Colonial Injustice

Free Leonard Peltier!

Prison Writings

Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance
By Leonard Peltier
Edited by Harvey Arden
Paperback: 243 pages
(St. Martin’s Griffin, June 2000)
ISBN: 978-0-312-26380-5
ISBN-10: 0-312-26380-5

The story of American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier (Gwarth-ee-lass, “He Leads the People”) cries for justice — not just for Peltier, but for Original Peoples everywhere. Peltier was arrested in Canada on 6 February 1976, extradited, charged and sentenced for the killing of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at Oglala Oyanke (Pine Ridge “Reservation”) in South Dakota. He still remains imprisoned on the concocted evidence.

Oglala Oyanke is the home to the Lakota (Sioux) Nation, which, pointing to a string of broken treaties, declared its independence from the US in December 2007. On 26 June 1975, FBI agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler were searching for a Pine Ridge man, Jimmy Eagle, wanted for the theft of a pair of cowboy boots. They entered a homestead on Oglala Oyanke and began a firefight. In the documentary film Incident at Okala, AIM spokesman John Trudell claimed, of the agents: “They were there to make trouble.” The agents killed AIM activist Joe Stuntz and were themselves killed.

AIM members Darrell Butler and Robert Robideau were arrested. Citing self-defense, they were found not guilty by a jury of the two murders. This did not apply to Peltier.

Former United States attorney general Ramsey Clarke spoke of a grave miscarriage of justice in the case of Peltier:

I think I can explain beyond serious doubt that Leonard Peltier has committed no crime whatsoever. Even if he had been guilty of firing a gun that killed two FBI agents — and it is certain that he did not — it would still have been in self-defense and in the defense not just of his people but of the right of all individuals and peoples to be free from domination and exploitation.

The violence has a long ago historical basis with the westward expansionism and territorial theft by colonialists. Indigenous blood flowed at the Wounded Knee Massacre, where women and children were slaughtered by the US military in 1890.

In modern times, anger erupted on 27 February 1973 with a violent 71-day siege of the Pine Ridge reservation by government paramilitaries (self-styled GOONS — alleged to be responsible for “assassinations of over 60 AIM members and sympathizers“), FBI agents, and the National Guard against the AIM protectors of the Lakota people. It became trivialized as the Wounded Knee Incident. Violence continued to beset Pine Ridge after the siege ended.

Following the shooting of the two FBI men, US justice [sic] demanded vengeance. Thus began the manhunt for Peltier.

Eventually, Peltier was apprehended in Canada and extradited based on falsified affidavits presented to Canadian officials. In 1977, Peltier was sentenced to imprisonment for two life terms.

Peltier wrote about his ordeal, his philosophy, and being an “Indian” in his autobiography, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance.

Peltier denounced the legal circus that swirled around him:

[T]he prosecution, without a qualm, tossed in endless lies and fabricated evidence and phony witnesses, and the judge allowed all of it. This was the American judicial system at its very worst, scoffing at — even spitting on — the very principles of truth and fairness and justice on which it is supposedly founded.

Peltier recognizes this so-called justice to be systematic.

Think of all the cops and judges and guards and lawyers who’d be out of work if they didn’t have Indians to oppress! We keep the system going. We help give the American system of injustice the criminals it needs.

Appeals to US presidents to use their power to commute judicial sentences have been rejected in the case of Peltier. US appeals judge Gerald Heaney who denied a new trial, now admits that the FBI used improper tactics to convict Peltier and that the FBI was equally responsible for the shoot-out.

Peltier wrote that his “last best hope of freedom” was a pardon from then president Bill Clinton. Clinton reportedly promised he would give Peltier an answer one way or the other — a promise he, allegedly, reneged on. Surprisingly, this question does not dog Bill or Hillary Clinton during Hillary’s election campaign.

Editor Harvey Arden asks, “So why is this story of Judicial Racism hidden from the public eye?”

Arden notes a plethora of dignitaries have called for Peltier’s release, among them the late pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, Amnesty International, International Indian Treaty Council, the UN high commissioner on Human Rights, archbishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, Mikhail Gorbachev, Gloria Steinem, Wilma Mankiller, Robert Redford, and the European Parliament.

