From John Iversen, enrolled elder of Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and health activist. He lives in both Berkeley, Calif., and Two Harbors, Minn.
This Thanksgiving Day there will be prayers and a rally at the White House for Anishinabe-Lakota political prisoner Leonard Peltier. We are asking President Obama to review Peltier’s case for clemency. If the president can pardon a turkey, he can surely look at facts and free Leonard.
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 to 1976 over 66 traditionalists and American Indian Movement supporters were murdered and over 300 severely beaten on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is also the poorest county in the United States.
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. All my cash was taken as a fine and I was left on an isolated road on the reservation border in the middle of a war zone, in freezing wind and rain, to hitchhike 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.
Leonard Peltier was not so lucky. Leonard 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/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?
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that the FBI coerced witnesses to perjure testimony, that evidence was fabricated, and that a ballistics test proving Peltier’s innocence was 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, Nelson Mandela, the Green Party and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark are among over 10,000 individuals and groups who called upon President Bill Clinton to release Leonard. I don’t think Robert Redford would put his career on the line to fund, produce and direct the 1992 film “Incident at Oglala” if he thought Peltier was guilty of anything. Some listed above are of much higher moral authority than Obama or any lying FBI agents.
I implore you to add your voice and call the White House comment line: 202-456-1111 or 1414 DAILY. Peltier has his own topic file so you only have to say a sentence or two. Be kind to the volunteer operators who brighten up when they hear the word Peltier. Send an email to info or comments or president @whitehouse.gov.
I personally will call for BOYCOTT TURKEY if we get nothing from Obama. Might as well sic the American Poultry Association and Turkish officials to add a bit of monetary pressure, since money is all they care about.
In the words of Green vice-presidential candidate Winona LaDuke in 2000: “At this point there can be no justice for Native people until Leonard Peltier is free.”