Free Land

Free Land

Free Land A Hip Hop Journey from the Streets of Oakland to the Wild Wild West

Written and Performed by Ariel Luckey

Directed by Margo Hall

Scored by Ryan Luckey

Free Land is an unforgettable journey into the heart of American history. During an interview with his grandfather a young white man learns that their beloved family ranch was actually a Homestead, a free land grant from the government. Haunted by the past, he’s compelled to dig deeper into the history of the land, only to come face to face with the legacy of theft and genocide in the Wild Wild West. Weaving poetry, theater, dance and hip hop music in a compelling performance, Free Landchallenges us to take an unflinching look at the truth buried in the land beneath our feet.

“Free Land is a compelling and inspiring contribution to social justice and for dialog and reconciliation.”
— Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe Author and Environmental Activist

Ariel Luckey is one of those rare souls who can combine a passionate commitment to social justice with first-rate artistic sensibilities, creating in the process an experience for his audiences that is beyond merely moving: it is transformative. He also provides a shining example for those of us who are white and male, by challenging us all to be better allies in the fight for equity and true freedom.”
— Tim Wise, Antiracist Educator and Author

Ariel Luckey and Rufus Spear campaigning to Protect Bear Butte at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Ariel Luckey and Rufus Spear campaigning to Protect Bear Butte at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally


Ariel Luckey, Performer, Playwright, Producer

Ariel Luckey is a nationally acclaimed poet, actor and playwright whose performance and community work dances in the crossroads of education, art and activism. Born and raised in Oakland, California, Luckey was named a “Visionary” by the Utne Reader for the innovation and quality of his first solo show Free Land. Commissioned by the National Performance Network in partnership with La Peña Cultural Center and the White Privilege Conference, Free Land has toured across the country at over 50 theaters and universities. In 2010, SpeakOut – the Institute for Democratic Education and Culture published a DVD of Free Land and the accompanying Free Land Curriculum Guide, an arts-based model for social justice pedagogy.


Margo Hall, Director, Dramaturg

Margo Hall is an award winning actor, director and playwright. She has performed for Arena Stage, Olney Theater, and Source Theater, in Washington, D.C., the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and locally at American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Magic Theatre, Brava! For Women in the Arts, and Word For Word. She is a founding member of Campo Santo, a resident theater company at Intersection for the Arts, which celebrated 11 years in 2007. Her acting credits for Campo Santo also include the world premier of Naomi Iizuka’s Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, Stairway to Heaven, by Jessica Hagedorn, 17 Reasons (Why) a world premier by Naomi Izuka , floating weeds, a world premier by Philip Gotanda, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, by Jose Rivera, Bethlehem by Octavio Solis, Polaroid Stories, by Naomi Izuka, and Hurricane, by Erin Cressida Wilson. She has toured France with Word For Word as Missie May in The Gilded Six-Bits by Zora Neale Hurston, and Oceola in The Blues I’m Playing by Langston Hughes.

Margo completed her first writing project in April 2005 with the World Premier of The People’s Temple at Berkeley Repertory Theater, which won the Glickman award for best new play in the Bay Area for 2005. She was a part of a collaborative team of four writers who used interviews of survivors, and archival material to form a play exploring the People’s Temple movement and the tragic ending at Jonestown. The play went on from Berkeley Rep. to The Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Margo is also part of the acting ensemble.

Ryan Luckey, Composer, Sound Designer

Ryan Luckey, an Oakland-bred pianist and producer, composes music to enliven the senses and create harmony amidst the chaos. His mix of bumping beats and intricate harmonic layers creates a soundscape that has depth and texture, a blend that bridges the realities of today with our dreams for tomorrow. As founder and co-director of  the Común Tierra Project, Ryan has spent 5 of the last 7 years traveling through Central and South America, India, Southeast Asia and Australia examining the concurrent environmental and social-cultural crises the modern world is facing, as well as diverse models of responding to these crises. Ryan’s vision and work now lie in seeking practical holistic solutions to the complex social, environmental and spiritual challenges we face.

