[Ppnews] Taking AIM and Wounding Justice Through the Incarceration of Leonard Peltier

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 1 16:36:38 EDT 2011

AIM and Wounding Justice Through the Incarceration of Leonard Peltier

By karlsiePublished: July 1, 2011Posted in: Headline, History, News

By Karla Fetrow

The Elements of Special Prosecution

June 26th. marked the anniversary of one of the greatest infamies 
committed in contemporary times by the U.S. Government against its 
own First People.  On that day, in 1975,  federal agents entered the 
Sioux Reservation, purportedly to question a crime suspect.  Their 
invasion dissolved into mayhem and overt violence.  Their primary 
motivation, however, was as it has been since 1870; to coerce or 
persuade the property owners  to sell their land for industrial and 
natural resource development; primarily in heavy minerals, including 
Black Hills gold.  A gunfight broke out and two of the F.B.I. agents 
were killed.  Three of the inhabitants were later arrested and 
charged with murder.  Two of the defendants were acquitted through a 
self-defense plea.  One was not.  He was tried, found guilty, and 
given two consecutive life sentences.  His name was Leonard Peltier.

Attempts to free Leonard Peltier of the charges that occurred under 
the same circumstances with the same anxiety to defend his own life, 
have repeatedly failed.  His initial arrest and confinement caused a 
flurry of interest in Native American affairs.  "Free Leonard 
Peltier" posters decorated the homes of political activists, protests 
lined the streets of major Universities, and a copy of "Bury My Heart 
at Wounded Knee" lay on the coffee table of every informed household.

What does the book, which is a historical account of the 1870 s US 
Government's battle with the Sioux Nation have to do with Leonard 
Peltier?  Quite a bit.  In the late 1960 s, frustrated by decades of 
discrimination and intrusive federal policies, Native American 
community activists led by George Mitchell, Dennis Banks, and Clyde 
Bellecourt met with 200 other tribal members to discuss these issues 
and the means of taking over their own destiny.  Together, they 
created a new entity, a powerful voice speaking out against slum 
housing, joblessness and racist treatment among the First 
People.  They became the foundation for the American Indian Movement (AIM).

The American Indian Movement opened the K-12 Heart of the Earth 
Survival School in 1971, and in 1972, mounted the Trail of Broken 
Treaties march on Washington, D.C., where they took over the Bureau 
of Indian Affairs (BIA), in protest of its policies, and with demands 
for their reform.

According to the Minnesota Historical Library, "The revolutionary 
fervor of AIM's leaders drew the attention of the FBI and the CIA, 
who then set out to crush the movement. Their ruthless suppression of 
AIM during the early 1970s sowed the seeds of the confrontation that 
followed in February, 1973, when AIM leader Russell Means and his 
followers took over the small Indian community of Wounded Knee, South 
Dakota, in protest of its allegedly corrupt government. When FBI 
agents were dispatched to remove the AIM occupiers, a standoff 
ensued. Through the resulting siege that lasted for 71 days, two 
people were killed, twelve wounded, and twelve hundred arrested. 
Wounded Knee was a seminal event, drawing worldwide attention to the 
plight of American Indians. AIM leaders were later tried in a 
Minnesota court and, after a trial that lasted for eight months, were 
acquitted of wrongdoing."

Wounded Knee is part of the eight district  Pine Ridge Ogala Lakota 
Reservation.  Leonard Peltier traveled to the reservation in 1975 as 
an AIM member to help try and bring a peaceful end to the 
violence.  He became caught up in the conflict when the two FBI 
agents entered the reservation in search of a Pine Ridge resident 
named Jimmy Eagle, who was wanted for questioning in a robbery and assault.

The invasion of federal officers, which lasted well into the late 
nineteen seventies, continuing after the arrest of Peltier, is 
referred to by the Lakota tribe as the reign of terror.  Fifty-six 
names are listed on a memorial page honoring the Pine Ridge members 
who had lost their lives during this modern day battle with US 
Government sponsored land grabbers.  Fifty-six names that did not 
make the headlines, whose deaths were not investigated to discover 
the culpable, whose voices were not heard by the American 
public.  The fight Leonard Peltier joined in was the same as the 
seventy-one day siege at Wounded Knee, the same as the one that 
silenced forever fifty-six members of his community, the same as the 
one in which two other men  were arrested on charges of murder and 
later acquitted through a self-defense plea.

