Sovereignty unfolds over two parallel timelines. In present-day Oklahoma, a young Cherokee lawyer, Sarah Ridge Polson, and her colleague Jim Ross defend the inherent jurisdiction of Cherokee Nation in the U.S. Supreme Court when a non-Indian defendant challenges the Nation’s authority to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence. Their collaboration is juxtaposed with scenes from 1835, when Cherokee Nation was eight hundred miles to the east in the southern Appalachians. That year, Sarah’s and Jim’s ancestors, historic Cherokee rivals, were bitterly divided over a proposed treaty with the administration of Andrew Jackson, the Treaty of New Echota, which led to the nation’s removal to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.
A direct descendant of nineteenth-century Cherokee leaders John Ridge and Major Ridge, Mary Kathryn Nagle has penned a play that twists and turns from violent outbursts to healing monologues, illuminating a provocative double meaning for the sovereignty of both tribal territory and women’s bodies. Taking as its point of departure the story of one lawyer’s passionate defense of the rights of her people to prosecute non-natives who commit crimes on reservations, Sovereignty opens up into an expansive exploration of the circular continuity of history, human memory, and the power of human relationships.