Ryan Luckey

Octavio De La Paz, Visual Artist

Octavio De La Paz Echeverria Hernandez was born in Santa Cruz Del Valle, Jalisco Mexico. At the age of three his family moved to Northern California and settled in the city of Napa where he grew up and lived until age 24. He received a B.A. in Visual Arts from U.C. Santa Cruz where he studied Oil Painting and Ceramic Sculpture. His work has appeared in several group and solo shows in art spaces throughout the Bay Area including Napa Valley Arts Council, STUDIO 17, Corazon Del Pueblo, La Peña Cultural Center, Somarts Gallery, Cell Space, Balazo Gallery and The June Steingart Gallery at Laney College. Octavio De La Paz is an arts educator and is a founding member of STUDIO 17 in Oakland, California.


Here are select excerpts of Free Land. The full show runs 90 minutes. Shellmound and the Dullknife Battle are included in Ariel Luckey’s newly released collection of poetry and lyrics, Searching For White Folk Soul, available at the site shop.


By Ariel Luckey
© 2009

like a DJ scratching archival records I dig in crates of the past, searching for the perfect beat, like geologists reads rocks to tell time in reverse, this land holds history carved in its flesh, stories submerged in its structure, starting at the surface and digging down

into the unknown history of my homeland, digging down, digging down, digging down

I stand on this land, this shopping mall owned and operated by Madison Marquette, easy to forget where I am in the glittering glass of american gluttony, shiny and new and on sale, 400,000 square feet of retail, Banana Republic, Bank of America, Barnes and Noble, Victoria Secret, Old Navy, H&M and The Gap, 284 apartments, 82 townhouses, 16 movie screens, 230 hotel rooms, 2000 parking spaces, adjacent Ikea, thick slab of pavement over earth packed hard and heavy, dead in the screaming silence of the past, digging down

down beneath sidewalk and street, mall construction disturbs buried bodies, Ohlone ancestors sleep for thousands of years wake up to the sound of blaring bulldozers scraping their souls into steel boxes, some bones so toxic they feel like rubber, so drunk off chemical cocktails they’re handled and disposed of as toxic waste, others buried in unmarked mass graves, hundreds removed from their resting place to create space for the foundation of the new mall, city council calls desecrated cemetery progress and stonewalls local Ohlone and community members who demand respect for the dead, corporate officials play their game to win, offer losers a fake 50-foot Shellmound filled with white washed history, adding insult to injury, saying nothing about Ohlone burials, nothing about the hundreds of bodies already removed nor the thousands that remain, nothing about the vibrant Ohlone community alive today, digging down

amidst rusty industry and economic decline this land’s assigned federal designation as a Brownfield, soil fully saturated with hydrogen sulfide, arsenic, lead, DDT residuals and petroleum hydrocarbons, the ground bubbles with acid as volatile heavy metals seep into buried bones, bleed through Temescal Creek, run red into the Bay, muddy water poisoned before I was born, digging down

this land is sold to Sherman-Williams paint company, their Cover the Earth logo depicts a paint bucket pouring over blue green globe, blood red paint suffocates the planet as business men drive steam shovels clawing and ripping the largest Shellmound down to ground level, archeologist notes 692 bodies found and haphazardly destroyed, arrowheads, knives, spearheads, mortars, pestles, ceremonial pipes, all devoured by hungry metal mouths crunching through hundreds of years of history, Shellmound material calcium rich from shells and bones, used to pave Oakland Berkeley streets, College Avenue, Dwight Way, I-80, white people pave their modern roads with bones of Ohlone ancestors, paving the roads with bones, walking on a people’s history without regard, digging down deeper still

the year Custer was killed and blood rained down on the Dullknife Battlefield, an entrepreneur established an amusement park, Shellmound Park, with horse track, carousel, train station, bowling ally, shooting range, restaurants, bars, and a dance pavilion placed directly on top of the Shellmound, wealthy white people flock from big city across the Bay to dance polkas, Irish jigs and fast waltzes on the graves of Ohlone men women and children, literally dancing on Ohlone graves, drunk and dancing on their graves until prohibition slows the stream of amusement seekers to a lonely trickle, Ohlone land littered with broken beer bottles and empty bullet shells, digging down

