Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Controversy Over Jim Thorpe’s Remains Subject of Play Reading, Panel Discussion

Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Turtle Talk
1/21/15

The Penn Museum in Philadelphia will hosts a staged reading of My Father's Bones, a short play by nationally renowned Native American writers and activists Suzan Shown Harjo and Mary Kathryn Nagle, on Thursday, February 12, 5:30 pm.

The play recounts the ongoing struggle of three sons to recover the remains of their father—the unmatched Olympian Jim Thorpe—from the Borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, for reburial with his relatives on Sac and Fox Nation land in Oklahoma. The free program, sponsored by the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the Penn Museum, and presented in conjunction with the Museum's Native American Voices exhibition, concludes with a panel discussion and reception.

The first version of My Father's Bones was selected as a finalist for the 2013 Von Marie Atchley Excellence in Playwriting Award and performed at the Autry Center of the American West in Los Angeles. This revision is staged by Philadelphia-based director Matt Pfeiffer, recently nominated for the 2014 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Direction of Play for his direction of Down Past Passyunk, at InterAct Theater Company in Philadelphia.

Following the play, the Penn Cultural Heritage Center and the Museum host a panel discussion about repatriation and the use of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) as the legal basis to return Jim Thorpe's remains to his ancestral home. Representatives of the Borough of Jim Thorpe and the Sac and Fox Nation have been invited to attend. To date, panelists include tribal representatives of the Sac and Fox Nation; Attorney John Echohawk, Director of the Native American Rights Fund; and Suzan Shown Harjo, President of the Morningstar Institute. Penn Cultural Heritage Center Director Richard Leventhal moderates.

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For those unable to attend in Philadelphia, the play will be available online via HowlRound's livestream on its global, commons-based peer produced HowlRound TV network at HowlRound.com.

To participate in the talk back following the performance, use Twitter hashtag #newplay, #MyFathersBones and/or#JimThorpe and direct your questions @HowlRound.

Background to the Story

On October 23, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia determined that NAGPRA does not apply to the requested repatriation of Jim Thorpe's remains. As a result, Sac and Fox Nation, Jim Thorpe's sons Bill and Richard Thorpe, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell have all petitioned the Court, requesting that the Third Circuit reconsider the case en banc. Their petitions remain pending.

Jim Thorpe was an enrolled citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation and winner of several Olympic gold medals. He passed away in 1953 and the Sac and Fox Nation honored him with a traditional Sac and Fox burial, in accordance with his last wishes. Ordinarily, these ceremonies last four days. However, on the fourth day, his third wife, Patsy, who was not Native American, allegedly interrupted the returning-the-name ceremony, which is the last step before burial in the territory of the Sac and Fox Nation.

"Researching the play, we learned that Patsy burst into the funeral and, with the assistance of an Oklahoma State Trooper, removed his body," Harjo said. "She then proceeded to sell Jim Thorpe's body for a few thousand dollars to a town in Pennsylvania that hoped to use his body to attract tourism and enhance its local economy. This town, originally comprised of East and West Chunk, re-named itself after the human body it purchased as the Borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania."

After years of attempts to convince the Borough to permit the repatriation of Jim Thorpe to his Sac and Fox homeland, his sons (former Chairman Jack Thorpe and Bill and Richard Thorpe) filed suit, along with the Sac and Fox Nation. The District Court concluded that NAGPRA does apply to the Borough's possession of Jim Thorpe, but the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the lower court's decision.

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rhonsixtyfour's picture
rhonsixtyfour
Submitted by rhonsixtyfour on
My God how grizzly to buy a corpse..and aint it illegal to sell one? Good Gawd!

rhonsixtyfour's picture
rhonsixtyfour
Submitted by rhonsixtyfour on
My God how grizzly to buy a corpse..and aint it illegal to sell one? Good Gawd!

rhonsixtyfour's picture
rhonsixtyfour
Submitted by rhonsixtyfour on
My God how grizzly to buy a corpse..and aint it illegal to sell one? Good Gawd!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
(from the article): "She then proceeded to sell Jim Thorpe's body for a few thousand dollars to a town in Pennsylvania that hoped to use his body to attract tourism and enhance its local economy." ______________________________________________________________ Is NOTHING sacred to these people? I can't believe HIS OWN WIFE did this! My own wife is non-Native (she was adopted in Venezia), but I'm certain she'll abide by my wishes. Of course, no one gives a shit where I'm buried because I'm no one special.
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