Native Village Youth and Education News

May 1, 2009 Issue 198
Volume 4

Investors sought for film about Native sisters
Condensed by Native Village

Kansas: By 1907, close to 600 Wyandot were buried in what was then called the Huron Indian Cemetery in Kansas City. The burial ground bears the names of Wyandot people: Lewis Greyeyes, Cora Zane, John Cornstalk, Daniel Peacock, Catherine Bearskin, Eliza Conley.
It took 65 years and three Native sisters -- Lyda, Helena and Ida Conley -- to keep them buried after  Kansas City, Kansas illegally purchased the cemetery.

“I've long thought one of the untold stories of Indian Country is that so many of the extraordinary things we've done in tribal communities have been led by strong Native women...” said Keith Harper, executive producer for "Whispers Like Thunder," a film about the three Wyandot sisters.

 In 1907, when Kansas City announced it was moving the burial ground, the Conley sisters immediately moved to protect the graves. Using  shotguns, the law and treaty rights, the sisters fought to keep their relatives' bones untouched.  They built a shack and wielded axes.  One sister, Lyda, went on to earn a law degree to defend the tribe's treaty rights. She became the first woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wyandot National Cemetery provides a backdrop for the film about Lyda, Helena and Ida Conley. Harper is working with Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley.  Kingsley's company, SBK Pictures, will produce  “Whispers Like Thunder.”  Kingsley will also play Charles Curtis, the first and only Native American to serve as a U.S. vice president. Curtis was a U.S. senator when the Conley sisters were fighting to protect the graves.

“It is my hope in producing this film to illuminate the noble struggle the Conley sisters had to endure to preserve their ancestors' sacred burial ground and legacy,” Kingsley said.

Producer Luis Moro is working with Kingsley to tell the Wyandot sisters' story.  “It is with great pride that we have championed this film,” said Moro. “We expect it to be Hollywood's first major A-list feature film bringing a great uplifting, empowering story about Native Americans to the big screen.”

The journey to save the burial grounds in Kansas City finally ended when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

“It's about losing battles and winning the war,” said Erik Huey, an executive producer. “When you look at the Conley sisters, they used all the resources they had. They put themselves through law school and went to the Supreme Court. You not only have the first woman arguing before the Supreme Court, but it's the first Native woman.”

At the turn of the 20th century, the Wyandot women were “as powerless as powerless went,” said Huey. Still, “they refused to take no for an answer.”

Huey is working with Harper to attract investors and Native support for the film. “Too often we see movies without a lot of Native involvement,” said Harper. “Those movies speak for themselves. They don't tell the story our communities find authentic. It would be a tragedy if that was true here because it's such a compelling story.”



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