[Ppnews] Leonard Peltier: Silence Screams

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 11 10:26:24 EDT 2009


Leonard Peltier: Silence Screams

By Carolina Saldaña

The Message

Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity.
But silence is impossible.
Silence screams.
Silence is a message,
just as doing nothing is an act.
Let who you are ring out and resonate
in every word and deed.
Yes, become who you are.
There’s no sidestepping your own being
or your own responsibility.
What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.
You become your own message.
You are the message.
In the spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier

34 years behind bars!

Native American artist, writer, and activist 
Leonard Peltier––one of the most widely 
recognized political prisoners in the world––has 
spent more than 32 years in some of the cruelest 
prisons in the United States , unjustly condemned 
to a double life sentence for the shooting death 
of two FBI agents in 1975. His situation is now aggravated by health problems.

At the age of 63, he keeps right on struggling 
for the rights of indigenous people from his cell 
in the federal prison at Lewisburg , Pennsylvania 
. He’s contributed to the establishment of 
libraries, schools, scholarships, and battered 
women’s shelters among many other projects. In 
February of 2008, he was nominated for the Nobel 
Peace Prize for the fifth consecutive year.

“My crime’s being an Indian. What’s yours?”

In his autobiography My Life Is My Sun Dance, 
Leonard explains that his bloodline is mainly 
Ojibway and Dakota Sioux and that he was adopted 
by the Lakota Sioux and raised on their 
reservations “in the land known to you as 
America....but I don’t consider myself an American.”
“I know what I am. I am an Indian--an Indian who 
dared to stand up to defend his people. I am an 
innocent man who never murdered anyone nor wanted 
to. And, yes, I am a Sun Dancer. That, too, is my 
identity. If I am to suffer as a symbol of my 
people, then I suffer proudly. I will never yield.”

Leonard tells us that when he was nine years old 
a big black government car drove up to his house 
to take him and the other kids away to the Bureau 
of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school in 
Wahpeton, Dakota del Norte. When they got there, 
they cut off their long hair, stripped them, and doused them with DDT powder.

“I thought I was going to die...that place...was 
more like a reformatory than a school...I 
consider my years at Wahpenton my first 
imprisonment, and it was for the same crime as 
all the others: being an Indian.”

He goes on to say that “We had to speak English. 
We were beaten if we were caught speaking our own 
language. Still, we did....I guess that’s where I 
became a “hardened criminal,” as the FBI calls 
me. And you could say that the first infraction 
in my criminal career was speaking my own 
language. There’s an act of violence for 
you....The second was practicing our traditional religion.”

When Leonard Peltier was a teen-ager, President 
Eisenhower launched a program to eliminate the 
reservations and move the people off, giving them 
a small payment. Leonard remembers that the words 
“termination” and “dislocation” became the most 
feared words in the people’s vocabulary. The 
process of fighting against dislocation was his 
first experience as an activist.

During the 60s, Leonard worked as a farm worker 
and, later, in an auto body shop in Seattle . At 
that time he got his first taste of community 
organizing. At the beginning of the 70s, he 
joined up with the American Indian Movement 
(AIM), initially inspired by the Black Panthers.

In 1972, he participated in the Trail of Broken 
Treaties, a march / caravan from Alcatraz in 
California to Washington D.C. , and also in the 
occupation of the BIA in the nation’s capital. He 
became a target of the FBI program to 
“neutralize” AIM leaders and was set up and jailed at the end of the year.

1973: The Occupation of Wounded Knee

One of AIM’s boldest actions was the occupation 
of the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation, the same place where the United 
States Army carried out its cowardly, infamous 
massacre of 300 Lakota people in 1890.

At the beginning of the 70s, AIM was getting 
together with the Lakota Indians who were true to 
their ancient traditions and wanted to hold on to 
their culture and their lands.

The BIA, worried about AIM’s growing influence in 
the area, imposed Dick Wilson as tribal chairman 
on the reservation, running roughshod over the 
will of the traditional elders and chiefs.

The puppet Wilson hated the AIM militants and 
allied himself with the FBI to destroy the 
movement that the agency saw as a threat to the 
American way of life. His paramilitary group 
known as the "GOONS" (Guardians of the Oglala 
Nation) had committed a long chain of abuses against the people.

On the night of February 27, around 300 Lakota 
and 25 AIM members occupied the town of Wounded 
Knee, joined by several Chicanos, Black, and 
white supporters. They opposed the murders of 
Native Americans on the reservation, the extreme 
poverty that the people lived in, and the corrupt 
tribal government. They demanded that the 
government respect the ancient treaties signed 
with native peoples to protect their territory and autonomy.

