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Letter in Support of Parole from Former Pine Ridge Teacher and Reign of Terror Witness

Judith A. Furlong

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June 20, 2002

Edward R. Reilly, Jr., Chairman
Parole Commission
5550 Friendship 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