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Livestreamed on this page Monday, June 29 at 1:30 p.m. EDT (New York) / 12:30 p.m. CDT (Chicago) / 11:30 a.m. MDT (Denver) / 10:30 a.m. PDT (Vancouver).

St. Paul, MN, United States
Monday, June 29 2015

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Performance of My Father’s Bones about Olympian Jim Thorpe

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Monday, June 29 2015




New Native Theatre presented a staged reading of My Father’s Bones in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the Mid-Year Conference of the National Congress of the American Indians. My Father’s Bones is a play by Suzan Shown Harjo and Mary Kathryn Nagle that recounts the struggle of Jack, Bill and Richard Thorpe to recover the remains of their father—the unmatched Olympian Jim Thorpe—so that he can buried with their relatives in Sac and Fox Nation land. The play was livestreamed on the global commons-based peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Monday, June 29 at 1:30 p.m. EDT (New York) / 12:30 p.m. CDT (Chicago) / 11:30 a.m. MDT (Denver) / 10:30 a.m. PDT (Vancouver). A talkback will follow.



To participate in the online conversation concerning the play and the Sac and Fox Nation’s petition to the Supreme Court, use Twitter hashtag #Howlround, #BringJimThorpeHome, and/or #MyFathersBones.

The play reading will be directed by New Native Theatre’s (NNT) Artistic Director, Rhiana Yazzie. Yazzie created NNT as way to bridge the gap between the 100 theatres in the Twin Cities and the large urban Native community. She moved to the Twin Cities through a Jerome Fellowship she received from the Playwrights’ Center. New Native Theatre is a new way of looking at, thinking about, and staging Native American work. NNT has produces original commissions, devised work, and presents plays from Native and First Nation theatre companies around the continent.

The June 29, 2015 reading of My Fathers Bones will feature five of NNT’s ensemble of actors, including Inez Decoteau, Jeff Jordan, Brian Joyce, Donavan Mountain, and Francisco Benavides. The reading will take place at the Mid-Year Conference for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a conference that brings together tribal leaders from hundreds of tribes across the United States to discuss the issues that concern Indian Country. The refusal of the Borough of Jim Thorpe to return his remains to his sons and the Sac and Fox Nation is one of the concerns that NCAI has placed on its agenda, having previously passed a resolution in favor of Jim Thorpe’s repatriation.

On June 2, the lawyers representing Jim Thorpe’s sons and the Sac and Fox Nation filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the United States Supreme Court to hear their case. At the heart of this case is an important civil rights law protecting the right of all Native Americans to be buried in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Background on the Effort to Bring Jim Thorpe Home:
For nearly six decades, the sons of American sports legend Jim Thorpe have been trying to return his remains to his birthplace—on the lands of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma—so he can finally be laid to rest in the homeland of his people, as he wished.

Jim Thorpe, given his Indian name Wa-tha-huk (Light after the Lightning or Bright Path) by the Thunder Clan of Black Hawk, was voted Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century in ABC’s Wide World of Sports poll held in 2000, beating out other athletes including Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan. His remarkable accomplishments in the 1912 Olympics, winning gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon, were matched by his skills in professional baseball (1913-19) and professional football (1917-29). In 1920, Jim Thorpe was selected as the first president of the American Professional Football Association, which became the National Football League in 1922, and he was an inaugural inductee of the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. He would be inducted to 10 halls of fame by his career’s close.




In the middle of his traditional burial in 1953, Jim Thorpe’s estranged third wife, Patsy, interrupted the sacred ceremony accompanied by police and seized his remains. For nearly a year, Patsy carted his remains around the country, seeking the highest bidder. Two small coal-mining towns in eastern Pennsylvania that had hit upon hard times were willing to strike a deal. These towns had no affiliation or history with Jim Thorpe or his family—in fact Jim Thorpe had never visited either borough while he was alive. But with aspirations of becoming a tourist destination, the two towns merged to form the Borough of Jim Thorpe. Patsy envisioned her own tourist hotel to be called “Jim Thorpe’s Teepees.” Patsy handed over Jim Thorpe’s remains and the borough built a mausoleum to hold his body, and staged a mock Native American ceremony. 

In 2013, three years after they first filed their case, a federal District Court agreed that the Pennsylvania borough could be classified as a museum under NAGPRA because the town’s operations were subsidized by the federal government. However, in 2014 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals invoked the seldom-applied absurdity doctrine to overturn the District Court’s decision—a ruling that even the Circuit Court acknowledged contradicts a plain reading of the law and raises significant separation of powers concerns.




Jim Thorpe wished to be laid to rest with his relatives on his tribal lands in Oklahoma. Instead, his remains were sold to a town he’d never even laid eyes on and his is far away from the family he loved and wanted to be near.

Following the reading of My Father’s Bones on June 29, there will be a short talk back panel during which individuals will be permitted to ask questions of John Echohawk (Executive Director of Native American Rights Fund) and Suzan Shown Harjo (Playwright and President of the Morning Star Institute).

About HowlRound TV

HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email tv@howlround.com, or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.

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