Letter to the editor: Join activists in calling for Peltier’s release
From John Iversen
Enrolled member of the Bois Forte-Nett Lake Band of Chippewa
During his final term in office, President Obama should declare clemency for Leonard Peltier.
In 1973, I participated in the Wounded Knee occupation for seven weeks. There, I learned first- hand of the reign of terror being perpetrated against traditional Lakota, people who were demanding a modicum of civil rights and protesting both outrageous police brutality and violations of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. From 1973-76, over 66 traditionalists and American Indian Movement supporters were murdered; over 300 were severely beaten on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
After attending the October, 1973 funeral of Lakota civil rights leader Pedro Bissonette, I was arrested for walking Pine Ridge streets after dark. I was held overnight and all my cash was taken as a fine. I was left on an isolated road on the reservation border in freezing wind and rain, in the middle of a war zone, to hitchhike 500 miles home.
Thirty days of jail awaited me if I returned to the reservation. Luckily, the first car that stopped that day was filled with friendly Lakota elders, who rolled down the window and said, “We thought you’d be here! Want a ride to Rapid City?”
Leonard Peltier was not so lucky. He has taken the rap for everyone involved. The FBI Cointelpro program was out to make someone serve prison time for the Wounded Knee occupation and its aftermath.
Peltier was convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of two FBI agents during a shootout in the civil war zone and police state that was the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. How ironic is it that the two individuals Leonard supposedly aided and abetted were found innocent on grounds of self- defense?
In documents from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (under the esteemed Miles Lord) there were statements indicating that the FBI coerced witnesses to perjure testimony, that evidence had been fabricated and a ballistics test proving Peltier’s innocence had been suppressed. While the court called FBI behavior “a clear abuse of the investigative process,” it refused a new trial, being “reluctant to impute further improprieties to them (the FBI).”
At a 1995 parole hearing, U.S. prosecutor, Lynn Crooks, admitted again that no evidence exists against Peltier, but the parole board denied Peltier’s request.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Mother Theresa, Robert Redford, Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and even Madonna are among over 10,000 individuals and groups who have called upon President Obama to release Peltier.
June 26 marks the 39th anniversary of the “Incident at Oglala,” which was made into a film of the same name by Robert Redford. I do think 39 years is quite enough for someone who is innocent of any wrong doing to be in prison, especially someone who is 73, with diabetes. Join us in a vigil and in bearing witness for Peltier on Thursday, June 26, 5-6 p.m., at the corner of Lake Ave., and Superior St. There will be at least 50 commemorative events throughout the US and Europe.
As Winona LaDuke said in 2000: “At this point there can be no justice for Native people until Leonard Peltier is free.”