February 6th, 2017 marked the 41st anniversary of the arrest of Leonard Peltier, the AIM (American Indian Movement) activist involved in the June 26th, 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The altercation between American Indian activists and the two FBI agents who had illegally entered the Lakota Sioux reservation (backed up by a force of 150 police officers on standby), resulted in the death of both agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams as well as Joseph Stuntz a tribal member killed by a sniper shot and whose death has apparently never been investigated.
On February 6, 1976, Peltier who had originally fled to Canada after the shootout was arrested, eventually to be extradited to the USA for trial, finally being sentenced to 2 consecutive life sentences after a trial that continues to raise grave concerns.
Leonard Peltier is now 73 years old and suffers from a number of health problems including a heart condition. He is in the news because his request for a pardon, for which many were optimistic outgoing President Obama would grant, was, once more, turned down. Commentators have said that this amounts to Obama delivering a death sentence to the now internationally well-known prisoner-of-conscience as his next parole hearing is not until 2024:
“I think it’s fair to say that if he doesn’t get commuted by President Obama, he’ll die in jail. He’s a very sick man…So, Obama’s not granting him clemency is like a sentence of death. Trump ain’t going to do it. And he’s very sick, and he’s not going to live past that time. I don’t want to be negative, but that’s the reality. He’s very sick, and he’s been in prison over 40 years, hard years, six years of solitary.” (Peltier’s attorney Martin Garbus, On Democracy Now, January 18, 2017)
In the letter to President Barack Obama as part of the request for clemency/commutation of sentence his lawyers wrote:
“The Parole Commission has yielded to the objections of the FBI and DOJ in denying Mr. Peltier’s applications for parole at every turn. Effectively, this Petition represents the last chance in Mr. Peltier’s lifetime for the Government to take curative and/or reconciliatory action.”
Peltier’s earlier formal request for clemency from outgoing President Clinton was likewise refused in 2000 after an extraordinary protest involving 500 active and retired FBI agents who marched in front of the White House.
Likewise it is argued that despite expressing remorse for the death of the 2 men at the time, Peltier’s insistence on his innocence for 41 years in the shooting of the 2 agents has persistently affected his parole hearings since 2009.
The period in the 1970’s when the shootings occurred was a time of intense fear on the Pine Ridge reservation for activists following the 1973 Siege at Wounded Knee, Peltier has pointed out in his submissions on the situation: “Wounded Knee veterans and other AIM members and associates had a ‘genuine fear’ that the FBI was ‘out to get them” More than 50 AIM activists and supporters were murdered in the period running up to the shootout with the FBI and over 300 violent assaults had taken place. In none of these violent incidents did the FBI take any action nor investigate, Peltier states.
Now, in 2017, with this new extreme right-wing regime installed in Washington and President Trump already reversing Obama’s recent decision to halt construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, the American Indian movement and environmental activists are preparing for a sustained period of struggle. In the short time that the Army Corp of Engineers have resumed their work on the Dakota Access through Native American land, already North Dakota police have arrested 76 people at Standing Rock.
And in the midst of these current struggles, the now-aging Leonard Peltier, despite the serious concern around his trial and subsequent imprisonment within the most densely populated prison system in the world, has come to represent a heroic figure for those within and without the native American community taking a stand for everything that the current administration is set to deny, dismantle, debase, deconstruct or simply destroy after a century of struggle for justice and democracy.
Lydia Ponce, head of logistics and press for AIM Southern California, expresses how the current struggle to defend Standing Rock and Leonard Peltier are interconnected: “It’s almost impossible not to mention the two in the same sentence,” Ponce is quoted in interview with the online edition of teleSUR. “It’s the same struggle from over 40 years ago. Protecting land and humans from extraction and violence that ruin us. It’s the same mantra, chant, prayer, and slogan.”
Peltier himself remains engaged in the many struggles that have continued during the long years of his incarceration:
“I am grateful to have survived to see the rebirth of the united and undefeated Sioux Nation at Standing Rock in the resistance to the poisonous pipeline that threatens the life source of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. It is an honor to have been alive to see this happen with you young people. You are nothing but awesome in my eyes… I have to caution you young people to be careful, for you are up against a very evil group of people whose only concern is to fill their pockets with even more gold and wealth. They could not care less how many of you they have to kill or bury in a prison cell. They don’t care if you are a young child or an old grandmother, and you better believe they are and have been recruiting our own people to be snitches and traitors. They will look to the drunks, the addicts, and child molesters, those who prey on our old and our children; they look for the weak-minded individuals. You must remember to be very cautious about falsely accusing people based more on personal opinion than on evidence. Be smart…. Again, my heartfelt thanks to all of you for working together to protect the water. Water is Life. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Doksha…” Leonard Peltier.
