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A caravan that started in Western South Dakota is heading to Washington D.C. to demonstrate for the release of political prisoner Leonard Peltier near the White House on Tuesday, September 12, Peltier’s 79th birthday. 

 

NDN Collective and Amnesty International USA organized the multiple-day caravan that began its ceremony in Oglala on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The caravan has grown in numbers by more than 150 people over four stops in Rapid City, South Dakota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the event details listed on Facebook, event organizers wrote, “Leonard Peltier remains imprisoned despite serious and ongoing concerns about the fairness of his trial and legal process. He has always maintained his innocence. For nearly 50 years, Indigenous activists, organizers, and allies have spoken out for his freedom.”

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Peltier, a Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa citizen, was convicted for aiding and abetting the murder of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on June 26, 1975. After the shootout, a massive manhunt led to the arrest of three people in connection to the shootout: Robert Robideau, Darrelle “Dino” Butler, and Leonard Peltier.

Butler and Robideau were arrested separately in early September 1975 and were tried as co-defendants, only to have their cases acquitted on the grounds of self-defense by a federal jury in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in July 1976. Federal prosecutors later said that if Peltier had been arrested, they would have tried all three defendants together. He was in custody fighting extradition from Canada. 

Peltier was extradited to the U.S. in December 1976 with documents submitted by the FBI. The documents that aided in Peltier’s extradition were later considered false by Warren Allmand, Canada’s Solicitor General because it included written testimony that had been changed multiple times to connect the witness to Peltier. The witness who provided the written testimony later admitted the FBI coerced her into making a statement, and when she tried to share this at Peltier’s trial, the judge barred her testimony due to mental incompetence. 

He was sentenced in Fargo, North Dakota, to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment and has been in federal prison since 1977, the longest-serving Indigenous political prisoner in United States history. He is currently in the United States Penitentiary Coleman, in Florida. 

“The timing of this is because it’s Leonard’s birthday,” Kevin Sharpe, Peltier’s clemency attorney, told Native News Online. “Time is running out, he turns 79 today. The opportunities to do something important are becoming fewer and farther between … We’re letting President Biden know that no one has forgotten about Leonard Peltier.”

“I think we have a real shot here,” Sharpe said of his optimism to get Peltier out of prison.  

Since Peltier’s imprisonment, Indigenous activists, organizers, and allies have advocated for his release. Support for his clemency has reached overseas, including support from the United Nations, congressional leaders, the Democratic National Committee, and one of Peltier’s former federal prosecutors.

Jean Roach, a Mniconjou Lakota and Director of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, said in an interview with Native News Online that Leonard has been made an example of standing up to corporate greed. “Why does this racist atrocity still exist?” she asked.

Roach was a survivor of the 1975 Oglala shootout that left two FBI officers and one young dead on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She was a teenager at the time of the shootout and has been organizing to free Leonard Peltier ever since. 

“It’s time to let our Elder out because he’s done his time not because of what he’s accused of, but it’s a result of the ‘deep greed’ to crush us because of our beliefs to protect our Unci Maka [Mother Earth in Lakota] and her resources,” Roach said. “They made Leonard an example of what happens when people stand up against the corporate state of America!”

The rally and demonstration are scheduled from Noon to 2:00 pm E.T. on Tuesday, September 12, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

Speakers include Dallas Goldtooth (Mdewankanton Dakota/Diné), Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux), Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee), Fawn Sharp (Quinault Nation), Kevin Sharp (Former Federal Judge and Counsel to Leonard Peltier), Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), and more.

For more information, including livestream information, visit NDN Collective’s event page.

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About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.