Writings: My Life Is My Sundance
by Leonard Peltier
Edited by Harvey Arden
Copyright 1998 by
Crazy Horse Spirit, Inc.
Editorial Services, L.L.C.
Published by St.
Martin's Press in Spring '99
Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance
by Leonard Peltier
The time has come
for me to set forth in words my personal testament--not because I'm
planning to die, but because I'm planning to live.
This is the
twenty-third year of my imprisonment for a crime I didn't commit. I'm
now fifty-four years old. I've been in here since I was thirty-one.
I've been told I have to live out two lifetime sentences plus seven
years before I get out of prison in the year Two Thousand and Forty
One. By then I'll be ninety-seven. I don't think I'll make it. My
life is an extended agony. I feel like I've lived a hundred lifetimes
in prison already. But I'm prepared to live thousands more on behalf
of my people. If my imprisonment does nothing more than educate an
unknowing and uncaring public about the terrible conditions
Indian people continue to endure, then my suffering has had--and
continues to have--a purpose. My people's struggle to survive
inspires my own struggle to survive. Each of us must be a survivor.
I acknowledge my
inadequacies as a spokesman, my many imperfections as a human being.
And yet, as the Elders taught me, speaking out is my first duty, my
first obligation to myself and to my people. To speak your mind and
heart is Indian Way. In Indian Way, the political and the spiritual
are one and the same. You can't believe one
thing and do another. What you believe and what you do are the same
thing. In Indian Way, if you see your people suffering, helping them
is an absolute necessity. It's not a social act of charity or welfare
assistance; it's a spiritual act, a holy deed. I know who and what I
am. I am an Indian--an Indian who dared to stand up to defend his
people. I am an innocent man who never murdered anyone nor wanted to.
And, yes, I am a Sun Dancer. That, too, is my identity. If I am to
suffer as a symbol of my people,
then I suffer proudly. I will never yield.
If you, the loved
ones of the agents who died at the Jumping Bull property that day,
get some salve of satisfaction out of my being here, then at least I
can give you that, even though innocent of their blood. I feel your
loss as my own. Like you, I suffer that loss every day, every hour.
And so does my family. We know that inconsolable grief. We Indians
are born, live and die with inconsolable grief. We've shared our
common grief for twenty-three years now, your families and mine, so how can
we possibly be enemies anymore? Maybe it's with you and with us that
the healing can start. You, the agents' families, certainly weren't
at fault that day in 1975, any more than my family was, and yet you
and they have suffered as much as, even more than, anyone there. It
seems it's always the innocent who pay the highest price for
injustice. It's seemed that way all my life. To the still-grieving
Coler and Williams families I send my prayers if you will have them.
I hope you will. They are the prayers of an entire people, not just
my own. We have many dead of our own to pray for, and we join our
prayers of sorrow to yours. Let our common grief be our bond. I state
to you absolutely that, if I could possibly have prevented what
happened that day, your menfolk would not have died. I would have
died myself before knowingly permitting
what happened to happen. And I certainly never pulled the trigger
that did it. May the Creator strike me dead this moment if I lie. I
cannot see how my being here, torn from my own grandchildren, can
possibly mend your loss.
I swear to you, I
am guilty only of being an Indian. That's why I'm here.
Being who I am,
being who you are--that's Aboriginal Sin.