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Protest planned today before 'Pocahontas' show

American Indians who oppose the Duluth Festival Opera's production of "Pocahontas: A Woman of Two Worlds" will gather in Duluth today for a pipe ceremony and demonstration near Marshall School where the opera opens.

The production has been criticized for not using American Indians in principal roles -- including both a younger and older version of the Powhatan Indian girl Pocahontas. The Duluth Festival Opera has included singers and dancers from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who will perform tribal music in the production.

Clyde Bellecourt, the co-founder of the Minneapolis-based activist organization American Indian Movement, said he is coming to town to voice his disapproval at an American Indian story told by non-Natives.

"We have a lot of talent within the Indian community," he said. "It's not an Indian people story. It's (white people's) story about our story. We don't appreciate that."

A pipe ceremony is planned for early afternoon, with a demonstration to follow about 6 p.m. near Marshall School, said Lyz Jaakola, a member of the Fond du Lac Band from Cloquet who was briefly involved with the "Pocahontas" production. Jaakola is hosting an opera alternative, the "Native American Music Showcase" at 7 p.m. today at First United Methodist Church.

An Anishinaabe grandmother who was part of the Mother Earth Water Walk, in which a group of women walked across the continent to each of the Great Lakes to raise awareness about water, will be part of the demonstration. Josephine Mandamin said she is coming from Sault Ste. Marie to raise awareness about identity.

"We know ourselves more than anybody else," she said. "We know how we feel, we know how to portray ourselves."

"Pocahontas," written by composer Linda Tutas Haugen and librettist Joan Vail Thorne, makes its Midwest premiere today before touring to Burnsville, Minn., and Grand Rapids. It was originally commissioned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settling of Jamestown in Virginia.

The Duluth Festival Opera received a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to tour the production.