Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Thursday, March 29, 2007

UPDATED: Peltier, 'My Life is My Sundance' Theater

Photo: Lakota actor Doug Foote in theater production, Leonard Peltier: "My Life Is My Sundance" in Boulder. (Photos by Keith and Dayna)
Slide show:
Contact for play: Producers Cathie and Paul Soderman:
UPDATE: Message from Harvey Arden
"Everyone's delighted this old whiteman will take Leonard's bullets. What a way to go!"
Responding to questions about the theater production, Harvey said:
"No, the play wasn't cancelled. It had 12 wonderful performances. It HAS been attacked by at least one FBI surrogate and remains unmentioned (as yet) in the national press, though was well-reviewed by press in Boulder & Denver when it played. We're hoping to take it on the road. It WAS mentioned in NDN journalist Brenda Norrell's new website CENSORED -- which features NDN subjects the corporate media conveniently ignore, as they've ignored Leonard for decades, except for an occasional hatchet job. There was, however, no cancelling or censoring of the production of MY LIFE IS MY SUN DANCE. Every performance brought audiences to tears, outrage & inspiration; I myself have never seen a theater audience more profoundly moved or shaken; sustained standing applause for Lakota actor Doug Foote's incandescent performance were powerful experiences in themselves. I doubt there's anything on Broadway today even remotely as moving as this play. Are there other theaters withthe grit and integrity to stage Cathie Quigley-Soderman's wondrous production? There's already an offer for a potential London production. We'll see. I'd rather see a major production here in the States touring every regional theater in the land. Leonard has a rare parole hearin in December \'08 (the last was in 1993, next--if needed--in 2017.). Pulitzer-Prize-winning (ha!) production of this amazing piece of theater could help win Leonard's freedom, just as Hurricane Carter's movie did for him. Leonard's 63rd birthday will be September 12; two weeks later I myself will turn 72. I have a dream: walking at Leonard's side as he walks out of prison a free man. If he's assassinated at that moment -- as some in e-mails to me have hopefully suggested will happen -- I would be honored to take the bullets for him. So would many tens of millions of other decent people around this indecent planet we've created. May Creator watch over the two of us -- and over the many many millions of us. Let decency reign. Free Leonard Peltier!"
--Harvey Arden
About Lakota actor Doug Foote
Doug Foote who is Lakota from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, plays the lead in the Theatre 13 production. It's his first speaking role and he feels honored to fill the shoes of the activist.
"What has he done, and what he has fought for, I too have been through that," Foote told The Denver Rocky Mountain News. "I am very honored and humbled to play that part of Leonard Peltier."
Foote served a tour of duty in Iraq. He suffered a knee injury when an improvised explosive device went off. He's a fancy dancer and a drummer who hopes to return to his tribe to work as a youth counselor.
Foote is part of an all-Native cast for "My Life Is My Sun Dance." The play is set inside Peltier's prison cell, where he is serving two life terms for the June 1975 murders of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Get the Story:Actor feels honor taking Peltier role (The Denver Rocky Mountain News 3/15)Username:, Password: indianz
Seven Days (The Colorado Springs Independent 3/15)
Special thanks to Steph for permisssion to publish this review:

Transcendent Magic:
The world premiere of "My Life Is My Sun Dance",
A play written by Leonard Peltier with Harvey Arden

© by Stephanie M. Schwartz, Freelance Writer email:
Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
Photos © Keith Rabin, Evergreen Colorado March 2007

Boulder, Colorado March 16, 2007

Live theater can be magic. The goal of actors and directors is to perfect illusion onstage so as to transport the audience into their world; to become one with them, to care about them. Those moments are sometimes rare but always beautiful. The illusion of theater, perfected as an art, becomes true magic.

Last night, in a small blackbox theater on an upper floor of the Boulder [Colorado] Museum of Contemporary Art, an audience of ab My Life Is My Sun Dance, was a book published in 1999 by the Native American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, with Harvey Arden as his editor. It is a collection of Peltier’s essays, poems, and reflections on his life and his work from within prison walls, his love for his People and cultural traditions, and his understanding that through forgiveness, through “forgiving the unforgivable”, comes healing; that forgiveness and fair treatment is the real power within each person.

Peltier’s words were originally adapted to solo readings by his editor, devoted friend and supporter, Harvey Arden. Now, in 2007 and ever-more timely, the words have been adapted to stage by Harvey Arden, Cathie Quigley-Soderman, and Doug Foote, directed by Quigley-Soderman, and produced by Warrior Artists Productions along with the Museum’s internal Theater 13. The production stars Lakota actor, Doug Foote, as Leonard Peltier, and features Doug Foote’s Good Feather Drum/Singers (Robert Ironshield, Nick Foote, and Mark Silentbear). Intermission speakers and singers vary by performance.

