Pamela Mencher has spent eleven years working on her play -- but in some ways, she's been working on it her whole life. Born on a Lakota/Sioux reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Mencher spent her formative years there and on a Blackfeet reservation in Montana during the civil rights years, a time of great social unrest in Indian reservations and everywhere else; it's from that experience, along with years of research and about eighteen drafts, that she draws Growing up White on the Reservation, a full-length play about, well, growing up white on the reservation.
"Being a minority within a minority gives you kind of a unique experience," says Mencher -- though she notes that, for the better part of her childhood, she didn't even notice it. "I felt like I was part of the tribe. It was kind of like almost everybody else's childhood of the 60s."
Toward the end of the '60s, though, things started to change. Mencher's coming-of-age years were nigh, and there could hardly have been a weirder time for it. "With the civil rights movement, there was this kind of uncomfortable..." she pauses to reflect. "Nobody knew how to treat each other. Nobody knew what their relationships where anymore. We all kind of noticed each other, like, oh, you're white, oh, you're Indian. So there was this kind of upheaval of the status quo."
Mencher's play focuses in on a few months within those crazy years: the summer and autumn of 1972, when the American Indian Movement was really picking up steam -- the 1969 takeover of Alcatraz had gone down, along with the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington D.C. -- incidentally, the organization for which Mencher's father worked. And of all the groups protesting for civil rights, Mencher notes, American Indians had probably had it the worst: "Reservations are the most poverty-stricken areas in the United States," she says. "I mean, you think it's bad in the urban ghetto, reservations are worse."
Mencher herself made it out alright; she still has fond memories of growing up in that time and place -- but not all of her family members had such fond experiences. The play follows characters, both white and Indian, based on her own situations and experiences and those of the people she knew.
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Tonight's staged reading of Growing up White on the Reservation -- at 7:30 p.m. at the Buntport Theater -- will be the first time the play has ever been presented in its entirety, and it's free to attend. For more information, call 303-467-0889.