Sovereignty unfolds over two parallel timelines. In present-day Oklahoma, a young Cherokee lawyer, Sarah Ridge Polson, builds a Supreme Court case with colleague Jim Ross to restore tribal jurisdiction over a rape trial. Their collaboration is juxtaposed with scenes from 1835, when the 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.
A direct descendant of John Ridge, 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. Nagle’s ancestor in real life, Ridge attended boarding school in Connecticut, where he fell in love with and married the schoolmaster's daughter, Flora. Sovereignty places him at the center of a bitter schism between two leading Cherokee families—his own and the family of Cherokee chief John Ross—over Jackson’s Treaty of New Echota, which led to the nation’s removal to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.
Taking as her point of departure the story of one passionate lawyer’s defense of the rights of her people to prosecute non-natives who commit crimes on reservations, Sovereignty opens up into an expansive play about the circular continuity of history, human memory, and the power of human relationships.