By Tulis McCall
“Where We Belong” is definitely not a play. It is a narrative. Informative and filled with the lessons that should not be a surprise to us, but they are. It is more akin to a TED Talk, and a long one at that, delivered on a set with meaninngless moving parts that do nothing to enhance the offering.
Sayet tells us, after a brief introduction that this is the story of how she became a bird. Not quite.
This is the story of how Sayet has become a magnet for Native American stories and is now a walking compendium of this knowledge. She is spreading the word as fast as she can. This is great news for all of us.
Sayet is a Mohegan from Connecticut (Mohegan Sun Casino is located on their land and the money coming in is used for education). Hers was a single mother who emphasized the critical need to speak the language whenever possible. It was important that the language not die- although it came close to it. Fidelia Fielding was the last fluent Mohegan speaker, and her people thought she was crazy to create the notebooks that would eventually be returned to the tribe and may possibly save the Mohegan language.
Sayet looks for the story of the Mohegans (and other tribes) in literature. Parables are universal after all. She hits on Shakespeare, in particular “The Tempest”. What if Caliban was not mad. What if Caliban was an indigenous person? hmmmmm…. Why not?
She decides to go to England, the source, and study Shakespeare. This begins a long, and blistering critique of the British education elite. The tour of the British Museum Native American Wing was so callous that the incident was literally breathtaking. Similar situations occurred over and over again as Sayet fought to have her thesis taken seriously and not knit picked to death. While she is in England she discovers the burial site of Mahomet Weyonomon – Sachem of the Mohegans who went to England in 1735 to discuss the mistreatment of his people with the King. He thought it would be a special occasion of two leaders meeting. He was ignored long enough for him to get smallpox and die. She re-discovers Samson Occom who went to the U K to raise money for a Native American school. The charter for his dream school was changed and the funds diverted to build Dartmouth on stolen Abenaki Land. Occom, like Mahomet, left and never returned.
Sayet has dozens of stories like this that all boil down to one thing. White people have been beating the crap out of indigenous people for centuries. They have stolen land, people, stories and most importantly language. We have cherished Shakespeare and ripped words out of the mouths of Native Americans.
That stops with Sayet, whose passion is evident. After she meticulously lists the grievances she swings back around to hope. Sayet is filled with it. She imagines the students coming up behind her whom she will lead and whom she will teach. And they in turn will do the same. Bravo to that.
Now all she has to do is find the play that is surely lurking nearby.
WHERE WE BELONG, written by Madeline Sayet, directed by Mei Ann Teo
WITH Madeline Sayet
This production is the latest stop in a nationwide tour produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with Folger Shakespeare Library, at the Public Theater through Sunday, November 27. TICKETS