The next day, General Alexander Haig ordered an 
invasion. According to Ward Churchill and Jim 
Vanderwall in their book Agents of Repression, 
"In the first instance since the Civil War that 
the U.S. Army had been dispatched in a domestic 
operation, the Pentagon invaded Wounded Knee with 
17 armored personnel carriers, 130,000 rounds of 
M-16 ammunition, 41,000 rounds of M-1 ammunition, 
24,000 flares, 12 M-79 grenade launchers, 600 
cases of C-S gas, 100 rounds of M-40 explosives, 
helicopters, phantom jets, and personnel, all 
under the direction of General Alexander Haig."

The operation also relied on 500 heavily armed 
policemen, federal marshals, and BIA and FBI 
agents. They surrounded Wounded Knee and set up 
barricades all along the road.

The occupation lasted 71 days and ended only 
after the government promised to investigate the 
complaints, something that never happened.

The next three years were known as the “reign of 
terror” on Pine Ridge.  More than 300 people 
associated with AIM were violently attacked and 
many of their homes were burned. During these 
years more than 60 Native American people were 
killed by paramilitaries armed and trained by the 
FBI. There was also an increase of FBI SWAT team agents on the reservation.

It’s now known, as a result of a suit based on 
the Freedom of Information Act, that AIM 
activities on and off the reservation were under 
FBI surveillance and that the FBI was preparing 
the paramilitary operations on Pine Ridge a month 
before the shootout at Oglala.

Oglala: The fatal shootout

In a situation that was getting worse all the 
time, the Council of Elders on the Jumping Bull 
ranch near the town of Oglala asked AIM to come 
back to the reservation to protect them. Leonard 
Peltier, along with many other AIM members and 
non-members responded to the call and set up camp on the ranch.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents, Jack Coler and 
Ron Williams, followed a red pick-up truck onto 
the Jumping Bull ranch. They were supposedly 
looking for young Jimmy Eagle, who was said to 
have stolen a pair of cowboy boots.

A shootout began between the FBI agents and the 
people in the pick-up, trapping a family in the 
crossfire. Several mothers fled the area with 
their children while other people fired in 
self-defense. More than150 FBI SWAT team members, 
BIA police, and GOONS surrounded approximately 30 
AIM men, women, and children and opened fire. 
Leonard Peltier helped a group of young people to 
escape from the rain of bullets.
When the shootout ended, AIM member Joseph 
Killsright Stuntz was found dead, shot in the 
head. His death has never been investigated.

Coler and Williams were wounded during the 
shootout and then killed at point blank range. 
The two agents had in their possession a map with 
the Jumping Bull ranch marked on it.

According to FBI documents, more than forty 
Native Americans participated in the shootout, 
but only four were charged with killing the two 
agents: three AIM leaders––Dino Butler, Bob 
Robideau, and Leonard Peltier–– and Jimmy Eagle.

Butler and Robideau were the first to be 
arrested, and at their trial they stated that 
they had fired in self-defense. The jury believed 
the act was justified due to the atmosphere of 
terror that prevailed at Pine Ridge at the time. 
They were both found innocent.

The FBI was furious about the verdict and dropped 
the charges against Jimmy Eagle, according to 
their memos, “...in order to direct the full weight of
the prosecution on Peltier.

Meanwhile, Leonard Peltier went to Canada , 
believing that he would never have a fair trial. 
On February 6, he was arrested and then 
extradited to the United States due to the 
statement of a woman named Myrtle Poor Bear, who 
said she had been his girlfriend and had seen him 
fire at the agents. As a matter of fact, she had 
never known him and was not present at the time 
of the shootout. In a later statement, she said 
that she had been coerced into giving false 
testimony as a result of being terrorized by FBI agents.

Two life sentences!?

The only evidence against Leonard Peltier was the 
fact that he was present at the Jumping Bull 
ranch during the fatal shoot-out. These are just 
a few examples of the injustice of the trial:

-The case wasn’t brought before the judge who had 
presided over the trial of Robideau and Butler , 
but instead before another judge with a 
reputation for making decisions favorable to the prosecution.
-Myrtle Poor Bear and other important witnesses 
were forbidden to testify about FBI misconduct.
-Testimony about the “reign of terror” on the 
Pine Ridge Reservation was severely limited.
-Important evidence, such as conflicting 
ballistic reports, was deemed inadmissible.
-The red pick-up that had been followed onto the 
ranch was suddenly described as Peltier’s “red and white van.”
-The jury was isolated and surrounded by federal 
marshals,  making jurors believe that AIM was a security threat to them.
-Three young Native Americans were forced to give 
false testimony against Peltier after having been 
arrested and terrorized by FBI agents.
-The prosecutor couldn’t produce a single witness 
who could identify Peltier as the shooter.
-The government said that a cartridge found near 
the bodies was fired from the presumed murder 
weapon, and alleged that this was the only pistol 
of its kind used during the shootout and that it belonged to Peltier.

