Another Stain On America's Human Rights Record
By Judy Andreas
Monday February 13th 2006
Can you remember the times
That you have held your head high
and told all your friends of your Indian claim
Proud good lady and proud good man
Some great great grandfather from Indian blood came
and you feel in your heart for these ones
"Now That The Buffalo's Gone" Buffy St. Marie
"An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere" - Samuel Johnson
Who is Leonard Peltier and why has he spent his last 27 years in
prison? Who is Leonard Peltier and why has he been sentenced to hell
According to an affiliate of Physicians for Human Rights, Leonard
risks blindness, kidney failure and a stroke in the future, given his
inadequate diet, living conditions, and health care. Leonard lives
with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. But...how long
will he live?
Who is this man and why has he been subjected to such inhuman conditions?
There are no easy explanations for injustice.
Leonard Peltier is a citizen of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations. He
is a grandfather, an artist, a writer and an Indigenous rights
activist. He is a human being.
Many Indigenous Peoples consider Peltier a symbol of their history of
abuse and repression. The National Congress of American Indians and
the Assembly of First Nations, representing the majority of First
Nations in the U.S. and Canada, have repeatedly called for Leonard
According to Amnesty International, Leonard is a political prisoner
who should be "immediately and unconditionally released." To the
international community, the case of Leonard Peltier is a stain on
America's Human Rights record.
Leonard came from a large family of 13 brothers and sisters where he
grew up in poverty. When only eight years old, he was taken from his
family and sent to a residential boarding school for Native people run
by the US Government. In that school, the students were forbidden to
speak their languages. In that school, the students suffered both
physical and psychological abuses.
As a teenager Leonard Peltier returned to live with his father at the
Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota which was one of the three
reservations that the United States Government chose to test its new
termination policy. This policy forced Native families off their
reservations and into the cities. Protests and demonstrations ensued
and Leonard Peltier was introduced to Native resistance through
activism and organizing.
During a particularly difficult winter on the Turtle Mountain
Reservation, the people protested to the Bureau of Indian Affairs over
the lack of food. The termination policy had withdrawn federal
assistance from those who remained on their land and the people had no
food. As a result of the protests, B.I.A. social workers came to the
reservation to investigate the situation. Leonard Peltier and one of
the organizers on the reservation went from household to household,
before the arrival of the investigating party, to tell the local
people to hide what little food they had. What Peltier found was that
the people had no food to hide. The situation had grown desperate.
In 1965, Leonard moved to Seattle, Washington where he worked for
several years as part owner of an auto body shop which he used to
employ Native people and to provide low-cost automobile repairs for
those who needed it. During that period, he was also active in the
founding of a Native halfway house for ex-prisoners. In addition, he
was a community volunteer whose work included Native Land Claim
issues, alcohol counseling, and participation in protests concerning
the preservation of Native land within the city of Seattle.
In the course of his work, Peltier became involved with the American
Indian Movement (AIM) and eventually joined the Denver Colorado
chapter. In Denver, he worked as a community counselor, a job in which
he confronted unemployment, alcohol problems and poor housing. He also
became deeply involved in the spiritual and traditional programs of AIM.
Leonard Peltier's participation in the American Indian Movement led to
his involvement in the 1972 Trail of broken Treaties which took him to
Washington D.C. His AIM connection resulted in assisting the Oglala
Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in
the mid 1970's. On Pine Ridge, Leonard participated in the planning of
community activities, religious ceremonies, programs for
self-sufficiency, and improved living conditions. He participated in
organizing security for the traditional people who were being targeted
for violence by the pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his
vigilantes. It was here that the tragic shoot-out of June 26, 1975
occurred. It was this shootout that led to his wrongful conviction.
An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere
Mr. Leonard Peltier was one of several AIM leaders who were present
during the shoot out. There were murder charges brought against him
and his two friends and colleagues, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau.
Butler and Robideau stood trial separately from Peltier. Leonard fled
to Canada, where he was arrested, because he was convinced that he
would never receive a fair trial in the United States. At the trial of
Butler and Robideau a key prosecution witness, Mr. Draper, admitted
that he had been threatened by the FBI and as a result had changed his
testimony upon the agents' instructions, so as to support the
government's position . The jury found both men not guilty. They found
that there was no evidence to link the defendants to the fatal shots.
Moreover, the exchange of gun fire from a distance was deemed to have
constituted an act of self defense.
At Leonard's trial, the Federal Bureau of Investigation provided only
3,500 documents to the defense team and steadfastly claimed that these
were all that existed. Years later, through Freedom of Information Act
, Peltier's legal team acquired 12,000 additional documents. These
documents proved that the FBI had withheld crucial evidence that had
not been presented at the trial. These withheld evidence had been used
to wrongfully convict Leonard Peltier. The FBI continued to withhold
an additional 60,000 documents which The Leonard Peltier Defense
Committee has only recently succeeded in acquiring. The documents are
currently under review. The government is still withholding
approximately 100,000 documents concerning Leonard's case."
There was no witness testimony that Leonard Peltier actually shot the
two FBI agents.
There is no witness testimony that placed Mr. Peltier near the crime
scene before the murders occurred.
Those witnesses placing Peltier, Robideau and Butler near the crime
scene after the killing were coerced and intimidated by the FBI.
There is no forensic evidence as to the exact type of rifle used to
commit the murders.
Several different weapons present in the area during the shoot out
could have caused the fatal injuries. There was more than one AR-15 in
the area at the time of the shoot out. The AR-15 rifle claimed to be
Mr. Peltier's was found to be incompatible with the bullet casing near
the agents' car. Although other bullets were fired at the crime scene,
no other casings or evidence about them were offered by the
Prosecutor's office. In conclusion, there is no reasonable evidence
that Mr. Peltier committed the murders. Instead there is very strong
evidence of FBI misconduct. http://www.freepeltier.org/peltier_faq.htm
During a parole hearing in December 1995, US prosecutor Lynn Crooks
admitted again that no evidence exists against Peltier. He further
stated that the government never really accused him of murder and that
if Peltier were retried, the government could not reconvict. The
Parole Board, however, decided not to grant parole because Peltier
continues to maintain his innocence (they stated that Peltier had not
given a "factual and specific account of (his) actions...consistent
with the jury's verdict of guilt") and because he was the only one
convicted. As ridiculous as this reasoning sounds, it has thus far
held up. A petition for executive clemency after nearly 7 years from
the time it was filed with the Department of Justice, was refused by
William Clinton. Clinton pardoned several of his friends and business
partners, but says he never seriously thought of any such pardon for
"An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere"
Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 27 years. Despite the harsh
conditions, he has continued to lead an active life. He has made
contributions to humanitarian and charitable causes. He sponsors an
annual Christmas drive for clothes and toys for the children of Pine
Ridge. He helped to establish a Native American Scholarship fund. He
assisted programs for battered women and substance abuse recovery. He
was instrumental in improving medical care on the reservations. He
worked to assist other prisoners in developing a prison art program,
and adopted children in Guatemala and El Salvador through ChildReach.
This is only a partial list. As a result of these outstanding
contributions, Peltier received recognition and acclaim from many
human rights groups, including an award from the Human Rights
Commission of Spain.
Leonard Peltier feels that his spiritual practices as well as the love
and support from family and friends have helped him to endure his
circumstances. But how long will he endure? He is a sick man who is
not receiving proper medical treatment.
Will Leonard Peltier die in prison?
An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhereâ Samuel Johnson
" Never cease in the fight for peace, justice, and equality for all
people. Be persistent in all that you do and don't allow anyone to
sway you from your conscience." ---Leonard Peltier
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