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WASHINGTON — The Leonard Peltier Freedom Ride is expected to arrive in Washington, D.C. this week on horseback after starting in Macy, Nebraska on June 7, 2021, more than 1,100 miles away. Currently, riders are stalled in Richmond, Virginia, which is about 100 miles south of Washington and are expected to arrive in the nation’s capital tomorrow, said one of the organizers.

“It's all of you, our Freedom Family who makes this ride happen and we are more than blessed to have you all in our lives and we can't thank you enough,” said the Leonard Peltier Freedom Ride 2021 on Facebook. The Leonard Peltier Freedom Riders are a separate entity with no ties to any other organization. 

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The Freedom Riders demonstrated on horseback at various locations on their journey to bring awareness for Leonard Peltier, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa man convicted for the killing of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. Many, including some 50 members of Congress and Judge Gerald Heaney (8th Circuit Court of Appeals) who sat as a member of the court in two of Peltier’s appeals believe that Peltier was wrongfully convicted in 1977 for a crime he did not commit. Peltier is currently incarcerated at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida. 

The Leonard Peltier Freedom Ride has demonstrated outside of various courthouses on its journey to Washington, D.C., including US District Courts in Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Once riders arrive in Washington, they anticipate demonstrations at the US Supreme Court, US Capitol Building, and the White House. 

Others have recently voiced their support for the release of Leonard Peltier, citing various reasons such as underlying health issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic and support from human rights leaders and organizations. For more than 45 years, he has been considered by many as America’s political prisoner because he was convicted for a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that left two FBI agents dead in the summer of 1975. The firefight happened in the midst of a cultural and political war over tribal politics where many suspect the many unsolved murders on the reservation were a result of who would control the tribe and its assets. 

On April 24, 2020, then U.S. Representatives Debra Haaland, the current Secretary of Interior, and Raúl Grijalva wrote a letter to President Donald Trump requesting for Peltier’s release citing his age and declining health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “Due to the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our country and Mr. Peltier’s underlying health conditions and age, we request immediate action to be taken to release him from federal custody,” the two members of Congress wrote. 

Debra Haaland also took to social media to express her support for Leonard Peltier.  “Congress hasn’t weighed in on this issue in years,” said Rep. Deb Haaland on May 14, 2020 via Twitter. “I’m urging the Administration to release indigenous rights activist Leonard Peltier from prison due to Covid-19 concerns. At 75 with chronic health issues, it is urgent that we #FreeLeonardPeltier." As Secretary of the Interior, she hasn’t made a statement on Leonard Peltier, but advocates are pushing for additional support for his release. 

On June 12, 2021, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe sent a letter of support to President Joseph Biden requesting the President to consider Executive Clemency for Leonard Peltier. “Leonard Peltier has fulfilled his federal sentencing requirements (based on 1970’s sentencing guidelines) and has done almost 6 life sentences plus 20 years good time,” said the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in a letter. “Mr. Peltier is an accomplished artist and author and is renowned for his humanitarian achievements including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was also awarded the Human Rights Commission of Spain’s International Human Rights Prize several other prizes.”

According to Jean Roach, a board member of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Peltier was recently granted a transfer to a medium-security facility in Wisconsin. But his transfer was recently canceled and wasn’t given a reason. Peltier has spent all of this time incarcerated in maximum-level facilities and is currently on lockdown. 

An attorney for Leonard Peltier, Kevin Sharp, recently submitted a letter petitioning for Executive Clemency from President Joseph Biden. Efforts to gain support from other tribes, organizations, members of Congress, and the Administration are being pursued by advocates for Peltier. 

The Lakota People’s Law Project, an advocacy organization that uses its media platform to bring awareness to social and racial injustice in Indian Country and beyond, chimes in. “We should not wait until the end of Bidem's term to pressure for Peltier's Clemency,” said Lakota People’s Law Project Counsel Chase Iron Eyes to Native News Online. “Leonard's freedom would be the appropriate gesture from the United States who committed crimes on order to unjustly prosecute Mr. Peltier.” 

“I am thankful for all the time and energy given by the horse riders to bring much needed attention to a political prisoner of the United States,” added Iron Eyes.

“Our hopes are to gain some attention for our brother and relative Leonard Peltier, who’s been in prison for more than 40 years” said International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee Board Member Jean Roach to Native News Online. “No one is answering our emails or paying attention to Peltier. So, we’re going to go to Washington to show them that it’s time to free Peltier!”

Organizers have started a GoFundMe to advocating for Peltier’s freedom and travel to and from Washington, D.C.

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About The Author
Author: Darren Thompson
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a freelance journalist and based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.