Leonard Peltier, a
citizen of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations, is a father, a
grandfather, an artist, a writer, and an Indigenous rights activist.
He has spent more than twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he
did not commit. Amnesty International considers him a "political
prisoner" who should be "immediately and unconditionally released."
international community, the case of Leonard Peltier is a stain on
America's Human Rights record. Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, the
U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European
Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev.
Jesse Jackson are only a few who have called for his freedom. To many
Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history
of abuse and repression they have endured. The National Congress of
American Indians and the Assembly of First Nations, representing the
majority of First Nations in the U.S. and Canada, have repeatedly
called for Leonard Peltier's freedom.
Leonard Peltier is
58 years old and was born on the Anishinabe (Chippewa) Turtle
Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He came from a large family of
13 brothers and sisters. He grew up in poverty, and survived many
traumatic experiences resulting from U.S. government policies aimed
to assimilate Native Peoples.
At the age of
eight he was taken from his family and sent to a residential boarding
school for Native people run by the US Government. There, the
students were forbidden to speak their languages and they suffered
both physical and psychological abuses.
As a teenager
Leonard Peltier returned to live with his father at the Turtle
Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. It was one of three
reservations, which the United States Government chose as the testing
ground for its new termination policy. The policy forced Native
families off their reservations and into the cities. The resulting
protests and demonstrations by tribal members introduced Leonard
Peltier to Native resistance through activism and organizing.
particularly difficult winter on the Turtle Mountain Reservation
Leonard Peltier recollects protests by his people to the Bureau of
Indian Affairs about the desperate lack of food. (The termination
policy withdrew federal assistance, including food, from those who
remained on their land). Following these protests, B.I.A. social
workers came to the reservation to investigate the situation. Leonard
Peltier and one of the organizers on the reservation went from
household to household before the arrival of the investigating party
to tell the local people to hide what little food they had. When he
got to the first house, he found that there was no food to hide and
the same story was repeated in each of the households that he went
to. This experience awakened him to the desperate situation for all
people on his reservation.
As he grew older,
he began traveling with his father as a migrant farm worker. While
following the harvests, they stayed at different reservations. During
this time, he came to learn that policies of relocation, poverty, and
racism were endemic issues affecting tribes across the U.S.
In 1965, Leonard
Peltier moved to Seattle, Washington, where he worked for several
years as part owner of an auto body shop which he used to employ
Native people and to provide low-cost automobile repairs for those
who needed it. During the same period, he was also active in the
founding of a Native halfway house for ex-prisoners. His community
volunteer work included Native Land Claim issues, alcohol counseling,
and participation in protests concerning the preservation of Native
land within the city of Seattle.
In the late 1960's
and early 1970's Leonard Peltier began traveling to different Native
communities. He spent a lot of time in Washington and Wisconsin and
was working as a welder, carpenter, and community counselor for
Native people. In the course of his work he became involved with the
American Indian Movement (AIM) and eventually joined the Denver
Colorado chapter. In Denver, he worked as a community counselor
confronting unemployment, alcohol problems and poor housing. He
became strongly involved in the spiritual and traditional programs of AIM.
participation in the American Indian Movement led to his involvement
in the 1972 Trail of broken Treaties which took him to Washington
D.C., in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building.
Eventually his AIM
involvement would bring him to assist the Oglala Lakota People of the
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the mid 1970's. On
Pine Ridge he participated in the planning of community activities,
religious ceremonies, programs for self-sufficiency, and improved
living conditions. He also helped to organize security for the
traditional people who were being targeted for violence by the
pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his vigilantes. It was here that
the tragic shoot-out of June 26, 1975 occurred, leading to his
Despite the harsh
conditions of imprisonment, Leonard Peltier has continued to lead an
From behind bars,
he has helped to establish scholarships for Native students and
special programs for Indigenous youth. He has served on the advisory
board of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, and has sponsored children
in Central America. He has donated to battered women's shelters,
organized the annual Christmas drive for the people of Pine Ridge
Reservation, and promoted prisoner art programs.
He has also
established himself as a talented artist,
using oils to paint portraits of his people, portraying their
cultures and histories. He has written poetry and prose from prison,
and recently completed a moving biography titled Prison
Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance (St. Martin's Press, NY, 1999).
credits his ability to endure his circumstances to his spiritual
practices and the love and support from his family and supporters.
Write to Leonard Peltier:
Leonard Peltier #89637-132
PO Box 1000
Leavenworth, KS 66048
For information on
the case of Leonard Peltier contact:
PO Box 583,
Lawrence, KS 66044, USA
Tel 785-842-5774785-842-5774 /