TVLSE, Oklahoma – “On the Far End” was performed at the River Spirit Casino and Resort Paradise Cove on July 9 in honor of Mvskoke Sovereignty Day. Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee) performed as the Mvskoke Matriarch Jean Hill Chaudhuri in the one woman show that entailed 52 years of Chaudhuri’s life.
“The (July) 9th is our (July) 4th,” MCN Press Secretary Jason Salsman said at the premiere about Sovereignty Day marking the third anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision, McGirt v. Oklahoma.
“Muscogee (Creek) Nation doesn’t take a back seat to anyone,” Second Chief Del Beaver said. “People know when Muscogee (Creek) Nation walks in the room. That’s what today is about.”
“Sovereignty is truly special, and once you get it you don’t give it up.”
Principal Chief David Hill thanked Nagle for bringing Chaudhuri’s story to life.
“One of our fiercest Mvskoke warriors and matriarchs of the world,” Chief Hill said. “We are celebrating because of citizens like Jean Hill. When you think about sovereignty day, I ask you to think about those who came before us to make that possible.”
“The trail of tears ended,” Chief Hill said. “We are here to stay.”
Nagle’s performance first premiered at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD as part of the second annual Capital New Play Festival that ran March 30 through May 7.
“On the Far End” premiered at a special viewing limited to 20 people, which was held at the Creek Council House after the Muscogee Festival Parade on June 24.
Inspiration for the Play
It was after Chaudhuri’s husband Joyotpaul, also Nagle’s father-in-law, passed away in 2020 when Nagle and her husband Jonodev Chaudhuri sifted through the deceased couple’s belongings. It was then she discovered the life of the mother-in-law she never met.
Nagle was able to read personal hand-written records from the matriarch that included letters from family members, letters to congress and even personal journal notes and poetry.
“It was really personal and really touching,” Nagle said. “She has all these incredible stories of trials and tribulations.”
Nagle took the title of her new play from the first line of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” reads the opinion, which is also the statement Nagle starts her monologue with.
A Life Lived to the Fullest
Born Ella Jean Hill in Okemah in 1937, Chaudhuri was a full-blooded Muscogee. In the early years of her childhood Chaudhuri had lived in a home where the language was spoken and cultural practices were common.
She recounted experiencing harsh treatment from white settlers from an early age and even had lost multiple siblings before the age of ten. At the same age, she was taken from her home and forced to attend the Eufaula Boarding School, a place she escaped 8 times.
After her 8th escape, Chaudhuri’s family had experienced some troubles on their allotment as white settlers purged inward. The family would then up and leave their allotment to move to Tulsa.
At 17 the young Chaudhuri enrolled at Will Rogers High School where she continued to experience discrimination and racism. She fled to Oklahoma City, leaving her family.
While in the city Chaudhuri met her husband. They were married by the time she was 20, which was a struggle of its own for a biracial couple living in the Jim Crow Era.
As an early adult Chaudhuri advocated for Native American rights. She fought alongside her parents for the Indians’ right to elect their own officials among their people, instead of the U.S. Government choosing for them.
In her first advocacy position Chadhauri continued her fight for the Muscogee People while experiencing hardships and obstacles along the way. She had many small and large victories. She garnished a long list of awards, created several coalitions and took positions on various boards throughout her life.
Chaudhuri became the executive director of the Tucson Indian Center and Director of the Traditional Indian Alliance. She was also the founder of the first off-reservation Indian Health clinic in Tucson. She was the founder and president of the Arizona Indian Women in Progress (IWP). She also founded and co-chaired the Native American Heritage Preservation Coalition.
For her work in Tucson she received the American Institute of Public Service’s Jefferson Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. in 1977. In 2000 she was posthumously given the Outstanding Native American Leader Award, and in 2003 she received the Dr. Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award.
Chaudhuri and her husband co-authored “A Sacred Path: the Way of the Muscogee Creeks”. The book details Muscogee culture, tribal structure and history.
“It’s a tragic story, but it’s also an inspirational story,” Nagle said.
Mvskoke Media streamed the performance from the Muscogee Sovereignty Day celebration.
Nagle also joined Jerrad Moore on LiveWire to talk more in depth about the play.