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Tuesday, 23 June 2015 06:19

At Age 70, Leonard Peltier Is Still Imprisoned and Seriously Ill: To What End?

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aaaaindianprideLeonard Peltier should be able to enjoy freedom. (Photo: Hamner_Fotos)

It will be 40 years - on June 26 - since what has become known as "the incident at Oglala." That was when a young Indigenous man and two undercover FBI agents were killed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, under still-murky circumstances. 

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According to the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee:

Members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) were camping on the property (having been invited there to protect elders from the extreme violence on the reservation at that time).

For unknown reasons, a shoot-out began. A family with small children was trapped in the crossfire. Throughout the ranch, people screamed that they were under attack and many of the men present hurried to return fire. When the skirmish ended, the two FBI agents were dead. A young Native American man, Joe Stuntz, also lay dead, shot through the head by a sniper bullet.

Activist Leonard Peltier was wrongfully convicted in 1977 in connection with the shooting deaths of the FBI’s agents. Imprisoned for nearly 40 years - currently at the federal prison in Coleman, Florida - Peltier has been designated a political prisoner by Amnesty International. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, 55 Members of Congress and others - including a judge who sat as a member of the court in two of Peltier’s appeals - have all called for his immediate release. Widely recognized for his humanitarian works and a six-time Nobel Prize nominee, Peltier also is an accomplished author and painter.

Peltier is still imprisoned at the United States Penitentiary, Coleman in Florida, under harsh scrutiny. To what end?

Who or what is served by Peltier's incarceration? Quite simply, it is the United States government, and this country's deeply embedded racism toward its Indigenous population, bound up with settler colonialism and "Manifest Destiny"-driven expansion across the continent. The incident at Oglala occurred on a reservation, land onto which the survivors of the attempted genocide of Native Americans were forced.

When I interviewed Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United Statesin 2014, she dispelled our grammar-school narratives of prominent US historical figures being great emancipators. She documented how Theodore Roosevelt, Walt Whitman and Andrew Jackson - among many other "benevolent" US leaders and cultural icons - were proponents of Indigenous genocide.

Dubar-Ortiz offered, in her interview, a lacerating perspective on who is responsible for "crime," in relation to the Indigenous population in the Americas:

I take [the] concept of North America as a "crime scene" from Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd. One can imagine yellow tape surrounding the whole of the United States. I think the metaphor of a crime scene brings to consciousness the unfinished business of dealing with the past. It also raises the question of the violence and criminalization that permeates the society, the prison-industrial complex as well as the proliferation of firearms and attachment to them, and the continued US wars against much of the rest of the world, rhetorically and militarily.

Leonard Peltier currently has several serious health conditions, as described by his international defense committee:

  • He has suffered a stroke which left him partially blind in one eye.

  • For many years, he had a seriously debilitating jaw condition which left him unable to chew properly and caused consistent pain and headaches.

  • Today, Leonard Peltier suffers from bone spurs in his feet and is affected by diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart condition, and other emerging health issues. According to an affiliate of Physicians for Human Rights, he risks blindness, kidney failure, and stroke given his inadequate diet, living conditions, and health care.

Nearing the age of 71 years, Leonard Peltier should be immediately released from the system of mass incarceration set up by the descendants of settlers who actively perpetrated genocide against his ancestors.

Otherwise, he will be left to age behind bars, in cruel conditions - and we are left to ask, To what end?

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.