In the wake of the release of Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” chronicling one horrific chapter in the history of the Osage tribe, and with Native American Heritage Month now upon us, it seems quite fitting that Season 7 of “Stories from the Stage” trains its eye on stories from those of Native American heritage.
Per its website, the series, which airs on WORLD Channel and public television stations around the country, “invites storytellers from around the world to share extraordinary tales of what it means to be human. Each episode features both on-stage performances and interviews.” It’s co-hosted by comedian, actor, writer Wes Hazard and writer Theresa Okokon.
In the November 13 episode, “Sacred Circle,” all three storytellers are of Native American ancestry. One is Nebraska-based Levelle Wells, a member of the Omaha tribe who is president of the Big Elk Native American Center and co-founder of Wells and Bailey Trauma Intervention Specialists.
Wells creates experiences to help Native Americans work through the trauma that plagues many in the community. In his interview before taking the stage, Hazard asked Wells what he felt was the greatest challenge facing Native Americans today. Wells replied, “Trauma, generational trauma.” He believes this trauma has led to an epidemic of low self-esteem that prevents some Native Americans from having as much agency over their lives as they otherwise might.
When he takes the stage, Wells, who is half Black, explains he was profiled by police at age 17. He received a drug charge for which, he said, he was wrongfully convicted. He said his innocence ended there. “Prison turned me into a monster.”
He was an inveterate criminal for the next 20 years, basking perversely in the “street status and respect” garnered through chronic delinquency. Finally, picked up for the umpteenth time by the police as a drunken, drug-addled, middle-aged gang-banger, something started to shift. Wells takes the audience with him on that journey to sobriety and turning his “pain into purpose.”
Now a filmmaker and professor, Rebecca Schlichting grew up on reservations and in and out of foster care. She takes the stage to talk about preparing for her beloved Aunt Mary to die, or “go to the happy hunting grounds,” as those of her Ioway tribe sometimes describe it. The family had just taken her aunt off life support, so they knew it was only a matter of time.
Schlichting, as her name indicates, is part white. She reveals that her father has German heritage. She also said that her mother struggled with accepting and loving her Native American identity, something with which many people of color can relate. It was the aunt who stepped in and taught Schlichting how to appreciate and love her culture and Native American heritage, and who shared her love of filmmaking.
Overwhelmed with gratitude for all her aunt gave her, Schlichting said she grappled with finding the best way to express it. In her aunt’s honor, she sang, prayed, gave offerings, and wore a pair of the aunt’s moccasins on her final trip to see her at the hospital where, for her “final touch,” she placed them on Aunt Mary’s feet.