According to the Leonard Peltier Defence Committee website, "Key 
witnesses were banned from testifying about FBI misconduct and 
testimony about the conditions and atmosphere on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation at the time of the shoot-out was severely restricted. 
Important evidence, such as conflicting ballistics reports, was ruled 
inadmissible. Still, the U.S. Prosecutor failed to produce a single 
witness who could identify Peltier as the shooter. Instead, the 
government tied a bullet casing found near the bodies of their agents 
to the alleged murder weapon, arguing that this gun had been the only 
one of its kind used during the shootout, and that it had belonged to Peltier.

Later, Mr. Peltier's attorneys uncovered, in the FBI's own documents, 
that more than one weapon of the type attributed to Peltier had been 
present at the scene and the FBI had intentionally concealed a 
ballistics report that showed the shell casing could not have come 
from the alleged murder weapon. Other troubling information emerged: 
the agents undoubtedly followed a red pickup truck onto the land 
where the shoot-out took place, not the red and white van driven by 
Peltier; and compelling evidence against several other suspects 
existed and was concealed."

The Poet Behind the Bars

Leonard Peltier is behind bars, but his voice has not been 
silenced.  His book, "Prison Writings; My Life is My Sun Dance", has 
received International acclaim, attracting even the attention of 
Britain's Queen Elizabeth of Britain.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu called 
it: "A deeply moving and very disturbing story of a gross miscarriage 
of justice and an eloquent cri de coeur of Native Americans for 
redress and to be regarded as human beings with inalienable rights 
guaranteed under the United States Constitution. We pray that it does 
not fall on deaf ears. America owes it to herself."

His list of achievements has been extraordinary:
    * In 1992 he established a scholarship at New York University for 
Native American students seeking law degrees.
    * Instrumental in the establishment and funding of a Washington 
(state) Native American newspaper by and for Native young people.
    * Has been the sponsoring father of two children in Childreach, 
one in El Salvador, and the other in Guatemala.
    * Has worked to have prisoners' artwork displayed around the 
country and the world in art galleries in hopes of starting art 
programs for prisoners and increasing their self-confidence.
    * Has sponsored several clothing and toy drives for reservations.
    * Distributes to Head Start and halfway houses, as well as 
women's centers.
    * Every year he has sponsored a Christmas gift drive for the 
children of Pine Ridge, SD. Organized and emergency food drive for 
the people of Pohlo, Mexico in response to the Acteal Massacre.
    * Serves on the board of the Rosenberg Fund for Children.
    * Donates his artwork to several human rights and social welfare 
organizations in order to help them raise funds. This most recently 
includes the ACLU, Trail of Hope (a Native American conference 
dealing with drug and alcohol addiction), World Peace and Prayer Day, 
the First Nation Student Association, and the Buffalo Trust Fund.
By donating his paintings to the Leonard Peltier Charitable 
Foundation, he was able to supply computers and educational supplies 
such as books and encyclopedias to libraries and families on Pine Ridge.

By donating his paintings to the LPCF, he was also able to raise 
substantial supplies for the people of Pine Ridge after last year's 
devastating tornado hit and caused a multitude of damage on the reservation.

He has been widely recognized for his efforts and has won several 
human rights awards, including the North Star Frederick Douglas 
Award, Humanist of the Year Award, and the International Human Rights Prize.

America's Third World Citizens

Understanding Peltier's passion requires understanding the conditions 
of the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The 11,000-square mile (approximately 
2,700,000 acres) Pine Ridge Reservation is the second-largest Native 
American Reservation within the United States.  It is roughly the 
size of the State of Connecticut.  According to the Oglala Sioux 
tribal statistics, approximately 1,700,000 acres of this land are 
owned by the Tribe or by tribal members.

The topography of the Pine Ridge Reservation includes the barren 
Badlands, rolling grassland hills, dryland prairie, and areas dotted 
with pine trees.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is home to approximately 40,000 persons, 
35% of which are under the age of 18.  The latest Federal Census 
shows the median age to be 20.6 years.  Approximately half the 
residents of the Reservation are registered tribal members of the 
Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation.

The median income of the Pine Ridge Reservation is $2,600 to $3,500 a 
year.  The unemployment rate averages around 83-85% and can be higher 
in the winter when travel is difficult or even impossible.  The 
average life expectancy for women is fifty-two years, for men, it's 
forty-eight.  The rate of diabetes and tuberculosis are eight hundred 
times the U.S. National average.  The rate of cervical cancer is five 
hundred times the U.S. National average.

It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation are infested with Black Mold, Stachybotrys.  This 
infestation causes an often-fatal condition with infants, children, 
elderly, those with damaged immune systems, and those with lung and 
pulmonary conditions at the highest risk.  Exposure to this mold can 
cause hemorrhaging of the lungs and brain as well as cancer.

