Native Americans, The KKK And Keeping The 'Blood Pure' A new play inspired by historical events tells the story of the KKK's attempt to recruit Native Americans in an attempt to "keep bloodlines pure."
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Native Americans, The KKK And Keeping The 'Blood Pure'

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Native Americans, The KKK And Keeping The 'Blood Pure'

Native Americans, The KKK And Keeping The 'Blood Pure'

Native Americans, The KKK And Keeping The 'Blood Pure'

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A new play inspired by historical events tells the story of the KKK's attempt to recruit Native Americans in an attempt to "keep bloodlines pure."

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A new play looks at what happens when the KKK comes into contact with Native Americans. It's based on real events, and it tackles the concept of racial purity - in a surprising way. Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards has this story from its latest run in Laramie.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO?")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, vocalizing).

MELODIE EDWARDS, BYLINE: As the play "What Would Crazy Horse Do?" opens, twins Calvin and Journey Goodeagle are grieving the death of their grandfather. They're the last two members of their fictitious South Dakota tribe and, in their despair, are considering suicide. Then, they get a knock on their door.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

EDWARDS: It's a woman and her bodyguard. She hands them her business card. But Calvin is skeptical.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO?")

PIRAM DURAN: (As Calvin Goodeagle) Anyone could make a fake business card.

AMBER MCNEW: (As Evan Atwood) Seriously, who makes a Ku Klux Klan business card?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: That's Evan, the national Klan's imperial dragon. She's there to convince the twins to dance in an event promoting the preservation of racial bloodlines, indigenous and white. Calvin can't believe what he's hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO?")

DURAN: (As Calvin Goodeagle) So you're affiliated with the men who led the Klan?

KEVIN INOUYE: (As Rebel Shaw) We are the Klan.

(LAUGHTER)

INOUYE: (As Rebel Shaw) This never used to happen when we wore the robes.

EDWARDS: Playwright and Lakota member Larissa FastHorse says audiences often don't know how to react to this kind of humor.

LARISSA FASTHORSE: You'll see people laugh and then immediately stop. And you can see them thinking - oh, should I have laughed? Should I feel guilty for laughing?

EDWARDS: FastHorse says she's glad to see that confusion because it means that people are doubting their deep-held assumptions about race. The play was actually inspired by historical events. Wandering a South Dakota museum, FastHorse came across a flyer promoting a KKK event that included a powwow from the late 1920s.

FASTHORSE: That just completely blew my mind. I couldn't imagine, one, why the Klan wants a powwow. Two, who would dance in that? Like, who are the Indians that are going to dance for the Klan?

EDWARDS: She interviewed tribal elders who said people danced because white Klan members were neighbors and they asked them to. FastHorse started exchanging emails with a Klan group. They told her they were trying to get away from messages of hate and violence and instead embrace cultural pride in being white.

FASTHORSE: It was pretty disturbing to me that a lot of their practices and their interests overlap with indigenous people. I mean, we don't want indigenous people to go off the face of the earth. However, the only way to do that is to intentionally keep the, quote, "blood pure."

EDWARDS: That's why Calvin and Journey are considering suicide. If they die together, they think they can take their tribe with them in its purest form. Sixteen-year-old Talissa Littlesun plays Journey. And this is relevant stuff to her. She says, in her tribe, there's a real fear of losing her heritage.

TALISSA LITTLESUN: Every year, they have a competition where - about who can speak Northern Cheyenne most fluently. And the person who won was, like, almost 40. So that was kind of, like - wow, like, we need to teach the ones who are coming up our language.

EDWARDS: It's the first time acting for Littlesun, and that's the point, says playwright FastHorse, to get more Native Americans on stage. FastHorse requests that, whenever possible, Native Americans play Native American parts in her plays. But directors often hear that as a demand. She's had them tell her flat out they can't produce her plays because they won't be able to find native actors. The Laramie company, Relative Theatrics, was the first to finally produce this play. Here's founder and director Anne Mason.

ANNE MASON: For the last six months probably, I have been reaching out, sending emails, making phone calls, telling them about the production and asking them to come audition and try their hand at it.

EDWARDS: No spoilers, but let's just say "What Would Crazy Horse Do?" doesn't end happily. But there is a happy ending for playwright Larissa FastHorse. The Kansas City Repertory Theatre picked up the play and is performing it through the end of May. For NPR News, I'm Melodie Edwards in Laramie.

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