June 20, 2002
Edward R. Reilly,
Boulevard, Suite 420
Chevy Chase MD 20815
Dear Mr. Reilly
and Members of the Parole Commission:
This letter is
written in support of the parole of Leonard Peltier.
I spent 8 years of
my life living and teaching on the Pine Ridge Reservation. From 1970
through 1978, my husband, Jay, and I were teachers at Our Lady of
Lourdes Mission - a small elementary school - in Porcupine. We had
both grown up in the northeast; my father worked for the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C. and my husband grew up in Schenectady NY.
We went to the
reservation to accept teaching positions at the small, mission
school, hoping to be able to contribute something of our skills and
from our culture to the people there. Our tenure at the school
coincided with the events which led up to the killings of the FBI
agents and the subsequent incarceration of Mr. Peltier. We were
witnesses to it all; we experienced the fear and frustration of the
local people, whose lives were totally disrupted, and sometimes
destroyed, by the events which surrounded us.
This period of
time was one of extreme chaos and instability. The initial cause of
the turmoil which swept across Pine Ridge was, of course, the strong
sense of frustration that had been generated by years and years of
neglect and injustice on the part of the federal government. The
American Indian Movement came onto a reservation which was torn by
political and cultural division. The “takeover” at Wounded
Knee in 1972 was a fiasco for all sides, but particularly for federal
agencies which were proven to be extremely ineffective in dealing
with such a crisis.
My family, which
at the time, consisted of myself, my husband and my six year old
daughter, experienced the anger and unprofessionalism of federal
agents more than once. On one occasion, in 1972, federal marshals
stopped our car at a road block. My husband and I were accompanied by
three of the nuns who worked at our school. One of the marshall’s
demanded to know who we were, where we were going (it was a public
road well away from Wounded Knee).
One of the agents
pointed an M-16 rifle at my daughter’s head. Only the
intervention of a local police officer, whose children we taught in
our school, averted what could have been a disaster.
The abject failure
of federal forces to quell and later, successfully prosecute, the
Wounded Knee participants led to an atmosphere of fear and
intimidation on the reservation which lasted for years. It was
obvious to anyone who lived there that federal employees,
particularly FBI agents, were furious at being thwarted in their
efforts to punish those involved at Wounded Knee. During the years
from 1973 onward, many instances of irresponsible and vindictive
behavior by FBI agents abounded.
In late 1975, I
was followed, “bumped” and tailgated by two agents who
obviously thought I was native because I was accompanied by my Indian
foster daughter, and had long, dark hair. They were considerably
surprised to find a very pregnant, very angry white woman following
THEM to their SAC’s office and demanding their badge information.
I use my own
experiences to illustrate the climate of fear and distrust which
permeated all aspects of life on the Pine Ridge during the middle
1970s. FBI agents and other federal representatives used their powers
frequently and indiscriminately. They allowed the infamous “Goon
Squad,” the thugs employed by one of the political factions, to
run rampant among traditional full bloods. Crimes, such as the
heinous rape and murder of Sandra Wounded Foot by a federal agent,
went largely unpunished and ignored. FBI agents were repeatedly
warned, begged and urged to change tactics and become more
professional and reasonable. More than one native or long-time white
resident warned agents of trouble coming. The shootout which resulted
in the deaths of the two FBI agents could have been prevented had
federal government agents acted in a more sane and professional manner.
Now Mr. Peltier,
who is incarcerated after an obviously unfair judicial process and
whose life since incarceration has become a flash point for those
seeking justice for the chaos caused by actions of the federal
government on the Pine Ridge, is being considered for parole.
I have no doubt
that the well-oiled, well-funded, and powerful, FBI and Department of
Justice lobby will be brought to bear on all the members of the
Parole Commission. I hope such pressure will be withstood and that a
clear, fair and objective study of Mr. Peltier’s case, as well
as the setting, time and circumstances of the event that put him in
jail, will be first on your agenda.
It is time for
healing. It is time for Mr. Peltier to be paroled.
Judith A. Furlong