Imagine being locked in a 9-by-9-foot cell where you've spent the past 31 years of your life. Every day, you live knowing you could spend the rest of your life here, imprisoned for a crime you did not commit.
This is the setting of the staged memoir of the 1999 book, Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance, written by Leonard Peltier, along with Harvey Arden. The book contains Peltier's life story, which he authored while confined in Kansas' Leavenworth Prison his home since 1976.
Featuring an entirely Native American cast, the theatric production is set inside Peltier's prison cell, with singers, dancers and Lakota drummers behind the protagonist.
"We can't go and hear the story of Leonard Peltier in prison, so I'm bringing it to the people," says director Cathie Quigley-Soderman.
Judson Webb, producer of the show and Theatre 13's co-managing director, describes Peltier as "the Nelson Mandela for the Native Americans." He hopes the production will "raise awareness and bring Leonard Peltier's case into the public mind, as it should be."
My Life is My Sun Dance covers Peltier's conviction in the double murder of two FBI agents in June 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Oglala, S.D. The incident occurred while Peltier, then 30, was assisting the Lakota people as part of the American Indian Movement.
Soderman explains that an energy war had been raging for five years between the traditional community and the GOONs, or Guardians of the Oglala Nation, a non-traditional people from the U.S. government who were occupying the reservation and murdering traditionals. The reservation's land contained uranium, a valued energy resource and commodity.
The multimedia show incorporates film footage from Oglala. Peltier's character, played by 37-year-old actor and full-blood Native American Doug Foote, speaks not only on the events leading to his incarceration and an argument for his innocence, but also on what it means to be a Native American in the United States.
Arden describes Peltier as "an extraordinary human being, a wonderful artist, a human rights activist and a symbol of the fight for freedom who attracts love, reverence and hate." He calls Peltier's conviction a "total travesty of justice." In his opinion, "witnesses were intimidated into fabricating testimony while the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals fabricated evidence."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Robert Redford, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King all have advocated for Peltier's release. Reminding us that Peltier is up for parole in 2008, Soderman hopes viewers "will take home more information than they knew beforehand about the case of Leonard Peltier and will be moved to do something in their own life in support of his freedom."
Christina A. Roller
Theatre 13 presents My Life is my Sun Dance
Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
1750 13th St., Boulder
March 15 through April 1; Thursdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees, 3:30 p.m.
Tickets: $10-$25; call 303/443-2122 or visit bmoca.org for more.