Another Stain On America's
Human Rights Record

By Judy Andreas
"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 on earth?
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. 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 Peltier's freedom.
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."
In addition:
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.
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 Leonard. 
"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?
"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
 Copyright: 2006



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