“Now with diabetes, prostate problems and a massive aneurysm, Peltier said he is not expecting to live much longer and has requested a traditional ceremonial burial. Until then, he paints—the only thing that makes him feel free, he said.” (Peltier interview with the New York Daily News, 30 May, 2016)
So Leonard Peltier remains in prison – while the struggle or rather, our many struggles, go on…
As a footnote and in recognition of the complexity of the ‘facts’ surrounding the killings on June 26, 1975 at the Jumping Bull ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in South Dakota, USA, numerous people have stood alongside Leonard Peltier and supported his calls for release: some of these (the ‘famous’ ones) include:
The Dalai Lama
The Late Nelson Mandela
The Late Mother Teresa
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General
The European Parliament, the Belgium Parliament, the Italian Parliament, Green Party USA
Tony Benn, British MP, Bernard Birsinger, French MP, Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister of France
Harry Belafonte, Jackson Browne, Peter Coyote, Jane Fonda, Danny Glover
Whoopi Goldberg, The Indigo Girls, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Redford
Robbie Robertson, Carlos Santana, Steven Seagal
The Late Pete Seeger, The Late Coretta Scott King,
Tom Waits, Alice Walker
The King Center, Martin Luther King, III, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Committee for International Human Rights Inquiry, El Centro De La Raza, France Libertes, Government Accountability Project, Human Rights Alliance, Human Rights Commission of Spain, Indigenous Women’s Network, The Institute for Policy Studies, The International Federation of Human Rights, Office of Commission for Justice, Sisters of Saint Joseph, Veterans for Peace, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, United States Section
Assembly of First Nations of Canada, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Cherokee Nation
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota
Chief Wallace Dennison, Ramapough Lunaape Nation
Coyote Valley Tribal Council, Duckwater Shoshone Tribe
Forest County Potawatomi Community, First Nations School Association
Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Inc., Greenville Rancheria Tribal Council
Honor the Earth, Howonquet Indian Council of the Smith River Rancheria
International Indian Treaty Council, Kaw Tribe of Oklahoma
Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board
Lakota/Dakota/Nakota General Council
Los Coyotes Reservation, Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Council
Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council, Inc.
National Congress of American Indians,
Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee
Northem Arapaho Business Council
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma
Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribal Council
Prairie Island Indian Committee
Prairie Island Tribal Council
Puyallup Tribal Council
Rohnerville Rancheria Tribal Council
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan
San Pasqual Band of Mission Tribal Council
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent, Connecticut, Inc.
Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, Canada
Smith River Rancheria Tribal Council
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Tohono O’Odham Legislative Council
Tonkawa Tribal Council
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
United Auburn Indian Community of the Auburn Rancheria
Upper Sioux Community
Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head
Westbank First Nation
Winnebago Tribal Council
Brian McWilliarns, President, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Association of Social Workers, National Union of Public and General Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers AFL-CIO, Native American Journalists Association, New York Mail Handlers Union, United University Professions, UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists, Inc.
Mikail Gorbachov, former President, USSR
National Black Caucus of State Legislators
The Late Danielle Mitterand, former First Lady of France. Etcetera…
(See the full VIP list at the International Forum of VIPs for Peltier, link below).
Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance
“I don’t know how to save the world. I don’t have the answers or The Answer. I hold no secret knowledge as to how to fix the mistakes of generations past and present. I only know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants, none of us will survive—nor will we deserve to.”
On Monday, last December 5, 2016 Native Americans at Standing Rock conducted a sacred forgiveness ceremony with hundreds of U.S. veterans, “giving the vets an opportunity to atone for military actions conducted against Native Peoples throughout history. In accepting forgiveness, Wes Clark Jr., (son of retired U.S. Army general and former supreme commander at NATO, Wesley Clark Sr.,) said:
“We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain … we took your children and then we tried to take your language … We’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”
Leonard Peltier: (Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance)
“The destruction of our people must stop! We are not statistics. We are people from whom you took this land by force and blood and lies…You practice crimes against humanity at the same time that you piously speak to the rest of the world of human rights! America, when will you live up to your own principles?”
REFERENCES & SOURCES (thanks to)
Wanted Poster –
By United States Federal Bureau of Investigation –
Free Leonard Peltier Sign –
By kenny (KARPOV THE WRECKED TRAIN Uploaded by SaltyBoatr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
List of facts of the Case
Letter for Clemency:
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Peter Matthiessen, Penguin Books 1992.
Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance, Leonard Peltier, St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
People who support Leonard Peltier
Peltier Statement on Standing Rock:
Listen to January 2017 Interview with Leonard Peltier:
The Death Sentence of Leonard Peltier
Amnesty Int. USA Video
WARRIOR The Life of Leonard Peltier
Feature documentary about American Indian activist, Leonard Peltier. His story is told within the context of the American Indian Movement, the US federal government, and the multi national companies interested in mining the land in South Dakota. Produced and directed by Suzie Baer. 1992.