History will record President Barack Obama has been one of the friendliest United States presidents to Indian Country. Even as a candidate before he became president, Barack Obama showed his desire to engage with American Indians correct historic wrongs against American Indian tribal nations by the federal government.
“Few have been ignored by Washington as long as Native Americans—the first Americans,” candidate Obama told the Crow Nation of Montana while campaigning in 2008 on its reservation.
Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 40 years
This past Monday, the White House released a 40-page report entitled, “A Renewed Era of Federal-Tribal Relations” that provides an overview of some of the successes of the Obama administration while working on behalf of American Indian tribes during the past eight years. The have been notable accomplishments, such as the president’s appointment of a senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs to the White House, the establishment of the White House Council of Native American Affairs, eight consecutive tribal nations conferences, and the settlement of several long-standing lawsuits tribal nations had against the federal government.
While these accomplishments are numerous and are appreciated, President Obama has some unfinished business left in Indian Country. He should free Leonard Peltier before he leaves office on January 20, 2017 by honoring Peltier’s petition for clemency.
During his presidency—through December 19, 2016, President Obama has displayed compassion for prisoners as demonstrated in his granting of clemency to 1,324 individuals, including 395 serving life sentences. He can and should now display to same compassion to Leonard Peltier through clemency.
Peltier, a tribal citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, has been in prison for the over 40 years. He was convicted of killing two FBI agents who showed up on June 25, 1975 at a private residence at Oglala on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Peltier was tried and convicted by falsified testimony from witnesses and withheld evidence by the FBI. Even federal Judge Gerald Heaney, who presided over an appeal hearing, has said the FBI utilized improper tactics to convict Peltier. He suggests the FBI was equally responsible for the shoot-out.
“I think I can explain beyond serious doubt, that Leonard Peltier has committed no crime whatsoever. But that if he had been guilty of firing a gun that killed a FBI Agent, it was in defense of not just his people but the integrity of humanity, from domination and exploitation,” stated former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. “You have to remember no witness really said they saw Leonard take aim at anybody. No witness said they heard him shoot at the time he could have killed an agent. There was no evidence that he did it, except fabricated, circumstantial evidence, overwhelmingly misused, concealed and perverted,” Clark continues.
Last Tuesday, a letter sent to President Obama from former Iowa United States Attorney James Reynolds that supports clemency for Peltier was released. In 1977, Reynolds federal government’s prosecution in Peltier’s trial. Reynolds now says President Obama should grant Peliter’s Clemency Petition “as being in the best interests of justice considering the totality of all matters involved.”
Through the years, the FBI has adamantly opposed the release of Peltier. While the deaths of their two agents at Oglala were tragic by all human standards, the deaths of innocent American Indians who died as the during the 1970s, known as the Reign of Terror,” on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are equally tragic.
The vast majority of Americans agree the FBI serves a vital service to this nation, it should be acknowledged the agency is operated by human beings who from time to time make mistakes. Quite clearly there is enough evidence that the FBI made many mistakes in its determination to see Peltier found guilty.
Many American Indians and others around the world view Peltier as a political prisoner. Through the years, Peltier’s supporters have included the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu, among other prominent names.
The call for Peltier’s release from prison is supported by the National Congress of American Indians and Amnesty International.
Peltier’s continued imprisonment is a continued miscarriage of justice by the federal government. President Obama owes it to Indian Country to do the right thing when it comes to granting clemency for Leonard Peltier.