Leonard Peltier, a champion for the rights of Native and all oppressed people, has been in prison for over 43 years, persecuted by the U.S. government for a crime he did not commit. Since his arrest in 1976, an international movement has demanded his freedom while Peltier continues to speak out for justice from behind prison walls. The Party for Socialism and Liberation is honored by his participation in our 2020 presidential ticket as Gloria La Riva’s running mate.
Leonard Peltier was born on Sept. 12, 1944 on Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, in Belcourt, North Dakota, of the Anishnaabe, Dakota and Lakota Nations. Deeply influenced as a child by poverty, racism, and the struggles of his family and people against the U.S. government’s attempted forced termination of Native reservation land, Leonard dedicated his life to social justice. He became a member of the American Indian Movement in 1972, and engaged in community struggles for Native sovereignty from Seattle to South Dakota. As the website of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee explains:
The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, and George Mitchell — all Ojibwa Indians and graduates of that Indian finishing school, the Minnesota State Penitentiary. Initially, the organization was established to combat police brutality in Minneapolis, but it quickly evolved into a full-fledged Indigenous rights movement committed to uniting all Native Peoples in an effort to uplift their communities and promote cultural pride and sovereignty.
The U.S. government waged an all-out war against AIM. Just as they set out to destroy the Black Panthers and other radical organizations, the FBI was determined to kill or capture the leaders of the movement for Native liberation, including Peltier.
On June 26, 1975, the FBI saw their opportunity. Two FBI agents in plainclothes and unmarked cars invaded the Jumping Bull Ranch on the Pine Ridge reservation, where AIM activists, including Leonard Peltier, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, had been camped to protect the residents from longstanding violence of the right-wing tribal police. A shootout ensued and the agents were killed.
Butler and Robideau were arrested. Their trial in the deaths of the agents resulted in a verdict of innocence due to self-defense. This was exactly Leonard’s situation but because he had sought refuge in Canada, he was not tried at the same time as Butler and Robideau. The FBI decided Leonard would pay the price. They falsified evidence to gain his extradition to the U.S. His trial and conviction was a blatant mockery of justice, with witnesses’ lives threatened and evidence manipulated. After the kangaroo trial, Peltier was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Prosecutors in his appeals even admitted that the government did not know who fired the shots that killed the agents! Peltier’s long and brutal imprisonment has only intensified his commitment to fight against injustice. He wrote in his 1999 book Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance:
Our sovereignty, our nationhood, our very identity — along with our sacred lands — have been stolen from us in one of the great thefts of human history. And I am referring not just to the thefts of previous centuries but to the great thefts that are still being perpetrated upon us today, at this very moment. Our human rights as indigenous peoples are being violated every day of our lives — and by the very same people who loudly and sanctimoniously proclaim to other nations the moral necessity of such rights.
Over the centuries our sacred lands have been repeatedly and routinely stolen from us by the governments and peoples of the United States and Canada. They callously pushed us onto remote reservations on what they thought was worthless wasteland, trying to sweep us under the rug of history. But today, that so-called wasteland has surprisingly become enormously valuable as the relentless technology of white society continues its determined assault on Mother Earth.
The Native struggle has taken on even greater significance as the world grapples with the existential threat posed by the climate change crisis. In Brazil, the fascist Bolsonaro government has given agribusiness capitalists a green light to burn down the Amazon to displace Indigenous peoples and clear more land for exploitation. In the United States, the Native movement against the oil pipeline at Standing Rock inspired people across the country and the world with its determination in the face of police brutality.
Peltier’s case has drawn support from renowned political and cultural figures such as Nelson Mandela, Alice Walker, Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson and the governments of many Native nations. Through our presidential campaign, the Party for Socialism and Liberation aims to raise the profile of the fight to free Leonard Peltier and all political prisoners, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Mutulu Shakur, Delbert Africa, Chuck Africa and many others.
Leonard Peltier has dedicated his life and sacrificed enormously to the fight for a world free of exploitation and racism, where all people can determine their own destiny and have the social rights they need to live in dignity. The La Riva/Peltier campaign is an extension of this struggle.
For more information about the fight to free Leonard Peltier, visit the website of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee at www.whoisleonardpeltier.info.