Lovers of freedom and justice are called upon to demand parole for imprisoned Native American freedom fighter Leonard Peltier. His parole hearing is on June 10. Peltier, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and of Lakota and Dakota descent, is 79, and has been unjustly imprisoned since 1976 — 48 years — for a crime he did not commit. Peltier is in declining health and has hoped he would live long enough to attend the hearing.

In 1973, the American Indian Movement led a 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Wounded Knee is the site where the U.S. Army massacred nearly 300 Lakota people in 1890. Wounded Knee II, as it was called, was held to protest a corrupt Tribal government in league with transnational energy companies that wanted to exploit Lakota land. 

The Battle of Wounded Knee was a landmark event for the Native American movement, opening up the struggle for Indigenous sovereignty.

In a government counterattack, hundreds of FBI agents moved onto the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, organizing the infamous “reign of terror.” The FBI and FBI-organized “goon squads” murdered people, and more people had their houses burned down or their cars run off the road. Whole villages were shot up. The terror inflicted on Pine Ridge, today the poorest place in the U.S., is not unlike the U.S.-Israeli genocide taking place in Gaza right now.

AIM answers call for help

The FBI-orchestrated attacks led elders on Pine Ridge to call on AIM for security. Leonard Peltier and others from AIM answered the call. The group set up a camp at the Jumping Bull Compound and participated in local survival programs.

On June 26, 1975, roadblocks were set up in the area of the AIM camp and local hospitals were notified to expect casualties. Two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, drove into Jumping Bull, speeding in the manner of previous FBI drive-by shootings. A firefight quickly erupted, and the AIM members defended themselves from what they saw as another murderous attack. The fight left the two FBI agents, along with AIM member Joe Stuntz Killsright, dead.  

What followed was a huge attack by 150 to 200 FBI agents, SWAT teams and other government agents. Encampment members, including Peltier, were forced to flee with the aid of local supporters.

The firefight created a diversion, allowing Dick Wilson, the corrupt Tribal chairman, to sign away a large part of the reservation to the U.S. government. This was done so that transnational energy companies could mine uranium on the reservation.

Peltier said in “Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance”: “I have no doubt whatsoever that the real motivation behind Wounded Knee II and the Oglala firefight, and much of the turmoil throughout Indian Country since the early 1970s, was — and is — the mining companies’ desire to muffle AIM and all traditional Indian people, who sought — and still seek — to protect the land, water, and air from their thefts and depredations. In this sad and tragic age we live in, to come to the defense of Mother Earth, is to be branded a criminal.”

Peltier was captured in 1976 in Canada and extradited to the U.S. based on false affidavits coerced by the FBI. Peltier’s two co-defendants from the encampment defense, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, were found not guilty of murder by reason of self-defense. But Peltier’s case was separated from Butler’s and Robideau’s “so that the full prosecutive weight of the federal government could be directed against Leonard Peltier,” according to an FBI memo. (freepeltier.org)

In an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Fargo, North Dakota, Leonard was found guilty by an all-white jury and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.  Virtually the entire defense, which justified an acquittal in Butler’s and Robideau’s cases, was ruled inadmissible in Peltier’s case by the judge. Through appeals, Peltier’s lawyers have been able to disprove the case against him, to the point that the U.S. government prosecutors have stated that they don’t know what role Leonard played in the firefight.  

We will always uphold the courageous stance of Leonard Peltier and the people of Pine Ridge, along with the American Indian Movement and the entire movement for Native Sovereignty. 

Contact the U.S. Parole Commission to demand parole for Leonard Peltier: U.S. Parole Commission, Acting Chairperson, Patricia K. Cushwa, 90 K St. N.E. 3rd Floor, Washington D.C. 20530; phone 202-346-7000; email

USParole.questions@usdoj.gov

Jim McMahan

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Jim McMahan

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