Those are the facts. But what the facts don’t depict was last night’s opening night performance. Transcendent magic. A performance so profound, so powerful, that it brought the audience to tear-flowing, stunned silence followed by a standing ovation. That 71 year old Harvey Arden stood during intermission, with a talking feather in his hand and tears in his eyes as he spoke authentically of the real power and tragedy of Leonard Peltier, was enough to touch the hearts of everyone there. Southern Cherokee singer JD Nash stopped in for one night, one intense song, giving his own searing message of choice and hope as a gift to the audience. Cast singer Mark Silentbear offered up his own composition, Peltier, as a haunting, evocative memory while the Good Feather Drum, singing and playing from time to time, brought the reality and the beauty of the Lakota Traditional Ways alive. Moreover, the “technicals” were superb with the so-brief historical film clips, back-lit shadow work, and the unique lighting techniques which brought attention and emphasis to the riveting words.

But it was Doug Foote, Wiyaka Waste, from the Standing Rock Lakota Reservation of South and North Dakota who created the greatest miracle. A champion Fancy Dancer and Ceremonial Singer, fluent in his Lakota language, not long back from being injured during two Tours of Duty in Iraq, Foote is new to lead-acting but obviously not new to pain, individual or collective or cultural. Doug Foote walked onto that stage but, as was witnessed by everyone there, a gripping, indisputable metamorphosis took place. As spirit flowed through him, the face, the body language, the soul became Leonard Peltier. Rarely does an actor obtain this level of transcendence. But Doug Foote not only managed it but merged the audience right along with him, into the prison cell, the life, into the heart, the song, and into the forgiveness of Leonard Peltier.

It all started during the time of the horrific 1970’s Reign of Terror on the Oglala Lakota Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, an infamous time of great violence and mutual corruption between tribal officials and U.S. government employees. Two FBI agents were killed during a gun battle on Reservation land on which numerous Lakota men, women, and children were camped. A Lakota man was also killed but his death has never been investigated. Leonard Peltier was convicted of murdering the two FBI agents after everyone else was acquitted as having acted in self-defense. His was the sole conviction, a conviction based on untruth and hate, a vendetta.

The United States Courts have since admitted that Peltier’s conviction of murder was based on incomplete, misleading, withheld, and out-right fraudulent evidence. The U.S. Prosecutor has even conceded they do not know who actually shot the two FBI agents.

It was the Freedom of Information Act which allowed Peltier’s attorneys to discover the lies, manipulation, and deceit perpetrated in his original trial. Yet, a new trial was denied with the accusation that Peltier, by virtue of his presence at the time of the gun battle, had “aided and abetted” even though that was never defined as to how he might have aided and abetted anything. Clearly, the government’s “own” had been killed and someone must pay. Peltier didn’t shoot those FBI agents but he has sacrificed for it with his life’s years.

For 31 years, exactly one-half of his lifetime now, Peltier has been behind prison bars. Over and over, misconduct and malfeasance on the part of the legal system seems to have permeated every facet of Leonard Peltier's life in prison and his court case. Yet he remains a model prisoner, establishing numerous humanitarian projects within the prison system as well as back on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The late Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, Amnesty International, International Indian Treaty Council, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Sister Helen Prejean, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, Mikhail Gorbachev, Gloria Steinem, Wilma Mankiller, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Congress of American Indians, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission of Spain, the Belgian Parliament, the European Parliament, and a host of other notables all have worked, petitioned, and pleaded for his release.

Yet, still, the United States government bows to the pressure of vengeful FBI protests and demonstrations and allows this man, now 62 years old and in ill health, to continue to be unfairly imprisoned.

If the FBI had hoped to send a “message” to indigenous people with his imprisonment, they were successful. But it isn’t the message of fear they intended. In truth, for the American Indian Nations as well as the world at large, the continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier has shown that the best of humanity is found right in himself, in the nobility of a spirit so confronted with the treachery and ugliness of life that it has transcended and become a beacon and message of hope, courage, and integrity for his People and for all people. Leonard Peltier has become the Nelson Mandela of America.

For more information on Leonard Peltier, visit the website of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee,
For more information on Harvey Arden, visit his website,
For more information on Warrior Artists Productions, visit their website at Additional photos may be seen at
Stephanie M. Schwartz may be reached at
The written words of Stephanie M. Schwartz may be viewed at


Tribal Ink News said...

When freedom is taken away..we understand the reality of crazy laws...when will Leonard be freed?

Anonymous said...

In Peace Productions,LLC. Is now the contact for all or any info on or productions of the play.

Leonard spoke to Harvey directing him and I to create this Play and get it out to the world.
To find information,support or information on Harvey's 2009 4 week road trip go to:

or contact @

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