- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

A Montgomery County high school has agreed to change the name of its fall play, "Ten Little Indians," after a local Indian activist complained that the title was offensive.
Richard Regan, a Montgomery County resident and a Lumbee Cheraw Indian who spent a year trying to ban American Indian imagery from school sports teams in Maryland, complained in a letter to the principal of Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville that the play should be canceled because it is offensive to American Indians.
"We have no plans to pull production of the play, but we have changed the name," said Montgomery County schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison. "For this performance, the play will be called 'And Then There Were None.'"
Miss Harrison said the school system wanted to be "sensitive to the concerns and issues that were raised by Mr. Regan." Paint Branch High School Principal Jeanette Dixon did not return calls seeking comment.
The play, adapted from a 1939 Agatha Christie mystery novel, is scheduled to run Thursday through Saturday. The plot involves 10 strangers who meet in a summer cottage off the coast of England, called Indian Island, after receiving mysterious invitations from an unknown host.
The characters in the play are killed in a way that mirrors the nursery rhyme of the same name, with a china statuette of an Indian removed from a mantelpiece after each killing. The complete nursery rhyme, which begins, "Ten little Indian boys went out to dine, one choked his little self and then there were nine," is printed in Chapter 2 of the book.
"While people say the title has nothing to do with the play, I think you have to be careful because the implicit message of that [nursery rhyme] is that American Indians are expendable and invisible," said Mr. Regan, who also said he has never seen the play. Mr. Regan filed the complaint on his own, and not on behalf of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, of which he is a member.
His complaint is not the first time the story's imagery has been called into question.
The Agatha Christie book was originally titled "Ten Little Niggers," as was the nursery rhyme it took the name from.
The original title was deemed offensive in 1940 by American publisher Dodd, Mead & Co., who changed it to "And Then There Were None," a line taken from the same nursery rhyme. The references in the book and the play were changed to Indians for American audiences, just as the nursery rhyme had evolved to include the same changes over the years.
The play, under its original title, opened in London in 1943. It was retitled "Ten Little Indians" for its U.S. debut at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City in 1944. But as late as the 1960s, the play was still being performed under the original title in Europe.
The play is considered a standard in high schools and community theaters and was performed as "And Then There Were None" by the Washington Shakespeare Company in March 1997.
Mr. Regan said he doesn't have much say over what private theater groups produce, but decided to take a stand when taxpayer dollars became involved in producing the play in a county school.
"I just felt this was something that didn't send a very strong diversity message," said Mr. Regan, who has three children in the Montgomery County school system.
Mr. Regan said he feels that because the original title and imagery of the play were deemed offensive and changed, they should be again. And while he suspects his critics might dismiss his efforts as political correctness run amok, he believes he has staked out the moral high ground on this issue.
"Somebody's got to watch the bank, and I think I've got them on this one," Mr. Regan said. "I may not be able to stop the production but maybe I've educated a few teachers and principals that before you do this you really need to do your research."
Mr. Regan, both on his own and as a member of the state Indian commission, led an attempt to get Maryland schools to discontinue the use of Indian names and imagery in sports teams. A separate attempt to impose an economic boycott on a Germantown youth sports league for using names like "Braves" and "Indians" was overturned by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening in August 2001.
Mr. Regan's biggest success came in Montgomery County, where the school board voted to force Poolesville High School to abandon the nickname "Indians." But despite winning a non-binding resolution from the state Board of Education asking schools to review their policies with regard to Indian imagery, half of state schools that used them continue to do so.

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