About the Opera
On the morning of June 26, 1975, an event occurred in Oglala, South Dakota, which has come to be known as the Shootout at Pine Ridge. Two white FBI agents and a young Native American man were killed during a gunfight between law enforcement agents and Native Americans. This event, however, was not an isolated incident, and should be seen as simply another in a long list of assaults by the United States government against Native Americans.
Sun Dance, the opera, is the story of Leonard Peltier, the only participant found guilty in the trials following the shootout. The first act places the events of the opera in their historical context by revisiting two of the most significant events in Native Americans' long history of struggle versus the US government: the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee and the 1969-71 occupation of Alcatraz Island. It continues with a portrayal of the sense of fear and violence that permeated the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1970s and concludes with the shooting at Pine Ridge and the initial escape of the participants.
The second act brings the incident from the 1970s into the present through the interactions and memories of three women at a rally to support Leonard Peltier. Two of them were participants in the activism of that decade and all of them have some connection to Peltier. They reflect on current issues facing Native communities, while flashing back to excerpts from Leonard's trial. Their struggles with coming to terms with their anger over continued injustices against Native Americans reflect Leonard's own struggles and his transformation since his trial and imprisonment in 1977.
The opera presents the story in a way that appeals to a broad base of individuals who may not otherwise be aware of Peltier's imprisonment. It avoids the technical issues of the trial, and speaks to the issue of finding a way to forgiveness while remembering and honoring those who have been and continue to be oppressed.