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“Blue Jacket” drama responds to research questions
Every summer, the Shawnee chief called Blue Jacket comes back to life by way of a Xenia, Ohio, outdoor theater production. For centuries his story has been a dramatic one: a Dutchman captured by the Shawnee when he was in his teens rises to be chief of the tribe. He leads them to more victories against troops of settlers than Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse combined. Executive Director of the Blue Jacket production, Lorrie Sparrow, is familiar with the story of his origin, and with his triumphs in Ohio’s Great Lakes Region.
“Blue Jacket did what Pontiac could not and what Tecumseh eventually failed to do, Sparrow says. Blue jacket and the Wabash Confederation stopped the oncoming settlers and the American army in their tracks. Not once, but twice.”
But this summer her production faces a dilemma. Researchers at Wright State University have disproved the supposed facts of Blue Jacket’s origin. They studied DNA samples from the chief’s descendants and from his supposed Dutch family. Head researchers Dan Krane says DNA proves the Blue Jacket story is fiction.
“Those DNA profiles are distinctly different, which is inconsistent with the idea that Blue Jacket is related to that Dutch family and much more consistent with the idea that he was a Native American,” Krane says.
This means the details the play had previously presented as history are in fact only a myth. With their actors already cast at the time Wright State published its research, Sparrow and her colleagues needed to decide how to correct the myth, if at all.
“What we decided to do this year is go forward with the script as it has stood in the past. We have information in our program that tells of the study, Sparrow says. We are receiving posters from Dr. Krane to post in our amphitheater to show both sides of this controversy. We really have embraced their study.”
This summer’s show will downplay the aspects of the script that call attention to Blue Jacket as a white man. And in years to come, the production may change or may remain a documentation of the legend of Blue Jacket. Sparrow says the fate of the script will not affect the fate of the show’s message. Their goals as artists and producers remain.
“We’re not sure whether or not we’re going to be changing the script, but ultimately we want to make sure that the artistic merit of our story– and of Blue Jacket’s accomplishments themselves– is treated in a way that will not let down our legacy of the past,” Sparrow says.
Regardless of script changes, Sparrow says the show will always focus on what she describes as its most vital aspect: the culture of the Shawnee people.
“Does it really matter if he’s white or if he’s Indian? What matters is the story of the Shawnee. What matters is a timely story about fathers sending their sons to war, about the conflict of culture, and about how we as a society must learn from our history or we will be continually condemned to repeat it,” Sparrow says.