In 2015, Cherokee actor, performance artist, writer and activist DeLanna Studi took a 900-mile, six-week long journey with her father Thomas Studi along the path her great-great grandparents took in the 1830s when they were forced by the U.S government to relocate from their homeland.
Their journey started in North Carolina and was part of the Trail of Tears, which forcibly relocated thousands of Native American peoples from many nations in the Southeastern United States, including 17,000 Cherokee, to areas west of the Mississippi River that had been designated as Indian Territory. During these forced relocations, thousands of Native peoples died from disease and starvation while en route to their new home.
Studi, who was a company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for two seasons and has appeared on television, off-Broadway and in films, has written and performs in the two-act dramatic memoir “And So We Walked,” which is presented at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on May 23.
The play retraces her 2015 journey and talks about the Native people she met along the way in an effort to communicate the complexities and conflicts with which the Cherokee wrestle to this day.
“When we started the journey, my father said I needed to rely on what my body was feeling and suggested that I put off doing research about a place until after we visited it,” Studi explains. “There were places we visited where I had strange feelings in my body when we were there. I later found out that my relatives suffered specific adversities in these places. It’s as if I could feel their pain inside myself. That really surprised me.”
During the play, Studi plays more than 20 different characters, including her father, other relatives and people she met along the path. Her mother is rarely portrayed only because “she didn’t want to be in the play a lot,” Studi adds.
“And So We Walked” premiered in North Carolina in April 2017 and has been presented in venues throughout the U.S. during the past year. “I feel like people are hungry for history, real history,” Studi says. “This experience has been so rewarding for me. What’s interesting is that while this story is personal for me, it seems to have universal appeal.”