know this. My life has a meaning. I refuse to believe that this
existence, our time on Mother Earth, is meaningless. I believe
that the Creator, Wakan Tanka, has shaped each of our lives for
a reason. I don’t know what that reason is. Maybe I’ll never know.
But you don’t have to know the meaning of life to know that life
has a meaning.
Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance
Spiritual warrior of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota
Nation, Leonard Peltier is 65 years old. In 1977, the U.S. government
believed the warrior, then 30 years old, too dangerous. Now Elder
Peltier, a political prisoner, currently incarcerated at the U.S.
Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA, is scheduled to come before the U.S.
Parole Commission on July 28, 2009 after spending 33 years because
the government fears dissidence more than it respects justice.
Another day ends. That’s good. But now another night
is beginning. And that’s bad. The nights are worse. The days just
happen to you. The night you’ve got to imagine, to conjure up,
all by yourself. They’re the stuff of your own nightmares. The
lights go down but they never quite go out in here. Shadows lurk
everywhere. Shadows within shadows. I’m one of those shadows myself.
I, Leonard Peltier. Also known in my native country of Great Turtle
Island as Gwarth-ee-lass - ‘He Leads the People.’ Also known among
my Sioux brethren as Tate-Wikikuma - ‘Wind Chases the Sun.’ Also
known as U.S. Prisoner #89637-132.
For three years, since the end of the 71-day takeover
of Wounded Knee, the site of the 1890 massacre of women and children,
the residents of Jumping Bull had been under attack. Ramsey Clark
writes, a “rogue paramilitary group” - “the GOONs - Guardians of
the Oglala Nation” who were provided “weapons, training and motivation
to create a wave of violence…against traditional Indian people and
their supporters, including the American Indian Movement,” killed
over 60 residents of Jumping Bull (“Preface,” Prison Writings).
The GOONs, led by Dick Wilson, mix-blood tribal leader and the leader
of the anti-traditional “progressive” movement, presided over what
is known as the “Reign of Terror.” Wilson openly bragged to the
media about his GOON squad and the particular brand of “law and
order” on the reservation that didn’t seem to alarm the U.S. government.
Terrorist tactics against residents, particularly elderly people
supporting the right to maintain traditional beliefs and values
were beaten or murdered, was supported by the FBI.
The people of Oglala had had enough. As they had
done in 1973, when they requested the help of the American Indian
Movement (AIM) at Wounded Knee, the elders called on them once again
and Leonard Peltier along with 16 other AIM members came to protect
the people at Oglala. In a 1973 FBI document, Jon Lurie writes,
“the government was concerned that AIM would shift their emphasis
from advocacy of Native pride to the ‘prevention of resources exploitation’”
(“The Wiping of the Tears”). Wilson had given away “one-third of
the uranium-rich reservation” to the federal government (Lurie).
Thirty-four years ago, on June 26, 1975, two FBI
Special Agents, driving unmarked cars and claiming to be in pursuit
of a red pickup truck, owned by a Jimmy Eagle, came onto
the Oglala Reservation in South Dakota.
Peltier remembers resting near the homes where the
women were doing the laundry. He heard shooting and dismissed it
at first, until he heard screaming. “My job was to protect the terrified
people,” wrote Peltier (Prison Writings). He led the people
away from the “dead zone” to a gulley where they prayed.
AIM activist Joe Stuntz and the two Special Agents
Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams were dead. Stuntz was shot
in the head. To this today, neither Stuntz’s murder nor the murders
of 60 Oglala people were ever investigated. A few days later, the
body of another AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash was found murdered.
Bob Robideau and Dino Butler were captured at charged
with double murder. Both men contended that they were defending
the people who had for so long experienced an atmosphere of terror
at Pine Ridge. The jury found them not guilty. The FBI cried foul!