As a result of the Freedom of Information Act 
suit, FBI documents turned over to the defense showed that:
1. More than one weapon of the type attributed to 
Peltier had been present at the scene. 2. The FBI 
intentionally hid the ballistics report showing 
that the cartridge could not have come from the presumed murder weapon.
3. There was no doubt whatsoever that the agents 
followed a red pick-up onto the territory, and 
not the red and white van driven by Peltier.
4. Strong evidence against several other suspects existed and was withheld.

None of this evidence was presented to the jury 
that found Leonard Peltier guilty. He was given 
two consecutive life sentences.

Two consecutive life sentences?! How do they plan 
to implement that? Doesn’t the sentence reflect a 
deep fear of the spirit of Crazy Horse?

Bill Clinton: at the service of the FBI

A new trial was sought after several of these 
abuses came to light. During one hearing, the 
federal prosecutor admitted that  “...we can’t 
prove who shot the agents”. The court realized 
that Peltier could have been found innocent if 
the evidence hadn’t been unduly withheld by the 
FBI, but a new trial was denied on the basis of technical errors.

The former Leonard Peltier Defense Committee stated:

“In 1993, Peltier requested Executive Clemency 
from President Bill Clinton.  An intensive 
campaign was launched and supported by Native and 
human rights organizations, members of Congress, 
community and church groups, labor organizations, 
luminaries, and celebrities. Even Judge Heaney, 
who authored the court decision [denying a new 
trial], expressed firm support for Peltier’s 
release.  The Peltier case had become a national issue.

On November 7, 2000, during a live radio 
interview, Clinton stated that he would seriously 
consider Peltier’s request for clemency and make 
a decision before leaving office on January 20, 2001.

In response, the FBI launched a major 
disinformation campaign in both the media and 
among key government officials.  Over 500 FBI 
agents marched in front of the White House to 
oppose clemency.  On January 20, the list of 
clemencies granted by Clinton was released to the 
media.  Without explanation, Peltier's name had been excluded.”

Current defence efforts
Mr. Peltier has recently applied for and been 
granted a parole hearing. The hearing is scheduled for July 27, 2009.
The recent efforts of the defense team have been 
focused on obtaining thousands of documents that 
are still being retained by the FBI, around 
142,579 pages according to Peltier’s legal team 
which brought a new suit against the FBI in 
Minnesota in March of this year. Of particular 
interest are documents dealing with the extent to 
which the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid 
informants to infiltrate Leonard Peltier's 
defense team. Alleging that the information would 
reveal confidential sources, harm national 
security and impede the transnational “war on 
terrorism”, the FBI has refused to release the 
documents that would reveal their illegal 
activities on Pine Ridge and the continued 
violations of Leonard Peltier’s basic human rights.

Petitions are also being circulated urging George 
W. Bush to grant clemency for Leonard Peltier and 
urging Congress to investigate FBI misconduct on 
Pine Ridge and the “reign of terror” that existed between 1973 and 1976.

Furthermore, preparations are now underway for an 
important Parole Hearing scheduled for December 
of 2008, which should be a focus of an 
international campaign in the coming months. 
There is absolutely no legitimate reason to 
continue to hold Leonard Peltier in prison. If he 
is not granted clemency or does not win parole 
this year, he will not have another Parole Hearing until 1917.

On the cultural front, sponsors, donations, and 
spaces are being sought for a series of stage 
productions of My Life is My Sundance.  Co-author 
Harvey Arden describes the play starring Lakota 
actor and singer Doug Good Feather, as a 
“soul-transforming theatrical experience that is 
a living expression of his own words, his own 
pain, his own dreams --as well as the suffering 
and dreams of his People.” To help organize a 
performance, see 

In a recent letter Leonard said: “If my case 
stands as it is, no common person has real 
freedom. Only the illusion until you have something the oppressors want....
In the spirit of Crazy Horse, who never gave up.”

Let’s don’t let it stand as it is.

What will you do?

Write a letter to Leonard:

Leonard Peltier # 89637-132
USP Lewisburg
US Penitentiary
PO BOX 1000
Lewisburg , Pennsylvania 17837

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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