My Life Is My Sundance, Leonard Peltier – an Analysis

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Title
A sun dance is in part a painful ceremony performed by Native Americans in order to receive messages through visions. It also serves to protect and bring healing to the tribe. If life is this man’s sun dance, that is a very sad story, but a very poignant one of what he sees to be the protection of his people.

Gut Reaction
Well that’s a painful truth….
On the tribal level; keeping silent has damaged the whole.
On the personal level; silence might actually be a way to destroy ourselves.

What does it all mean?
Keeping silent is just as guilty an act as a crime itself; be responsible for your own (in)action.

Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity.
If something criminal or bad has happened and you know about it but say nothing, you are just as guilty, which I guess is up for interpretation. Driving a getaway car? Complicit. Fairly obvious. But listening to domestic violence? Not stopping a fight in the street? Is that also complicit?

But silence is impossible.
Silence…secrets… Can’t remain that way for long, guilt will eat its way out of you and suddenly you’ll be screaming out your lungs…

Silence screams.
…see?

Silence is a message,
just as doing nothing is an act.

Staying silent is sending a message that you don’t care, and not helping when you know you should is as bad as the act itself? Well, perhaps not in all cases…but generally.

Let who you are ring out and resonate
in every word and every deed.

If you say you are a good, kind, compassionate person then prove it not just with words but in all you do.

Yes, become who you are.
Be the person you say you want to be.

There’s no side stepping your own being,
or your own responsibility.

You can’t escape your own life and the responsibilities you create for yourself (well…sometimes you can. But you’ll never be whole. Or the person you could be.)

What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.

Your actions make you the person you are, and the things that happen to you are the result of these actions – you are your own consequences.

You become your own message.
I like this idea of being ‘your own message’. Either, you live up to your own expectations and the message you give to other people is ‘look, you can do this, it is possible’, or alternatively you don’t live up to them, in which case, your message to the world is ‘look what happens if you aren’t true to yourself.’

You are the message.
That’s quite powerful: your actions, how you live, become the message of what you are and what people hear and see.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
One stanza leading us from a general statement about how we should live, to a directed statement saying be the best person you can be.

Tone
Didactic.

Suggested rhyme scheme
Free verse!

Similes and metaphors
Message – action?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Elderly, passing on wisdom?

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Whether you believe Peltier guilty or not, his story is fascinating and his words moving. There seems to be more in defence of him than against him and the political pawn he seems to have become is no way to live.

Signing off
I’m really interested in Native American culture and history, so I came to this poem with quite a biased view. It is unimaginable to me the horrors unleashed on a nation in the name of progress.
However, no one is perfect, as seen by the fiasco surrounding the Kennewick Man. Or maybe my inner geek is screaming ‘in the name of science!!!!’
I don’t know.
This poem though, it can resonate with as all, or at least all of us who have seen something clearly wrong happening but done nothing at all.
As for Leonard Peltier himself. Does it feel like he’s trying to justify and stand up for whatever really happened?
Is he pleading with potential witnesses to come forward, telling them that they are just as guilty by saying nothing?
Actually, to me, no. This doesn’t really feel like a ‘self-interest’ poem at all. It feels like someone, who has been through what must have been an incredibly harrowing experience, trying to share their wisdom in the hope that whoever listens will become their better selves.
Is there a fine line between doing something and doing nothing? Should there be? Can anyone honestly say they would always, always, always do the right thing, and if so, what’s the definition of ‘right’?
I have no idea, but I like the idea of striving to be the best ‘you’, maybe that is all we can ask of ourselves.

Links

Leonard Peltier

Prison Writings

Native American History

When I read this I think of the song… Knights Of Cydonia

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