Leonard Peltier knows his time is running out.
The Native American rights activist is 77, has serious health issues, just survived a horrific bout with COVID-19 and is currently serving his 46th year in federal prison – where the US government put him without any proof that he committed a crime.
Peltier and his supporters are hoping President Joe Biden finally sends him home. ‘Cause if anything has become clear over time, it’s how disturbing Peltier’s imprisonment is has been from the start. Prosecutors in his trial hid key evidence. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into lying. A juror admitted she was biased against Native Americans on the second day of the trial, but was allowed to stay anyway.
Even some of the same US government officials who helped put Peltier in jail in the first place have since admitted how flawed his trial was and how horribly the government has treated Native Americans for a long time, and they have asked for clemency for him. .
There is reason to believe that Biden could finally set Peltier free. He has already demonstrated his willingness to address past injustices against Native Americans. Since taking office, Biden has made it a priority to examine the government’s ugly history of Indian residential schools, protect sacred sites and Indigenous cultural resources, and address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. . He also canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, a major victory for tribes and environmentalists.
Biden also chose Deb Haaland to lead his Interior Department, making her the nation’s first Indigenous Cabinet Secretary. Haaland argued strongly for Peltier’s release from prison in his former role as a congressman.
In November, HuffPost asked Haaland if she still supports releasing Peltier in his role as interior secretary and if she’s spoken to the president about him. Haaland only said, “My thoughts and feelings on this matter are well documented.”
If only Peltier had a few minutes alone with Biden himself. What would he say?
In a rare interview from his maximum security prison in Florida, Peltier recently told HuffPost that his message to the president would be simple.
“I am not guilty of this shooting. I am not guilty,” he said. “I would like to return home to spend my remaining years with my great-grandchildren and my people.”
Peltier said he follows Biden’s efforts to support Native American rights and empower tribes, and if he had the president’s ear, he would give him credit.
“I appreciate what you are doing in giving us back our nationality, our sovereignty,” he said he would tell Biden. “I’m very grateful for that, because that’s what I’ve been fighting for all my life.”
Prior to his incarceration, Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a grassroots activist group aimed at bringing attention to federal treaty rights abuses, discrimination and police brutality targeting Native Americans. In the 1970s, the FBI was waging a covert campaign to suppress AIM’s activities. In fact, as time has revealed, the FBI is at least partly responsible for the shooting that day on the Pine Ridge reservation, as it intentionally fueled intra-tribal tensions in an effort to disrupt efforts to the AIM.
Today, the FBI remains the biggest obstacle to Peltier’s release from prison, with no clear reason other than to protect themselves from scrutiny of their past misdeeds. The office just doesn’t want him released. He recently made this clear to HuffPost ― even when we didn’t ask for it. It was very weird. The unsolicited statement he provided was also full of misinformation, indicating that the FBI’s plan is to continue recycling a flimsy, life-saving argument to keep Peltier in prison until his death.
Peltier said he knew exactly what he would say to FBI Director Christopher Wray if he had the chance to talk to him alone for a few minutes.
“Stop killing my people. That’s all I would say to him,” he said. “Stop killing my people. Arrest people guilty of crimes on reservations.
Perhaps Peltier’s greatest strength is something the FBI cannot match: the strength of his story. For decades, thousands of people have protested his imprisonment, including US senators, members of Congress, Native American groups, celebrities and human rights activists such as Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King and Amnesty International, an organization otherwise focused on political prisoners in other countries.
Just last week, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland on the state of Peltier’s clemency request as Garland was testifying at the an independent Senate budget hearing. The US Attorney General offered a surprisingly weak response, saying he was unaware of Peltier’s case beyond what he read in the press.
Advocacy for Peltier’s release is also occurring internationally. On Tuesday, North Dakota State Rep. Ruth Anna Buffalo (D) made a statement to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues asking for clemency for him.
“Leonard Peltier’s case demonstrates the failure of the American criminal justice system to provide meaningful justice for Indigenous peoples as well as the government-generated environment of racism that consistently leads to unjust convictions,” Buffalo said in its statement. , which she read aloud. on behalf of the Leonard Peltier International Defense Committee. She urged the UN to push for “a means of relief and justice for Leonard Peltier”.
Buffalo later told HuffPost that she felt her remarks were “well received” at the UN forum.
“I hope reading the statement on behalf of the ILPDC will have a positive effect on the release of our eldest, Leonard Peltier,” she said. “I am grateful for the decades of advocacy in the fight for justice for Leonard Peltier.”
“I am not guilty. I would love to return home to spend my remaining years with my great-grandchildren and my people.
– Leonard Peltier
Peltier watches it all unfold from his prison cell. He receives regular updates from his supporters on news that comes out about him and rallies held in his name. He is surprisingly aware of the news. Sometimes people send him articles to read in the mail, and when he can’t access relevant news online, he has friends call and read it to him over the phone, line by line.
During HuffPost’s interview with Peltier, he spoke the most. He said he had recently been frightened by chest pains he had felt while walking through the prison yard and hoped to get back to painting after being denied access to the prison room. art for years due to pandemic precautions.
When asked if he thought he would get out of prison before he died, Peltier said he didn’t know. To date, the White House has either ignored questions from HuffPost about the president’s willingness to grant clemency to Peltier, or only talked about the process a person has to come by to ask for clemency.
“Sometimes it feels like, well…” Peltier said, trailing off. “I shouldn’t even be here. … I should never have been in jail to begin with.
He is clearly still driven by the cause of justice for Native Americans that he fought for with AIM so many years ago. He told stories of his time in the 1970s, when he said Native women were routinely raped by white men who were subsequently given little or no punishment for it, and he and others AIM members would confront local law enforcement to do something about it.
Peltier specifically cited the case of former South Dakota Republican Governor Bill Janklow who allegedly raped a 15-year-old Lakota schoolgirl, Jancita Eagle Deer, at Rosebud Boarding School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Eagle Deer was mysteriously killed by a car months after testifying against Janklow, who was never charged.
“Indigenous people are humans and we had a society, a very advanced society of our own. We were generous people. We gave. It was our problem,” he said. “When the white man came here, we gave too much. That’s what we did. We opened up because that’s how we were raised. We’ve only been abused over the years. last 300 years.
Peltier said he has a strong base of supporters who are still fighting for him to get clemency shows that the more people learn about how he was imprisoned, the more people “finally believe us” that the whole process was unfair.
“How do I feel about this?” I feel good,” he said of people who called for his release at the United Nations this week. “Maybe I can go home and die now.”
He paused before adding: “I’m still pissed off at what they did. What they did to me was wrong. It violated the entire Constitution of the United States.