Rethinking the future

It's a story that never should have been forgotten. This fall, U of L alumna Ramona Big Head (BEd '96) will take 23 students from the Blackfoot Confederacy with her all the way to New York City to perform "Strike them Hard!" The Baker Massacre – a play that speaks to a long-lost tragedy that many have never heard about.

Big Head wrote the script as her final project while pursuing her master of education at the U of L. It brings to life a piece of history that dates back more than 135 years to a cold day in January.

It was 1870 and U.S. Major Eugene Baker and his troops had been given orders to find a group of troublemakers in the area and "strike them hard." When they came across a Blackfeet camp set up along the Marias River in northern Montana, they mistook it as their target.

Despite a signed declaration from the superintendent of Indian Affairs stating that the peaceful camp was not to be attacked, 217 Blackfeet people – mostly women, children and the elderly – were killed.

When Big Head first learned about the massacre through an Aboriginal Elder mentor program she helped develop, she was shocked to discover that her great-great grandmother, who although only a child at the time, was among a small group who survived.

"I was really angry when I first heard about the massacre, especially when I realized that there was a direct connection to my ancestry," says Big Head.

"But today I can talk about the Baker Massacre and not be angry about it. Why? Because I am doing something about it. I wrote the play to remind my people of what our ancestors endured. We're a testimony to their strength."

Following a recommendation from her master's supervisor, Big Head submitted a proposal for the play to be included in Performing the World '08 – a New York festival that brings together more than 400 activists, scholars and researchers from around the world who share a common goal to use performance to foster growth and development.

Exceeding Big Head's greatest expectations, the play was the first submission to ever be accepted from a First Nations group. Big Head and a cast of students ranging in ages from six to 18 are preparing for a performance of a lifetime on a stage off Broadway.

"While there are many ways to tell a story, for me this is the best way – to have children learn the story, perform it and share it with others. These kids are learning and teaching others about the strength and resiliency of our people. It is something they will never forget."