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Pioneer Profiles: Thomas working on draft of play

When Robert (Rob) Thomas came home for the holidays and to finish filming a feature film for Saarens productions, he agreed to an interview about what he is doing now. After a stint at Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota, Florida, Thomas moved to Missouri as the co-owner of a start-up company, "Green Room Staffing."

"A downturn in the economy caused more actors and technical people to be looking for work than venues looking to hire," Thomas said. "We ended the business and I moved back to Minnesota."

Thomas moved back to the Twin Cities and tried the corporate world, but the tug to return to theater was too strong to resist. Along with working for several non-profit theaters, he also returned to one of his former interests, playwriting.

"I have always grown up in a Native American household for my grandmother is American Indian," said Thomas. "I took my history and culture for granted. But, when I was in Florida, and away from my family, I began to get more interested and started looking at the research that had been done by my grandmother (Margaret Kitto Butz) and my uncle (Reuben Kitto, Jr.) in preparation for the 1988 Santee Reservation Mazaadidi family reunion. By using tools like the Internet and archival libraries on line, I could access documents that they had to go and research line by line."

A remark overheard at a Powwow in Osseo led to Thomas being contacted by Ron Paluso, artistic director of the History Theater in St. Paul. He needed someone who would be willing to write a play about the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Thomas agreed to use the materials he and his relatives collected: notebooks, computer printouts and other printed articles.

"My play is set in 1862, and I am in the process of finishing a first draft. It will be presented to a workshop in the spring," said Thomas. "My relatives learned that we are descended from the Red Leg Band of the Dakota Sioux and our forbearer Mazaadidi (Walks on Iron) was actually one of the men who was put on trial at the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton and then Mankato."

The military tribunals are public records now and can be easily accessed and show that each trial lasted about three minutes per man. Over 400 men were sentenced to die for participating in raids on white settlers which resulted in death.

"I switch back and forth in the play between the trials and the characters involved like the trader Renville who refused to help the starving women and children of the jailed men. President Lincoln requested the trial records and intervened because of the large number of men sentenced to death. Finally, 38 men were hung in Mankato, which to this day remains the largest mass execution in American history," said Thomas.

Thomas wears a red sweatshirt with "Damakota" on the front; Proud Descent of the Exiles with renewed respect for the dignity of his forbearers.

At this time, Thomas is in rehearsals at the History Theater for "1968, The Year That Rocked the World." He is working for several non-profits included the Guthrie Theater.