They set about to stack the deck on Peltier who was fighting extradition
from Canada to the U.S. The FBI, instead of pursuing justice, pursued
revenge, and a means to characterize AIM as a homegrown terrorist
threat, as they had with the Black Panthers. The FBI sought and
found a favorable environment. Contrary to U.S. Congress, in particular
Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeff Sessions belief that judges don’t
advocate a certain ideology, the FBI located a judge favorable
to permitting a kangaroo court, where false evidence was allowed
to be presented against Indigenous People. It also procured a favorable
jury - all white. In 1977, the government selected Fargo, North
Dakota to hold the trial.
conviction is one of the worst examples of government manipulation
of the justice process in American history,”
according to Dan Skye, June 2009, “Leonard Peltier Parole Hearing
July 27, 2009.” “In
1977… the judge disallowed testimony describing the state of open
warfare that existed on Pine Ridge, nor was Peltier allowed to claim
self-defense. Later, an appeals judge called the conduct of the
FBI ‘a clear violation of the investigative process.’” By the time the trial ended, it was Peltier’s red
and white van (not a red pick up truck now) that was just ahead
of the two unmarked car. It was Peltier’s rifle that shot the officers
“point blank.” Peltier is sentenced for crimes in which “false affidavits”
were used as evidence and witnesses were “intimidated” and “coerced”
into testifying against Peltier (Skye).
The Spiritual warrior of the Lakota, Dakota, and
Nakota Nation, entered the hellhole that can only be conjured by
hate and fear for people who struggle for freedom.
During the 1960s, Peltier worked as a farmer and
then an auto shop worker in Seattle,” writes Carolina Saldana, “Leonard
Peltier: Silence Screams,” Born Black Magazine. “At that
time he got his first taste of community organizing” and joined,
in the early 1970s AIM, participating in the Trail of Broken Treaties,
a march from Alcatraz to Washington D.C. He also participated in
the occupation of the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] in Washington
(Saldana). As a result, Peltier became a “target of the FBI program
[COINTELPRO] to ‘neutralize’ AIM leaders and was set up and jailed
at the end of the year.”
My own personal story can't be told, even
in this abbreviated version, without going back long before my
own birth on September 12, 1944, back to 1890 and to 1876 and
to 1851 and, yes, all the way back through all the other calamitous
dates in the relations between the red men and white, back to
that darkest day of all in human history: October 12, 1492, when
our Great Sorrow began (Peltier).
Some people know the facts surrounding October 12,
1492, but not many have sat long enough to feel the impact of the
Great Sorrow against humanity. Fewer still truly recognize the willful
destruction of people, cultures, and lands; the mandate forcing
survivors to relocate in mass; the government neglect and the lies,
deceit, and outright heavy-handed enforcement of legalities backed
by repressive presence of police and military operatives - long
before the ghettoizing Black urban communities, long before the
1948 Nakba in Palestine.
A First people, the Indigenous People of the Americas,
abused by European forces and then by the might of the United States
is expected to be forgetful and further assist in their own annihilation
by assimilating to the rulers of capitalism and to foreign beliefs
up the fight or at least remain silent!
they say, is the voice of complicity.
But silence is impossible.
Silence is a message,
just as doing nothing is an act
Let who you are ring out and resonate
in every word and every deed.
Yes, become who you are.
There's no sidestepping your own being
or your own responsibility.
What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.
You become your own message.
You are the message.
-Peltier, “The Message”
The Great Sorrow, while victimizing the Indigenous
People of Americas, has not diminished the peoples’ knowledge of
their history and relationship with the Mother Earth.
I had the honor to speak by phone with Tiokasin Ghosthorse,
master musician and flutist, storyteller, poet, university lecturer,
scholar, essayist, human rights activist, and host of First Voices
Indigenous Radio (WBAI). “We are not claiming to be victims,”
Ghosthorse said. “We’ve known we have always been out of the box.”
Ghosthorse is a survivor of the official Reign
of Terror, 1972-1976. But the Reign of Terror began long before
1972. During the 1960s, Ghosthorse explained, the mining for uranium
on the Pine Ridge Reservation included more than mining of the land:
it mined the spirit of the people. “Some people ended up working
for the government on those projects while it was said of the ‘traditional’
people that we were ‘backward.’”
