We are excited to announce the winner of our “Empowered” Play Contest, “Queen Catherine” by Judith Pratt. Inspired by a grave alongside the Catharine Trail in New York State, it delves into the story of the legendary Catharine Montour, a famous Haudenosaunee leader (you may know them by the name Iroquois, which stands for five, and later six tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) who has become more myth than woman. The details of Catharine’s life have been distorted by the suppositions of the white settlers of her time and the historians who came after. Her life was conflated with that of other Haudenosaunee women, details were fabricated and realities misunderstood. In recent years, historians have been investigating regional history, looking for the real Catharine Montour, but there is so much misinformation around the traumatic events of the American Revolution, which ended with the heavily persecuted Haudenosaunee fleeing to Canada, that it seems unlikely that the truth will ever be revealed in more than glimmers.
Judith centers “Queen Catharine” not on colonial or immigrant history but on the Haudenosaunee, particularly three women: Queen Catharine Montour, Queen Esther Montour, and Ohnii-kah. By asking that all of the white characters in “Queen Catharine” be played by one actress, possibly an actor and actress, while the Haudenosaunee women are single cast, and by having the Haudenosaunee women constantly onstage as events progress, she asserts that they are more persistent and enduring than the white characters. The white characters feel like transients, travelers far from home. This is accurate, even if it makes us, as their descendants, uncomfortable.
There is also an allusion to female intersectionality. It is the white woman who is changed by the Haudenosaunee women, not the white men. Indigenous women have always figured importantly in American women’s movements. We all grow better when we take up a more nurturing and empathetic look on life, but how do we band together to protect ourselves against those that want to conquer and subjugate?
“Queen Catharine” is a beautiful, respectful tribute to a way of life that was nearly destroyed, offered in acknowledgement of great failure and offense by a white culture that thought, and continues to think, that it is superior. May we all long and work toward a more sustainable, inclusive and kinder world.