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Honoring Leonard Peltier on Global Day of Solidarity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


February 6, 2024



Honoring Leonard Peltier on Global Day of Solidarity


Today is Global Day of Solidarity with Leonard Peltier and marks 48 years of Mr. Peltier’s incarceration. Recognized by Amnesty International and the Jericho Movement as a political prisoner, elder Leonard Peltier is a 79-year-old Indigenous (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa/Dakota/Lakota) activist and great-grandfather who has spent 48 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The time for his freedom is now!


On this day in 1976, the FBI arrested and extradited Leonard Peltier from Canada, violating international treaty obligations and using improper tactics including fabricated evidence obtained by pressuring and terrorizing an Indigenous woman into writing a witness affidavit; the person who signed the affidavit has since recanted. 


The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) reiterates our call on President Biden to immediately grant Mr. Peltier clemency. Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned in the United States for 48 years, and more than 5 years spent in solitary confinement, serving two life sentences for murder despite concerns over the fairness of his trial. Leonard Peltier is the United States' longest-serving Political Prisoner and it is no coincidence that he is also Indigenous. President Biden is likely Mr. Peltier’s last chance at freedom.


Mr. Peltier was one of the original leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM is a prominent Indigenous civil rights organization founded in 1968 and played a pivotal role in raising awareness about issues like land rights, cultural preservation, and social justice. The FBI targeted AIM and leaders like Mr. Peltier as part of the repressive COINTELPRO regime.  In 1973, AIM members supported members of Oglala Lakota Nation during the occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In the years following the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, AIM members and traditional tribal members on Pine Ridge were collectively punished by increased law enforcement surveillance, militarization, murders, assaults, and disappearance pursuant to a counter-insurgery program now known as the “Reign of Terror.”  During this period of violent repression, on June 26, 1975, two FBI agents and one Indigenous man were killed during a shootout at the Jumping Bull Ranch that started as an investigation over a stolen pair of cowboy boots. Leonard Peltier and two other AIM members were indicted for the agents’ deaths. Leonard’s co-defendants were allowed to introduce evidence of FBI activities on Pine Ridge during the Reign of Terror and argued self-defense; they were acquitted of the killing of the FBI agents. Once Mr. Peltier was wrongfully extradited and in U.S. custody, he received far different treatment than his co-defendants that includes FBI interference and the exclusion of exculpatory evidence. 


The cumulative injustices in the investigation, wrongful extradition, and manipulated trial resulted in the 1977 wrongful conviction of Leonard Peltier for the killing the two FBI agents during the shootout on Pine Ridge. 


Mr. Peltier is now 79 years old and has spent nearly five decades in prison. Despite his innocence and age, he has now spent more time in a maximum security prison during his lifetime than as a free man. An inordinate amount of that time has been spent on lockdown and in solitary confinement, in an enclosed cell without sunlight which Mr. Peltier once described as “cement steel hotbox.” Mr. Peltier has repeatedly been denied parole due to the political nature of the case and fierce opposition to clemency by the FBI.


Former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds, who supervised the prosecution of Mr. Peltier for the alleged killing of 2 FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, has asked for clemency, admitting: “the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust…[we] cannot prove that he committed any offense.” He has further called Leonard’s conviction a product of racial bias and prejudice prevalent in the criminal justice system and a product of the times.


In October 2023, during the United Nations review of U.S. compliance with international human rights obligations under the ICCPR, Vice Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Dr. Changrok Soh acknowledged how Death by Incarceration continues to disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous Peoples in the US, including Mr. Peltier. While in Geneva for the U.S. review, WPLC authored and submitted a Joint Statement regarding the Release and Freedom of Political Prisoner, Leonard Peltier to the U.S. government. The letter – signed by Water Protector Legal Collective, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Abolitionist Law Center, among others – calls for the United States to definitively and concretely recognize the need to right a historical wrong and free Leonard Peltier.


For nearly 50 years, Indigenous activists, organizers, and allies have spoken out against his incarceration. WPLC, alongside these supporters and allies, calls on the need for Mr. Peltier’s clemency. WPLC Executive Director and Senior Attorney, Natali Segovia (Quechua), reflected on the importance of Mr. Peltier’s freedom:


“Leonard Peltier’s freedom is a temperature gauge for our collective ability to respect basic norms of justice, foundational human rights, civil liberties, due process, and the law. It is also a check on our collective sense of compassion and humanity. Mr. Peltier’s continued incarceration is an open wound and proof that the United States has not been “the shining city on the hill’ for a long time. The White House must act immediately if it respects basic tenets of democracy and wishes to restore any measure of dignity to its long-stained walls. The call for freedom has been made by Indigenous Peoples and concerned allies around the world for over fifty years - the time for freedom for Mr. Peltier is now.”


Leonard Peltier suffers from a number of chronic health ailments and he is eager to be home, on his ancestral lands, to meet his great-grand children and live out his remaining years in peace. We urge the Biden administration to uphold their commitment to human rights and grant Leonard Peltier clemency on humanitarian grounds and as a matter of justice. 


On his birthday last year, Mr. Peltier wrote to his supporters:


DEAR FRIENDS, RELATIVES, SUPPORTERS, LOVED ONES:


79 years old. Mother Earth has taken us on another journey around Grandfather Sun.  Babies have taken their first breath. People have lived, loved, and died. Seeds have been planted and sent their roots deep below red earth and their breath to the Stars and our Ancestors.


I am still here.


Time has twisted one more year out of me. A year that has been a moment.  A year that has been a lifetime. For almost five decades I’ve existed in a cage of concrete and steel.  With the “good time” calculations of the system, I’ve actually served over 60 years.


Year after year, I have encouraged you to live as spirit warriors. Even while in here, I can envision what is real and far beyond these walls.  I’ve seen a reawakening of an ancient Native pride that does my heart good.


I may leave this place in a box. That is a cold truth. But I have put my heart and soul into making our world a better place and there is a lot of work left to do – I would like to get out and do it with you.


I know that the spirit warriors coming up behind me have the heart and soul to fight racism and oppression, and to fight the greed that is poisoning our lands, waters, and people. 


We are still here.


Remember who you are, even if they come for your land, your water, your family. We are children of Mother Earth and we owe her and her other children our care.


I long to turn my face to the sky. In this cage, I am denied that simple pleasure. I am in prison, but in my mind, I remain as I was born: a free Native spirit. 


That is what allows me to laugh, keeps me laughing. These walls cannot contain my laughter – or my hope.


I know there are those who stand with me, who work around the clock for my freedom. I have been blessed to have such friends.


We are still here and you give me hope. 


I hope to breathe free air before I die. Hope is a hard thing to hold, but no one is strong enough to take it from me. 


I love you. I hope for you. I pray for you. 


And prayer is more than a cry to the Creator that runs through your head.  Prayer is an action.


In the Spirit of Crazy Horse


Doksha,

Leonard Peltier


For more information on Mr. Peltier, including background on his case, please visit:



Born out of the #NoDAPL Movement, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements. For more information about WPLC and to learn how to contribute to WPLC please visit: www.waterprotectorlegal.org.

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