But traditionalist persisted, as has the Reign of
Terror, he said.
“The Reign of Terror began long before the years of
1972-1976. Before that things were happening,” Ghosthorse recalls.
The government came and told the Nation that thousands of Lakota
people living near the Missouri River, where the government was
building a dam, had to move. “The government flooded the land and
up rooted people.” Whites living along the river were given sufficient
time to evacuate the area, and they were compensated. This was not
the case for the Lakota people.
The Reign of Terror precedes the official beginnings
of the COINTELPRO FBI program. As early as the 1950s, “if you said
you didn’t like the system, you were deemed a dissident.” And the
police state continues today.
explains that in 1999, 2000, and 2001, 9 men, educated in both traditional
and at non-Indigenous U.S. institutions, were found dead, “face
down, in Rapid Creek.” Why? These young men, Ghosthorse said, were
starting to organize the people, organize a movement. The government
responded to this perceived threat. “No investigation [occurred]
because they [the FBI] claimed they didn’t have the resources.”
The U.S. government didn’t investigate human rights violations against
the Indigenous People. “But we are talking about our ‘natural’ rights
- not those given by any government.”
Currently, at Pine Ridge, “the life span of men is
down to 40 years of age. It used to be 120.” Women’s life span is
45 years of age. “Sixty-four percent of our population is 20 years.”
That means most of our young people “are without parents and grandparents,”
He remembers that in his own childhood, he walked
to school, dodging the GOONs and the FBI. “Everyone walked. But
we knew where to walk and where not to walk.” The people devised
ways to walk where the GOONs and FBI agents wouldn’t drive their
cars. But people were “maimed for life and wounded” during this
period. Many were killed, “far more than 60 people.”
The culture of greed fuels the continuation of the
Reign of Terror against the Indigenous People whose understanding
of “freedom” precedes the imposition of capitalist values.
If we were dealing with truth, the U.S. would owe
the Native Indian well over 125 billion dollars. What matters
is not the money, but the truth that all Americans need to know.
We are talking about the U.S. government’s war on Earth that’s
driven by profit. Our way of relating to the Earth is anti-profit.
That’s what this Reign of Terror is all about. That’s
what we are talking about.
But, Ghosthorse added, if we use “the language of
the government…we are not going to get anywhere. We are going to
stand until we get it - our ‘freedom.’”
“It’s about who we are - not were.”
“We have always been poor,” Ghosthorse concluded,
“but we’ve been the riches in spirit. This is what the government
does not want Americans to know. [But] if we forget who we are,
this country is lost.”
The persecution of elder Leonard Peltier is intended
to conceal the attack against spiritual warriors who attempt to
defend the Indigenous People against the violence of the U.S. government
and those who engage the ruling power against their own people.
The meaning of Peltier’s life is linked to the meaning
of freedom for the Indigenous People.
This spirit of Crazy Horse is a spirit of being in total resistance
to the wrongs perpetrated towards your people, community, family
and yourself. It is when we make a conscious choice to try and
balance the wrongs in this society that we are being compelled
by this spirit of resistance to stand in defense of the wronged.
-Leonard Peltier, “Letter Written November 5, 2008,” San Francisco
Bayview, January 2009.
AIM Casualties on Pine Ridge, 1973-1976
Clearwater-AIM member killed by heavy machine gun round at Wounded
Knee. No investigation.
4.23.73-Between eight and twelve individuals
(names unknown) packing supplies into Wounded Knee were intercepted
by Goons [Guardians of the Oglala Nation] and vigilantes. None were
ever heard from again. Former Rosebud Tribal President Robert Burnette
and U.S. Justice Department Solicitor General Kent Frizzell conducted
unsuccessful search for a mass grave after Wounded Knee siege. No
4.27.73-Buddy Lamont-AIM member hit by M16 fire
at Wounded Knee, Bled to death while pinned down by fire. No investigation.