Peltier, who is a victim of so much adversity, wrote:

If my imprisonment does nothing more than educate an unknowing and uncaring public about the terrible conditions Native Americans and all indigenous people around the world continue to endure, then my suffering has had — and continues to have — a purpose. My people’s struggle to survive inspires my own struggle to survive. Each of us must be a survivor.

Peltier will turn 64 this September. His case cries out for justice finally to be served. Yet what justice can there be when over 30 years of one’s life have been frittered away?

His official release date is 2041. Leonard Peltier must be freed now!


* See Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC)

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Bill Knows said on April 21st, 2008 at 6:58am #

    In 2004 I voted for Leonard Peltier for US President. He was then the candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party. Never saw mention of my vote (only vote in this county in Pennsylvania?) in the paper, but it must have made somebody think a little. I grew up in New Mexico where native peoples were more established and harder to push by the US Feds. The Pueblos are real structures, the Navajo are very large, and these people gained some state of establishment by the long relationship with the Spanish. Remember, Spanish colonists were in New Mexico in the 1500’s. Also, there was the Revolt of 1680 [ or when native people stood up for their rights. I’ve got to go check on Peltier for President – 2008. Thanks for keeping this story in view.

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 21st, 2008 at 5:29pm #

    In my opinion, no group of Americans has a more valid claim to be as corrupt as the Sacramento legislature than do native americans in California.

    And I would suggest, in honor of this day, that American workers should celebrate a “Patriots Day” for each country in which American soldiers in uniform are found. Beginning next Monday with “Iraq Day.”

  3. Gary Corseri said on April 21st, 2008 at 9:20pm #

    The American Empire began long before the United States of America declared their independence. The Empire was run by Spaniards, French, English, Portuguese and Dutch before the Anglo-Americans began to run the others off the stage of world history. Wherever the Empire set its boots, the proud peoples of Turtle Island in the north, and the land of the Incas in the South, were trampled underfoot. We found ample reasons, of course: their strange rituals for worshipping their gods; their blood-sacrifices; never questioning our own strange rituals or the blood-sacrifices of our endless wars.

    European expansionism has been a sordid, 500-year long odyssey that continues to this day, bringing murder and mutilation, shock and awe, theft and betrayal in its wake.

    The story cannot be told often enough. Great books have been written, and yet, the average 21st Century American, wearing his flag lapel-pin, is largely ignorant of the rapes and massacres, the ethnic cleansings and genocides which have taken place under the little banner he so proudly displays.

    Thanks to Petersen for adeptly pulling the curtain back again, exposing the fraudulent wiz behind the smoke-screen of the American myth. Only when we begin to see clearly through the smoke-screen can we hope to gather the lost fragments, the wandering souls of our story.

    Peltier’s struggle for justice is the struggle of a true hero, one who has endured the “outrageous fortune” in order to tell truth and to bear witness. The media will adduce John McCain as a “war hero,” because he claims he was tortured after dropping bombs from a jet on innocent civilians in Vietnam. But of men who defend their homes and their people against maniac war-mongers like McCain or Cheney–our mass media have no corporate use for them; such men cannot stir the emotions for war and more war. They state their case quietly year after year, decade after decade, “tortured” by lost years and neglect, but ennobling us all by never faltering in their quest for justice and truth.

    Peltier’s words evoke the depths to which our American Empire has sunk: “Think of all the cops and judges and guards and lawyers who’d be out of work if they didn’t have Indians to oppress! We keep the system going. We help give the American system of injustice the criminals it needs.”

    Of course, a system oppressing one group of people will soon oppress all of its people. Now we all, like worker-drones, “keep the system going.” We answer now, in 2008, for the original sins of enslavement of blacks and genocide against “Indians.” One lie leads to another, to another, to another until we entangle ourselves in webs of lies, losing the beauty, purpose and meaning of life itself.

  4. hp said on April 23rd, 2008 at 12:54pm #

    Yes, what wicked webs…
    How Ironic that the Hispanic’s forefathers were here and murdering ‘Indians’ some two hundred years before the Pilgrims and Puritans were even born.

  5. John Shafer said on January 20th, 2009 at 11:09am #

    Clearly if there was anything of substance to the Obama myth then a Peltier release would be something we should all expect to happen sooner rather than later.