the story expands, Shellmound land part of territory colonized into California, Golden State feeding gold rush seething with 300,000 forty-niners gold rushing to mine rivers bleeding gold, immigrant greed speeds Native genocide, disease and murder explode like gunpowder as state leaders pay white militias $1 million to hunt for Native scalps, $5 a head, over 4000 Native children kidnapped and sold into legalized slavery, San Francisco Bay economy swells exponentially as Shellmounds scream in silence, digging down

the land passes hands from US to Mexico, from Mexico to Spain, digging down,

Father Junipero Serra stabs the earth with Spanish flag pole, European invaders establish Mission system slavery for Ohlone manual labor, kidnap and convert children to save their souls from a Christian devil, Ohlone backs broken by guns and bibles, survival wrung like water from stone, a people’s home gutted and burned, beaten bloody and bruised bodies, women raped by Spanish soldiers, fatal diseases surge in waves of widespread death

Who Am I?

By Ariel Luckey
© 2009

I’m just a white boy attracted to the color
who am I to be doing this dance
who am I to be singing these chants

disconnected from my roots so I reach for another’s
I’m discovering power and beauty in Lakota culture
like the sacred eagle but I feel like a vulture
dancing on their graves, stealing their songs
I just want a community where I belong
and there’s something here that I feel in my core
but I can’t really call it, haven’t felt it before
wasn’t present in my synagogue or in the church
maybe its what I’ve been looking for, on my search
a spirit, an energy, connection to the land
but why don’t my people have it, I try to understand

my family sold their culture for American whiteness
assimilated to make it suppressing what was inside us
changed our names and our language, even our religion
in exchange for the privileges white people are given
but the cost of what was lost can not stay hidden
and now I hunger for spirituality and tradition
and I listen to these songs and I want to sing along
but there’s something missing, it feels all wrong
I’m standing in a room filled with empty picture frames
and I don’t know the languages, the stories or the names
I can’t see my own reflection, nothing is clear
Who am I? What am I doing here?
Where do I come from? And what does it mean?
Is this what they wanted in the American dream?
I need to color in the blank white faces
fill the void with memories, dates and places
I’m lost without this knowledge of self
I’m sick and tired trying to be like everybody else
If you don’t have roots than how can you grow?
I’m a dig for the truth, fuck it I need to know.

Dullknife Battle

By Ariel Luckey
© 2009

And then I found it. Within ten miles of my family’s ranch is a National Historic Site. The Dull Knife Battlefield. This was it. This is what happened on that land, the story no one ever told me.

Tall Bull
Walking Whirlwind
Hawks Visit
Burns Red
Four Spirits
Walking Calf
Crow Necklace
and all those whose names were lost or forgotten
who died in the battle of Chief Dull Knife
fighting for their freedom
against the United States Army
November 25, 1876
rest in peace

from the darkest depths of night, comes a hint of light
shivering thru snow in a world of winter white
just before dawn when a day is born
in Powder River country in the Little Big Horns
if you listen close, you can hear it in the wind
the whisper of spirits the distant cries of men
come with me to the bitter end of life
at the clandestine campgrounds of Chief Dull Knife
nestled in a valley of sage and evergreen trees
herds of horses, fire pits and tipis
families sleeping the sun begins to rise
as the morning quiet is murdered in deafening surprise
storming thunder of hoofs and battle cries
war songs echo as the first bullet flies
US soldiers riding out of hiding guns blasting
attacking the Cheyenne village in fast action
total chaos the tribe awakes in
the warriors shaken stumble from their tipis naked
with ammo in one hand a rifle in the other
people running up ravines behind the rocks to take cover
a young girl runs to the hills until the sudden thud
of a bullet ripping thru her chest spills her blood
she falls in the mud screams in agony and torture
the last thing she sees a horse galloping towards her
a battling warrior charging for the soldier who shot her
cause the young girl was his daughter
the father aims his rifle just as a bullet tears thru his torso
he feels his life go he silently slips from his horse slow
the slaughter of war knows no remorseful
the troops hunt men, women and children
the valley stinks with the stench of killing

the cost of Free Land
can you imagine the cost of Free Land
the cost of Free Land

