Cross-cultural play places a Native American reservation in the Bronx

Kenneth J. Cooper | 1/3/2013, 11:06 a.m.

What sounds like Native American language is sprinkled through the dialogue. Peters says the words were actually made up to avoid offending any particular tribe. The “wetu” of the title is a low, dome-shaped dwelling with a frame of bent tree branches.

Foods mentioned represent a cross-cultural blend. Uncle Sebby describes a traditional tribal meal as “beans, corn and fish, no salt.” Some members act offended when a woman brings greens and watermelon to a reception for the tobacco company’s representative, who, eager to make a deal, gushes about the fare and eats more than one helping.

Peters takes a veiled shot at the Cherokee Nation for racial intolerance. Attucks complains of going to college in Oklahoma and spending “four years around these white-looking Indians, and they didn’t respect me as a ’skin.”

It’s possibly a reference to Bacone College, a Baptist school founded in 1880 to serve Cherokees. In 2007, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma expelled descendants of its former slaves from the tribe, despite an 1866 treaty’s guarantee of tribal citizenship. The issue is being fought in the federal courts. Most enrolled members of today’s Cherokee Nation are more white than red.

The modern Waquasiq that Peters imagines does decide to trade their urban rez for the green acres of Vermont, an embrace of the value that Native Americans place on the natural world.

Today’s Bronx is not the Bronx that was once the tribe’s sacred space.