Background on the Libretto
You can download a copy of the libretto here.
The original libretto for the opera was written using only text that was from primary sources. At that time, we felt that it was important to not speak for Native Americans but to allow their words to speak for themselves. And in the case of Leonard Peltier, his prison writing is very powerful and needs no embellishment. In much of the opera, especially in Wounded Knee and Alcatraz, this proved to be a good way to convey the message.
There were several issues with this approach. Many of the voices of people who played smaller but important roles were not recorded in the primary sources, which kept the audience from getting to know them as individuals. And the events of the trial itself, and the changing issues of Native Americans since that time, were complex and difficult to explain with this method.
Following the initial performances, and based on suggestions from many people including some who were with Peltier during the events portrayed in the opera, we decided to add dialogue that remained true to the nature and spirit of the characters speaking, but was not necessarily their exact words. And in the second act, we added three new characters, all Native American women, to provide continuity to the trial and to help bring the issues into the present day, with respect to Leonard's imprisonment and contemporary Native American struggles. We believe that this does not in any way compromise the message of the opera, but we acknowledge that some may feel it is not appropriate for non-Native Americans to take this creative license. We welcome comments, criticisms, or suggestions on this topic.
We also made one other change. At the time of the initial writing, hopes were high that Leonard Peltier would be pardoned and released from prison. The opera closed on a positive note with the words "Mitakuye Oyasin" ("We are all related"), in the hope that people would see that Leonard's plight was not just about Native Americans but about all oppressed people. The pardon and release did not take place. And now, several years later, Peltier is still in prison with no immediate hope of release. The opera still ends with Peltier's words, but this time he asks, "Don't forget, not ever," words taken from one of his recent statements. This is a more somber ending, which we believe is appropriate. It is a reminder that governments throughout the world, including our own, continue to use oppression and imprisonment as tools of control. Each of us, in our own way, must remember this, and do what we can to implement change.
Go to the educational materials page to see the list of references from which the libretto was drawn.