6.19.73-Clarence Cross-AIM supporter shot to
death in ambush by Goons. Although assailants were identified by
eyewitnesses, brother Vernal Cross-wounded in ambush-was briefly
charged with crime. No further investigation.
4.14.73-Priscilla White Plume-AIM supporter killed
at Manderson by Goons. No investigation.
7.30.73-Julius Bad Heart Bull-AIM supporter killed
at Oglala AIM supporter killed at Oglala by “person or persons unknown.”
9.22.73-Melvin Spider-AIM member killed Porcupine,
South Dakota. No investigation.
9.23.73-Philip Black Elk-AIM supporter killed
when his house exploded. No investigation.
10.5.73-Aloysius Long Soldier-AIM member killed
at Kyle, S.D. by Goons. No investigation.
10.10.73-Phillip Little Crow-AIM supporter beaten
to death by Goons at Pine Ridge. No investigation.
10.17.73-Pedro Bissonette-Oglala Sioux Civil Rights
Organization (OSCRO) organizer and AIM supporter assassinated by
BIA Police/Goons. Body removed from Pine Ridge jurisdiction prior
to autopsy by government contract coroner. No investigation.
11.20.73-Allison Fast Horse-AIM supporter shot
to death near Pine Ridge by “unknown assailants.” No investigation.
1.17.74-Edward Means, Jr.-AIM member found dead
in Pine Ridge alley, beaten. No investigation.
2.27.74-Edward Standing Soldier-AIM member killed
near Pine Ridge by “party r parties unknown.” No investigation.
4.19.74-Roxeine Roark-AIM supporter killed at
Porcupine by “unknown assailants.” Investigation open, still “pending.”
9.7.74-Dennis LeCompte-AIM member killed at
Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
9.11.74-Jackson Washington Cutt-AIM member killed
at Parmalee by “unknown individuals.” Investigation still “ongoing.”
9.16.74-Robert Reddy-AIM member killed at Kyle
by gunshot. No investigation.
11.16.74-Delphine Crow Dog-sister of AIM spiritual
leader Leonard Crow Dog. Beaten by BIA police and left lying in
a field. Died from "exposure." No investigation.
11.20.74-Elaine Wagner-AIM supporter killed at
Pine Ridge by “person or persons unknown.” No investigation.
12.25.75-Floyd S. Binais-AIM supporter killed
at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
12.28.74-Yvette Loraine Lone Hill-AIM supporter
killed at Kyle by “unknown party or parties.” No investigation.
1.5.75-Leon L. Swift Bird-AIM member killed
at Pine Ridge by Goons. Investigation still “ongoing.”
3.1.75-Martin Montileaux-killed in a Scenic,
S.D. bar. AIM leader Richard Marshall later framed for his murder.
Russell Means also charged and acquitted.
3.20.75-Stacy Cotter-shot to death in an ambush
at Manderson. No investigation.
3.21.75-Edith Eagle Hawk and her two children-AIM
supporter killed in an automobile accident after being run off the
run by a white vigilante, Albert Coomes. Coomes was also killed
in the accident. Goon Mark Clifford identified as having also been
in the Coomes car, escaped. Investigation closed without questioning
3.27.75-Jeanette Bissonette-AIM supporter killed
by sniper at Pine Ridge. Unsuccessful attempt to link AIM members
to murder; no other investigation.
3.30.75-Richard Eagle-grandson of AIM supporter
Gladys Bissonette killed while playing with loaded gun kept in the
house as protection from Goon attacks.
4.4.75-Hilda R. Good Buffalo-AIM supporter stabbed
to death at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
4.4.75-Jancita Eagle Deer-AIM member beaten
and run over with automobile. Last seen in the company of provocateur
Douglass Durham. No investigation.
5.20.75-Ben Sitting Up-AIM member killed at Wanblee
by “unknown assailants.” No investigation.
6.1.75-Kenneth Little-AIM supporter killed at
Pine Ridge by Goons. Investigation still “pending.”
6.15.75-Leah Spotted Elk-AIM supporter at Pine
Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
6.26.75-Joseph Stuntz Killsright-AIM member killed
by FBI sniper during Oglala firefight. No investigation.
