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Political Prisoner, AIM Warrior, & Symbol of all that is wrong with America's treatment of Indian People.

Political Prisoner, AIM Warrior, & Symbol of all that is wrong with America's treatment of Indian People.

Leonard Peltier, AIM Warrior Story

Leonard Peltier is one of the United States' longest-serving political prisoners, jailed in 1976 in a blatantly rigged trial, during which the US government and the FBI refused to put any limits on the depths they would stoop to see this militant leader of the Native American people silenced for life.

Leonard has been bricked up in high-security prisons and kept isolated from his people and his many supporters. Leonard is not only a humane and gentle person, but a fierce warrior for social justice. Peltier symbolizes the terrors and uncertainties of prison Life. He represents the history of Washington's long oppression of the Native American people and how his individual oppression is simply a continuation of it. Today he discusses his people's spirituality and how it is bound to the struggle to end the oppression of all peoples. His imprisonment must be one of the most outrageous frame-ups in US history.

In the early 1970s, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was the scene of a serious conflict between the corrupt, pro-government, assimilationist reservation authorities and traditionalist reservation residents who were demanding that Native Americans control their own affairs. The residents were also demanding that they be permitted to continue to practice their traditional culture without hindrance.

It emerged that uranium had been found on the reservation land, and the federal government and its Indian puppets were determined to crush the traditionalist in order to get their hands on it. Rich ranchers were also being allowed to graze the sensitive semi-arid country for minimal or no fees.

In 1973, the residents sought the assistance of a group of spiritual warriors that were a traditionalist movement better known as the American Indian Movement (AIM) and together they occupied the village of Wounded Knee (the same site where, less than 100 years earlier, a horrific US Army massacre of 300 Native Americans had taken place). The response of the US government was to launch a paramilitary attack in which two residents were killed. The stand-off lasted 71 days, before the government promised to investigate the residents' complaints. It was another promise made to Native Americans that was never kept.

In the aftermath of the Wounded Knee occupation, the corrupt reservation authorities outlawed the AIM and banned traditional ceremonies and practices. A reign of terror was instigated, in which thugs known as Guardians of the Oglala Nation (literally spelled GOON), attempted to drive out all opponents of the corrupt pro-government reservation leaders. Between 1973 and 1976, more than 60 "traditionalists" were murdered. The FBI refused to investigate these deaths and continued to arm the GOONs with weapons and information in order to prevent AIM again gaining a foothold at Pine Ridge.

In desperation, Pine Ridge residents again appealed for AIM activists to help them defend themselves. Leonard Peltier was among the dozens of AIM traditional warriors who responded. The traditional people, many of whom were elderly, feared for their lives. AIM provided support such as cutting fire wood, collecting water and preparing meals, as well as offering protection from attacks by GOONs. AIM activists were armed for their own protection.

On June 26, 1975, two unmarked cars chased a red truck onto the Jumping Bull ranch at Pine Ridge, the home of a number of families being defended by AIM. It later emerged that the cars were driven by FBI agents, who were supposedly chasing a person accused of the heinous crime of stealing cowboy boots. The agents opened fire on the ranch and its residents, who fired back in self defense. Within minutes, more than 150 FBI SWAT team members, Bureau of Indian Affairs police and GOONs had surrounded the ranch and a fierce, largely one-sided fire-fight erupted.

When the smoke cleared, AIM member Joe Killsright Stuntz and two FBI agents were found shot dead. Miraculously, Peltier and the other people in the camp escaped. Following the largest hunt in FBI history, three AIM activists Dino Butler, Robert Robideaux and Leonard Peltier were charged with the murder of the agents. However Robideaux and Butler were tried in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the jury found them not guilty of murder because they had simply returned fire in self-defense when fired upon by unknown assailants.

Meanwhile, Peltier had escaped to Canada knowing that he would never get a fair trial in the US that is if he wasn't gunned down by the FBI first. He was captured in Canada on February 6, 1976. The US government presented the Canadian court with affidavits signed by a woman claiming to be Peltier's companion, who claimed that she had seen Peltier shoot the FBI agents. This was a blatant lie. The woman had never met Peltier and she was not present at Pine Ridge during the shoot-out. She later revealed that the FBI forced her to sign the lies written for her by the FBI.

Peltier was tried before an all-white jury in North Dakota, before a hostile judge who refused to allow use of the self-defense argument. The FBI created a climate of fear around the proceedings in an attempt to convince the jurors that Peltier was a terrorist who was a member of a militant group known as AIM. The government withheld evidence that pointed to his innocence. This evidence was finally released from FBI files seven years later under the Freedom of Information Act.

Prosecutor Lynn Crook failed to produce a single witness who could identify Peltier as the shooter, and concealed ballistics reports that showed that Peltier's rifle could not be linked to shell casings found near the scene. Yet in his summation, Crook accused Peltier of firing the fatal bullets that killed the agents. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Seventeen years later, in November 1992, Crook admitted to the court reviewing Peltier's case, "We don't know who killed the agents".

Despite Crook's admission, and even though the appeals court found that Peltier may have been acquitted had evidence not been improperly withheld by the FBI, a new trial was denied. Amnesty International has since claimed Leonard Peltier as a political prisoner within the United States.

In 2000, US President Bill Clinton stated that he was considering Peltier's request for clemency. However, the FBI launched a massive disinformation campaign, which included a march by more than 500 FBI agents outside the White House in December 2000. Peltier's name was not among those granted clemency by Clinton a month later.

Peltier may become eligible for parole in 2008, but it will be fought tooth and nail by the FBI and other powerful forces who want to keep this inspiring liberation fighter silent. The US authorities continue to make life difficult for Peltier and his supporters. On June 30, he was suddenly transferred from Leavenworth prison in Kansas to Terre Haute in Indiana. His lawyers were not informed and he has been kept in solitary confinement for more than month.

Yet no matter how hard they try, such repression cannot keep Peltier silent, nor stop AIM from defending the traditional ways of all Indian people. All AIM warriors including Peltier accept their fate as determined by the creator. As an AIM warrior it is an honor to serve and die for our people. To give them truth where there is lies. To bring hope where there is despondency.

Sadly, Leonard is the token Indian for the FBI's failed policy, including Wounded Knee. Truth always prevails and he will be free someday. If by the creators will he receives his freedom after his spirit leaves this world then he will become a martyr for generations of Indians and a symbol of the continual Indian wars. His spirit will always represent a great Native American warrior. And any good warrior will sacrifice everything for their people.

Understand that every struggle Indians endure at the hands of local, state or federal authorities, it is Leonard Peltier who inspires our motive and impassions our spirits. Every event in our daily lives Leonard as well as all great Indian leaders walk with us.

Leonard Peltier is not forgotten, but a symbol of our people's continual struggle. Leonard spirit lives in all Indians who yearn for peace, freedom, truth and justice. Due to such great leaders as Leonard Peltier, Clyde & Vernon Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, Sitting Bull, and Tecumseh, Chief Joseph, to name a few, that spirit will never die in our people.

Leonard Peltier struggle is a reminder of how much more work lies ahead for Indian people to achieve equal justice in their own land. Leonard Peltier is a true Warrior and we the American Indian Movement honor him.

Leonard Peltier in His Own Words
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Parts Rewritten by Marty Firerider
Sept 2005

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