News & Features

‘Notable Heroines’ to Take the Stage at Central School

Actors to portray nine influential women at event to fund scholarships awarded by Flathead Democratic Women

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jeanette Rankin, Harper Lee and even Lady Liberty herself will be sharing their stories at the Museum at Central School in Kalispell for two nights only on Nov. 17 and 18.

OK, so it’s not the actual women themselves, but the Flathead Democratic Women promise the next best thing at their third-ever “Notable Heroines of America” performances, where actors will portray nine historic figures, interact with one another and address an intimate audience. The two performances, both at 3 p.m., raise funds for the organization’s annual women’s scholarships and cost $20 to attend. Seating is limited to about 100 per show, and the past iterations, including in 2015, have sold out. Tickets are on sale now at the Kalispell Grand Hotel.

Mary Reckin, who has directed all three shows and will also be performing this weekend as screenwriter and political activist Lillian Hellman, said it felt like the right time to revive the series after a three-year hiatus.

“I love the idea of women being called up from history to talk to us,” she said. “It just took off, and now, of course, we’ve had a wonderful election, a lot of women are coming to the fore, and it just seems even more right than ever before.”

Ginsburg, Rankin, Lee and, yes, the Statue of Liberty, may be the most recognizable names scheduled to appear, but they will be joined by a varied cross-section of women, including another legislator (Catherine Calk McCarty) and writer (Grace Stone Coates), the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist (Mary Baker Eddy) and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Elouise Cobell.

Reckin said Cobell’s inclusion marks the first time a Native American woman will be featured, something she had tried but failed to do in prior years. This time around, Reckin reached out to Blackfeet artist and activist Mariah Gladstone, who chose Cobell as her character.

Cobell passed away in 2011, leaving behind an enduring legacy as a fighter for Native American rights. She was the driving force behind a massive class-action lawsuit against the Department of the Interior that claimed the U.S. government had mismanaged trust funds set up for Native Americans living on lands rich in natural resources. The resulting settlement of $3.4 billion is one of the largest ever reached, and Cobell was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Gladstone was working in the office of Gov. Steve Bullock in 2015 when he declared Nov. 5, Cobell’s birthday, to be Elouise Cobell Day across Montana. At her “Notable Heroines” performances, Gladstone is looking forward to showing audiences — as Cobell — what that settlement has meant to Native American families around the country, including the Blackfeet.

“With things still developing out of that settlement, it’s fun to see how those things are having a positive impact,” Gladstone said. “I think it will be cool to address some of the things that have happened because of her work.”

Just last week, Blackfeet Community College announced it was naming its new Health and Science Education Building in honor of Cobell, who was also known as Yellow Bird Woman. Gladstone, for her part, says she plans to watch a newly released documentary, “100 Years,” that is centered on Cobell’s life and achievements, and continue to read up on Cobell’s life to prepare for her performance.

“I really do want to honor her and breathe life into the person that she was,” Gladstone said. “And recognize so many of the things that she’s done, not only for my own nation, the Blackfeet, but for Indian nations across the country.”

During the performance, Gladstone says she plans to interact with some of the other performers, introducing Cobell to, say, Supreme Court Justice Bader Ginsburg. And when she’s not performing, Gladstone is looking forward to educating herself on the rest of the women who are part of the show.

“There’s some well-known characters and then there’s some other folks that I had no knowledge of, and I’m learning a lot as part of it,” Gladstone said. “(This) is not only going to be an entertaining event but an educational one.”

andy@flatheadbeacon.com