Posted By Ina Woolcott
Leonard Peltier, born 12th September 1944, is a Native American activist and member of the American Indian Movement, AIM. In 1977 he was convicted and sentenced to 2 consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the murder of two FBI Agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. His conviction sparked great controversy, and there has been considerable debate surrounding Peltier’s guilt, and the fairness of his trial. Some supporters and organisations, including Amnesty International, consider him to be a political prisoner. Numerous lawsuits have been filed on his behalf but so far none have succeeded. Peltier is currently incarcerated at the US penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
Peltier is considered by some to be a political prisoner and has received support from individuals and groups including Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchú, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama), the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.[
The following statement from Leonard Peltier was read at the Oglala Commemoration. June 26, 2008
Greetings my relatives,
I say relatives because you are all my family. I am honored, greatly honored today that you would listen to my words and come together in this way so that our future generations’ will not forget what happened here in this land.
You can’t imagine how much I miss walking on the bare earth. Or brushing against a tree branch or hearing birds in the morning or seeing an antelope or deer cross my path. I have been here in federal prison for 32 years; if you could imagine being in your own home stuck in one room for one year without leaving it, multiply that by 32 and you might have some idea of how imprisonment plays on your feelings. I really get tired sometimes living here in this cell, this prison. Yet at times I feel really good because for some reason I know that there are those out there who have prayed for me in some way. And it helps me because there are moments when a peaceful feeling will wash over me in my solitude.
I try to keep up with world events like the war in Iraq, where those people are going through the same thing our Indian people went through and over the same things. The US wants their resources and they have divided those people against each other. Those children over there and families for generations will still feel the effects of that onslaught of destruction.
When I look at our own people’s situation I see a people who have not recovered from the destruction put upon them in the past. Today, the greater society of America doesn’t want to accept us for who we are because we will always stand as a reminder of the immoral wrongs that they do and have done all over the world, all in the name of technology and progress. Our people have told them from the very beginning about the consequences of mistreatment of individuals and mistreatment of Mother Earth. There are history books that quote our chief headmen and medicine people cautioning them about their destruction of the earth and nature.
We know the first concentration camps America ever had held Indian prisoners. The first biological warfare was used on our people with poisonous blankets. The first atomic bomb dropped was dropped on Indian land in Nevada. Today there are abandoned uranium quarries in Navajo country that cause genetic defects on a lot of their people. When you look into the past, America has used us Indians as their social experiment. They tried to destroy us with boarding schools, relocation, and even the first slavery practice was with American people. However Indian people would fight or commit suicide than to become slaves, and so they imported Africans.
Forgive me if I am repeating things you already know, but I just wanted to bring these things up because these are the reasons behind the Wounded Knee takeover in 73 happened and the shootout at Oglala happened. Our people were not just taking a stand against this government for themselves; they in essence represented Indian people all across the Americas. Our resistance wasn’t to kill anyone; our resistance was to remain alive while we let the world know what had been and what was being done to us, the Indigenous people.
I know for a fact from communication all around the world, that we Indian people inspired many other indigenous people to stand up and defend themselves because of our actions. I have gotten letters from all over the world where people said “if the native Americans can stand up to people like that being in the belly of the beast, surely we can do likewise in some way.”
I recognize that my being here isn’t all about me; my continued imprisonment in essence serves as a warning to others willing to stand up for their people. The US has violated their own constitution they violated the treaties we had with them, they violated all kinds of moralities to bring about my conviction. The average non Indian American either doesn’t know or couldn’t care less. As long as they can keep their high standard of living our struggles mean nothing to them. Most recently other nations have raised the issues of America’s mistreatment of the people in the concentration camp in Guantanamo; issues of lack of a fair trial, issues of physical, mental abuse and of sanctioned torture of prisoners. I want to also mention that our people were the first to be tortured by this government and we were the first to be victims of scalping by the Europeans. The colonizers were paying for our men, woman and children’s scalps.
I may sound angry in what I am saying, but all this goes back to why we are here today. We must not forget what has happened in the past but we must also find a way to heal from those things that have happened and be stronger in the future. We need to heal our families; we need to heal our family’s structures so that what happened to our people in the past can’t happen to us again. For several generations our children were shipped off to boarding schools which destroyed their understanding of family and family responsibilities, and you think of the statistics today facing this, they don’t have to kill us anymore with guns, our children and adults both are killing themselves.
Again, like I said before we have not healed from the destruction that was put upon us, I know each one of us can be better than what we are, it takes effort, it takes getting back to our ceremonies, it takes getting back to our respect for one another, the earth, the Creator and our respect for our brothers’ and sisters’ vision. It takes men being men and being strong fathers and uncles and grandfathers and brothers, not just as a matter of birth but as a matter of responsible behavior. It also takes our women to stand as the strong mothers they were meant to be and the sisters, grandmothers and aunties.
We need to repair ourselves and not wait for some grant from the government to tell us or guide us in our recovery. We need to take that responsibility ourselves and mend the sacred hoop.
Again I want to say as I have said many times in the past, though my body is locked into this cell, my heart and soul is with you today. In closing I would like to acknowledge the great loss of my brother Floyd Westerman, a tireless advocate for Indigenous rights. I’m sure that he as well as many others, who like him devoted their time and energies to better the conditions our people face, are here with us today in spirit. We have no guarantees of the time of our own passing but until that time or my time I will miss them greatly as I miss you my family. Be kind to one another, and remember my words; for I have spoken to you from my heart of hearts. And you will always be in my prayers.
In the spirit of Crazy Horse and every Indian man or person that stood for their people, Doksha
P.O. Box 1000
Lewisburg, PA 17837-1000