FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2022
Nizhoni Begay firstname.lastname@example.org
The Water Protector Legal Collective stands in solidarity with
Leonard Peltier and AIMGGC’s Leonard Peltier’s Walk To Justice
Beginning today, August 31, 2022, the American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council (AIMGGC) will lead a prayerful walk, “Leonard Peltier’s Walk To Justice” from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Washington, D.C. to advocate and meet with government officials to seek the immediate release of Leonard Peltier from the U.S. Federal Prison System. The walk will span 1100 miles, cover eight states and take over two months to complete. The Water Protector Legal Collective stands in solidarity with Leonard Peltier and AIMGGC as they journey in powerful prayer.
Elder Leonard Peltier is a 77-year-old (he will turn 78 on September 12, 2022) Indigenous activist and great-grandfather who has spent 46 years in prison. He has long maintained his innocence and is considered by Amnesty International as a political prisoner. 5 years ago, Leonard suffered from an aortic aneurysm. His hip is in bad condition and he cannot handle his progressing diabetes correctly while behind bars.
USP Coleman I is one of 98 federal prisons at a Level 3 COVID-19 operational level meaning its COVID medical isolation rate is at the highest level. In January of this year, Leonard Peltier contracted COVID.
In a letter to President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Rep. Raúl Grijalva and 10 House Democrats wrote: “Given the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country, as well as Mr. Peltier’s underlying health conditions and age, we request immediate action be taken to release him from federal custody.”
Leonard wrote in a letter earlier this year, “I’m in hell and there is no way to deal with it but to take it as long as you can.” “Fear and stress” from prison’s intense COVID-19 lockdowns are taking a toll on everyone including staff. Leonard has detailed he has close to no human contact or access to phones sometimes for weeks, no access to regular showers or substantial food, and not even the ability to look out a window or have fresh air.
He continued, “Where are our human rights activists? You are hearing from me, and with me, many desperate men and women! They are turning an already harsh environment into an asylum, and for many who did not receive a death penalty, we are now staring down the face of one! Help me, my brothers and sisters, help me my good friends.”
Leonard Peltier is the United State’s longest-serving Political Prisoner. President Biden is likely Peltier’s last chance at freedom.
In a letter to President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, 24 Native state legislators wrote: “Tribal nations within our representative states and beyond have supported the call for Mr. Peltier’s clemency and release. The Oglala Sioux Tribe, where the shooting took place, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, where Mr. Peltier is enrolled, have gone so far as to propose plans for his return home, assuming the responsibilities of housing, healthcare, employment, and access to American Indian ceremonial and cultural practices.”
The Water Protector Legal Collective urges President Biden to grant Leonard Peltier executive clemency and calls for his immediate release. Clemency is appropriate when the rule of law and “normal” channels of the legal system have failed, and there is no other legal recourse. On the subject of the struggle for Leonard’s freedom, WPLC Legal Director Natali Segovia said, “Leonard Peltier is a political prisoner whose continued incarceration remains heavy in the hearts and minds of Indigenous Peoples of the world, who too often fail to find justice in the law. In the protest marches of Abya Yala we often hear the phrase: quisieron enterrarnos, pero no sabían que éramos semillas. They wanted to bury us but didn’t know we were seeds. We are still here and we will continue to fight for justice, which includes freedom for Leonard Peltier.”
Donate to Leonard Peltier’s Walk to Justice here.
“The facts are simple, Elder Peltier’s trial was criminally unjust and it is time for the U.S. to do what is right for Elder Leonard Peltier. The reality is that if Elder Peltier’s case were to go to retrial, the tactics the U.S. convicted him on would be exposed to the world.” AIMGGC
The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in 1968 as a part of the civil rights movement. In 1973, they occupied the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. During the time that AIM occupied Pine Ridge, over 60 Indigenous people were murdered or went missing, and presumed dead at the hands of the authorities. Most of these cases went overlooked. It wasn’t until 1975 when two FBI agents were killed in a shootout on Pine Ridge that the United States noticed.
After two AIM members were acquitted of the killing of Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, witnesses were coerced by the FBI into testifying that they saw Leonard Peltier shoot the agents. Ballistic evidence that could have acquitted him was not allowed in trial.
Federal appeals judge Gerald Heaney stated “the prosecution withheld evidence favorable to the defendant” and that the FBI had used “improper tactics” in extraditing Leonard Peltier from Canada largely on the basis of fabricated evidence, a false affidavit. The person who signed this affidavit has since recanted and explained how she was pressured and terrorized by FBI.
The Jay Treaty, ratified by the United States and Britain in the 1700s, provides that American Indians dwelling on either side of the boundary line be allowed to cross the U.S.-Canadian border at will. Well after the incident at Pine Ridge, as he was accustomed to doing, Leonard legally crossed the border into Canada. At the request of the U.S. government, he was arrested in British Columbia in February 1976. Fearing he wouldn't receive a fair trial in the U.S., Leonard applied for asylum. Late in 1976, Mr. Peltier was extradited to the U.S. from Canada.
Despite these injustices, in 1977, Leonard Peltier was convicted of killing the two FBI agents during a shootout on Pine Ridge.
Last year former U.S. attorney James Reynolds who helped put Leonard in prison wrote to President Biden: “I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We are not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation… As a result of the manner in which the case was investigated and prosecuted, and the prevailing view of Native Americans at that time, Mr. Peltier alone was forced to pay the full price of that tragedy. He has paid it with over 46 years of his life. He is now 76 years old and in failing health. I believe that a grant of executive clemency would serve the best interests of justice and the best interests of our country… I urge you chart a different path in the history of the government’s relationship with its Native people through a show of mercy rather than continued indifference.”
The march for Leonard begins today, but the struggle for freedom is ongoing. Join us.