by the disease last year. He still walks using an artificial leg.

"I've decided it's a good way to get that message out, to take care of yourself and watching your levels if you have it. This is a beatable disease, but you really have to take care of yourself."

He is coping with the disease with the help of his stage family and his blood family.

"As Native people we are very family oriented–a very close-knit people and society. Even your own family has extended family members. They may not be blood relations, but they would give their blood if they had to," he said. "Our Indian people, we love to laugh. We can poke fun at just about anything or any situation. One of the weapons we have is laughter. I think that's one thing that has helped our Indian people cope with the situations we've had to deal with as a nation, as a people."


Mahenwahdose - American Indian Production Company

Winona Henderson, executive director and Will Hill, artistic director, founded Mahenwahdose in 1991. The company is dedicated to the presentation of American Indian themes. The company presents an accurate and entertaining portrayal of American Indians.

Mahenwahdose features the talents of Will Hill and Jehnean Washington. The performers are widely acclaimed and were the first actors to perform at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004.

Currently, Hill is writing a present-day romantic comedy set in Indian Country to premiere on Valentine's Day 2011.

Mahenwahdose Booking Information:
Will Hill/Winona Henderson
P.O. Box 921, Tulsa, OK 74101.

Or call (918) 747-1044 or (918) 712-7543, evening. Email:

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