7.12.75-James Briggs Yellow-heart attack caused
by FBI air assault on his home. No investigation.
7.25.75-Andrew Paul Stewart-nephew of AIM spiritual
leader Leonard Crow Dog, killed by Goons on Pine Ridge. No investigation.
8.25.75-Randy Hunter-AIM supporter killed at
Kyle by “party or parties unknown.” Investigation still “ongoing.”
9.9.75-Howard Blue Bird-AIM supporter killed
at Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
9.10.75-Jim Little-AIM stomped to death by Goons
in Oglala. No investigation.
10.26.75-Olivia Binais-AIM supporter killed in
Porcupine by “person or persons unknown.” Investigation still “open.”
10.26.75-Janice Black Bear-AIM supporter killed
at Manderson by Goons. No investigation.
10.27.75-Michelle Tobacco-AIM supporter killed
at Pine Ridge by “unknown persons.” No investigation.
12.6.75-Carl Plenty Arrows, Sr.-AIM supporter
killed at Pine Ridge by “unknown persons.” No investigation.
12.6.75-Frank LaPointe-AIM supporter killed at
Pine Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
2.76-Anna Mae Pictou Aquash-AIM organizer
assassinated on Pine Ridge. FBI involved in attempt to conceal cause
of death. Ongoing attempt to establish “AIM involvement” in murder.
Key FBI personnel never deposed. Coroner never deposed. [to testify
or bear witness, especially on oath in court].
1.5.76-Lydia Cut Grass-AIM member killed at
Wounded Knee by Goons. No investigation.
1.30.76-Byron DeSersa-OSCRO organizer and AIM
supporter assassinated by Goons in Wanblee. Arrests by local authorities
resulted in two Goons-Dale Janis and Charlie Winters-serving two
years of five year sentences for “manslaughter.” Charges dropped
against two Goon leaders, Manny Wilson and Chuck Richards, on the
basis of “self-defense” despite DeSersa having been unarmed when
shot to death.
2.6.76-Lena R. Slow Bear-AIM supporter killed
at Oglala by Goons. No investigation.
3.1.76-Hobart Horse-AIM member beaten, shot,
and repeatedly run over with automobile at Sharp's Corners. No investigation.
3.26.76-Cleveland Reddest-AIM member killed at
Kyle by “person or persons unknown.” No investigation.
4.28.76-Betty Jo Dubray-AIM supporter beaten
to death at Martin, S.D. No investigation.
5.6.76-Marvin Two Two-Aim supporter shot to
death at Pine Ridge. No investigation.
5.9.76-Juia Pretty Hips-AIM supporter killed
at Pine Ridge by unknown assailants.” No investigation.
5.24.76-Sam Afraid of Bear-AIM supporter shot
to death at Pine Ridge. Investigation “ongoing.”
6.4.76-Kevin Hill-AIM supporter killed at Oglala
by “party or parties unknown.” Investigation “still open.”
7.3.76-Betty Means-AIM member killed at Pine
Ridge by Goons. No investigation.
7.31.76-Sandra Wounded Foot-AIM supporter killed
at Sharp's Corners by “unknown assailants.” No investigation.
“AIM, Pine Ridge and the FBI” http://www.dickshovel.com/Aim.Pine.html
Peltier Defense/Offense Committee: www.whoisleonardpeltier.info
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has been a writer,
for over thirty years of commentary, resistance criticism and cultural
theory, and short stories with a Marxist sensibility to the impact
of cultural narrative violence and its antithesis, resistance narratives.
With entrenched dedication to justice and equality, she has served
as a coordinator of student and community resistance projects that
encourage the Black Feminist idea of an equalitarian community and
facilitator of student-teacher communities behind the walls of academia
for the last twenty years. Dr. Daniels holds a PhD in Modern American
Literatures, with a specialty in Cultural Theory (race, gender,
class narratives) from Loyola University, Chicago. Click here
to contact Dr. Daniels.