A Federal Commodity Food Program is active but supplies mostly 
inappropriate foods (high in carbohydrate and/or sugar) for the 
largely diabetic population of the Reservation.  A small non-profit 
Food Co-op is in operation on the Reservation but is available only 
for those with funds to participate.

In most of the treaties between the U.S. Government and Indian 
Nations, the U.S. government agreed to provide adequate medical care 
for Indians in return for vast quantities of land.  The Indian Health 
Services (IHS) was set up to administer the health care for Indians 
under these treaties and receives an appropriation each year to fund 
Indian health care. Unfortunately, the appropriation is very small 
compared to the need and there is little hope for increased funding 
from Congress.  The IHS is understaffed and ill-equipped and can't 
possibly address the needs of Indian communities.  Nowhere is this 
more apparent than on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Living conditions are crowded.  As many as seventeen people live in 
two and three bedroom homes, while homes built to contain six to 
eight people will have up to thirty inhabitants.  Many of the homes 
lack adequate furniture, use their cooking stove for heat, and some 
have only dirt floors.  Thirty-nine percent of the homes are without 
electricity.  Sixty percent of the reservation families have no 
land-line telephones.  Computers and Internet connections are rare.

Efforts to improve their living conditions by investing in businesses 
have been met with frustration.  Currently there are no movie 
theaters, only one grocery store, one motel and a few scatter bed and 
breakfast arrangements.  Several of the banks and lending 
institutions nearest to the Reservation have been targeted for 
investigation of fraudulent or predatory lending practices, with the 
citizens of the Pine Ridge Reservation as their victims.

Many wells and much of the water and land on the Reservation is 
contaminated with pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, 
open dumps, and commercial and governmental mining operations outside 
the Reservation.  A further source of contamination is buried 
ordnance and hazardous materials from closed U.S. military bombing 
ranges on the Reservation.

Scientific studies show that the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer which 
begins underneath the Pine Ridge Reservation is predicted to run dry 
in less than 30 years due to commercial interest use and dryland 
farming in numerous states south of the Reservation.  This critical 
North American underground water resource is not renewable at 
anything near the present consumption rate.  The recent years of 
drought have simply accelerated the problem.

Scientific studies show that much of the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer 
has been contaminated with farming pesticides and commercial, 
factory, mining, and industrial contaminants in the States of South 
Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Silent No Longer

The conditions of the Sioux reservation are not unique.  To varying 
degrees, these conditions exist on nearly all the U.S. reservations. 
It is to this plight that Peltier and others like himself would 
address our attention.  It's not an appeal to assimilate into a 
society that rejects their cultural heritage, but an appeal to accept 
them complete with their culture.  It is not an appeal for hand-outs 
but for fair business practices.  It's not an appeal based on 
abandoning their old ways, but one of incorporating modern technology 
and education for a new nation.  For over a hundred years, Pine Ridge 
has defended itself against self-interested groups that sought to 
establish themselves from within.  Now they are encroached upon by 
these same interest groups from without.  They have been 
harmed.  They have lost their means of livelihood, their health, 
their clean water, and yet they keep gathering.  The community grows 
as their urban cousins leave the cities to join them.  They gather 
because they must.  Their desperation is a call to all who have been 
swept aside as unimportant, unsubstantial, inconvenient.  They will be heard.

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.
-Leonard Peltier-

Leonard Peltier was born September 12, 1944.  In 1977, at the age of 
thirty-three, he was sentenced to prison.  In 2009, he was granted a 
full hearing before the United States Parole Commission.  His parole 
request was denied.  Peltier's next scheduled hearing is set for 
July, 2024.  Should he live that long, he will be eighty years 
old.  He has already spent more than half his life in prison for a 
crime that began as a crime against the Native American people and 
that amounts to selective prosecution, suppression and the 
concealment of vital evidence.  In the time he has spent behind bars, 
he has contributed more to the good of his country than most of our 
Senators, Representatives, Congressmen, diplomats, business owners 
and billionaires.  He is a humanitarian, yet the humanitarian 
compassion of the US public has not freed him.  He is an author, a 
poet, a craftsman, a spokesperson for human rights.  History will not 
remember him as a murderer, but as a man who sought equality.  The 
wounded hearts, suffering under the tyranny of corruption, will embrace him.

Whatever debts he owed society, Peltier has more than adequately paid 
them.  Society owes him a debt in return.  It owes him the safe 
guarding of the rights of America's First People to thrive.  It owes 
him recognition of his worth, which cannot be measured in terms of 
war against the Government of the U.S., or in personal wealth, but in 
his deeds.  It owes him his freedom.

If you would like to read the messages of Leonard Peltier, click 






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