as the morning sun light is shattered by the gun fight
Chief Dull Knife’s men defend their groups
they shoot and the troops of General Mackenzie
people screaming frantic in the frenzy
thru the woods past the river survivors run for their lives
while the army burns the village and their winter supplies
with surprise on their side the soldiers ride to prevail
force the tribe to flee deep into the wilderness trails
that night the temperature plummets to thirty below
they huddle in the snow hungry dirty and cold
the frost biting their bodies hurting the old men and women
they kill some ponies put their hands and feet in ‘em
then in the night 11 babies freeze to death, 11 babies
11 babies freeze to death in the arms of their mothers
with no food no shelter no cover they suffer
the Cheyenne walk and walk thru the mountain range
every step in pain with the ghosts of the slain
the icy storms makes it hard to stay on track
as many die from the cold as in the army’s attack
but a desperate few by sheer force navigate their course
thru the snowy trails to the camp of Crazy Horse
their arrival draws on intertribal
help of the Lakota to support the survival
the last of the tribe struggle to stay alive
with no supplies they have to make a compromise
that spring they surrender at the Robinson Fort
blood on the white man’s hands in the Indian Wars
if you listen close you can hear it in the wind
the whisper of spirits the distant cries of men


“I was moved to tears when my daughter and I saw Free Land and I have been raving about it ever since. I am glad to have such a wonderful young performer understand the plight of the ancestors and to remember those that came before us on this land.”

— Corrina Gould
Ohlone/Muwekma/Chochenyo, Founder of Indian People Organizing for Change

“Free Land is wonderfully fast-paced, energetic and sensitive… an engaging human spark. Ariel Luckey models awareness, action, respect and joy in the work toward recognition, reconciliation, social justice and wholeness.”

— Peggy McIntosh
Author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”

“Free Land does an extraordinary job communicating one of the most critical issues of the past to today’s audience. The history of land is important in understanding where we are today and the direction we are going as a global community. Free Land effectively articulates the truth… and is as phenomenal as it is thought provoking.”

— Rufus M. Spear
Chairman of the Cultural Commission, Northern Cheyenne Tribe

“Ariel Luckey’s performance at our school was one of the most powerful and important assemblies we have ever had. Free Land captured both the hearts and minds of our students… a perfect event to celebrate the work of Martin Luther King, Jr…. a call to arms for all of us to work for social justice.”

— Mal Singer
Community Service Learning Director, University High School, San Francisco, California

“Ariel Luckey’s performance of “Free Land” is mesmerizing and brilliant, crystalizing United States’ history as has never before achieved. Centering his analysis on the massive transference of land from its original inhabitants to European settlers, he tells that story through investigating his own family history, a coming of age story like no other.”

— Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Ph.D.
Professor, Historian, Author of Roots of Resistance, A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico

“Free Land captivated me… Ariel brings a desperately needed understanding of inclusion and integration that radiates from the platform of diversity and history. My students were completely moved… Free Land utilizes expressive arts in a highly grounded academic and emotional program to define the real history of these “United” states in hopes of someday having a free land for all to live”.

— John Agnelli
Director, Student Development and Campus Activities, PACE University, New York

“Free Land is emotionally powerful and accessible to a wide array of audiences. Ariel Luckey’s critically important work addresses the past and current relationship between white settlers and native people. The question of how land was stolen, which is at the heart of Free Land, is a shadow issue that our culture must deal with if we are ever to make peace with nature and native people.”

— Toby McLeod
Director and Producer, In the Light of Reverence

“Our students were blown away by the power and punch of Free Land… an intimate and honest, yet expansive and powerful performance piece… Free Land gives us a critical history lesson, an on-target hip hop performance, a story of growing up in white America, and the real truth behind the high price paid for Free Land”.

— Steve Chabon
Dean of Student Life, Drew High School, San Francisco

“Ariel Luckey is a stellar performer whose one-man-show takes audiences from laughter to tears to deep reflection and back again. Free Land reaches into the hearts of us all, offering hope for continued healing as well as inspiration to take up responsibility to search within ourselves for deeper understanding and personal action steps.”

— Shelly Tochluk, Ph.D.
Chair, Education Department, Mount St. Mary’s College