August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Monday, November 24, 2008

Open Letter from Leonard Peltier to Barack Obama

Open Letter From Leonard Peltier to Barack Obama

From Leonard Peltier

I have watched with keen interest and renewed hope as your campaign has
mobilized millions of Americans behind your message of changing a
political system that serves a small economic elite at the expense of the
peoples of the United States and the world. Your election as president of
the United States, where slaves and Indians were long considered less than
human under the law, will undoubtedly constitute a historic moment in race
relations in the United States.

Yet symbolism alone will not bring about change. Our young people, black
and Native alike, suffer from police brutality and racial profiling,
underfunded schools, and discrimination in employment and housing. I
sincerely hope your campaign will inspire some hope among our youth to
struggle for a better future. I am, however, concerned that your recent
statement on the Sean Bell verdict, in which the New York police officers
who fired 50 shots at a young man on the eve of his wedding were acquitted
of criminal charges, displays a rather myopic view of the law. Until the
law is harnessed to protect the victims of state violence and racism, it
will serve as an instrument of repression, just as the slave codes
functioned to sustain and legitimize an inhuman institution.

As I can testify from experience, the legal institutions of this nation
are far from racial and political neutrality. When judges align with the
repressive actions and policies of the executive branch, injustice is
rationalized and cloaked in judicial platitudes. As you may know, I have
now served more than three decades of my life as a political prisoner of
the federal government for a crime I did not commit. I have served more
time than the maximum sentence under the guidelines under which I was
sentenced, yet my parole is continually denied (on the rare occasions when
I am afforded a hearing) because I refuse to falsely confess. Amnesty
International, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama of Tibet,
my Guatemalan sister Rigoberta Menchu, and many of your friends and
supporters have recognized me as a political prisoner and called for my
immediate release. Millions of people around the world view me as a symbol
of injustice against the indigenous peoples of this land, and I have no
doubt that I will go down in history as one of a long line of victims of
U.S. government repression, along with Sacco and Vanzetti, the Haymarket
Square martyrs, Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood, and others targeted by for
their political beliefs. But neither I nor my people can afford to wait
for history to rectify the crimes of the past.

As a member of the American Indian Movement, I came to the Pine Ridge
Oglala reservation to defend the traditional people there from human
rights violations carried out by tribal police and goon squads backed by
the FBI and the highest offices of the federal government. Our symbolic
occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 inspired Indians across the Americas to
struggle for their freedom and treaty rights, but it was also met by a
fierce federal siege and a wave of violent repression on Pine Ridge. In
1974, AIM leader Russell Means campaigned for tribal chairman while being
tried by the federal government for his role at Wounded Knee. Although
Means was barred from the reservation by decree of the U.S.-client regime
of Richard Wilson, he won the popular vote, only to be denied office by
extensive vote fraud and control of the electoral mechanisms. Wilson's
goons proceeded to shoot up pro-Means villages such as Wanblee and
terrorize traditional supporters throughout the reservation, killing at
least 60 people between 1973 and 1975.

It is long past time for a congressional investigation to examine the
degree of federal complicity in the violent counterinsurgency that
followed the occupation of Wounded Knee. The tragic shootout that led to
the deaths of two FBI agents and one Native man also led not only to my
false conviction, but also the termination of the Church Committee, which
was investigating abuses by federal intelligence and law enforcement
agents, before it could hold hearings on FBI infiltration of AIM. Despite
decades of attempts by my attorneys to obtain government documents related
to my case, the FBI continues to withhold thousands of documents that
might tend to exonerate me or reveal compromising evidence of judicial
collusion with the prosecution.

I truly believe the truth will set me free, but it will also signify a
symbolic break from America's undeclared war on indigenous peoples. I hope
and pray that you possess the courage and integrity to seek out the truth
and the wisdom to recognize the inherent right of all peoples to
self-determination, as acknowledged by the United Nations Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While your statements on federal Indian
policy sound promising, your vision of "one America" has an ominous ring
for Native peoples struggling to define their own national visions. If
freed from colonial constraints and external intervention, indigenous
nations might well serve as functioning models of the freedom and
democracy to which the United States aspires.

Yours in the struggle.

Until freedom is won,

Leonard Peltier
# 89637-132
U.S.P. Lewisburg,
P.O. Box 1000,
Lewisburg, PA USA 17837


Kat_Yazzie said...

O'siyo my brother Leonard! Wado for sharing this very moving letter with us all. I admire your strength and wisdom, and I pray to Grandfather that you will soon be free to enjoy your family and freedom.
Walk In Beauty!
Kat Moasi' Yazzie

Mzee Ukumbwa Sauti, M.Ed. said...

Thank you, Leonard, for you constant presence of clarity and power in the face of the oppression that continues, seemingly unabated, even in the face of the first president of the United States of America that shares African ancestry.

It is important, this symbolism that Obama represents, but it is more important that we, not only use that symbolism to inspire us to greater action and clearer thinking and discourse, but that, if it is possible, Barack Obama is held to the responsibility of the political and spiritual legacy from which he has been born and in which he is being held.

We should wait for no president, especially one of the United States of America, to do for us what we are to do for ourselves. But we must utilize his position and any positive moves he makes for the ultimate liberation of the human spirit and mind and body, beyond all limitations of state and non-natural law.

If Leonard Peltier is not free, none of us is free. If we stand outside his bars of incarceration and can clearly see him there, we are no more free for our ability to move about this yet colonially held land and spiritually-imprisoned earth mother. We lack the clarity of our own place upon this sacred earth.

Unluckily, and I hope this is not true, Obama may serve to be more of an intoxicating force, diverting our attentions from real work and real clarity and knowledge that was required before his appointment and will be required during and after. His symbolic presence is important and historical, but his actions are yet to be realized in the context of the most powerful force in human development, that of indigeny, the thought and practice of indigenous people worldwide, that which must be empowered and returned to.

May we be guided by the prophecy of the eagle and the condor. May we yet stand next to brother Leonard as we look back someday - soon - at the bars that once held him back from our physical embrace. May our footprints mingle softly on mother earth together with his as we watch the walls of injustice and spiritual and intellectual incarceration crumble, destroyed by the empowerment of indigeny and the functional support of people worldwide.

On to an empowered and unified indigeny.

Ukumbwa Sauti

Dr Goodheart said...

Remember that Spirit cannot be imprisoned, cannot be tethered and cannot be held down.

Jails cannot hold it, prisons cannot constrain it and the profit motive means nothing to it. Even time has no chains to bind it.

Those who follow Spirit are truly free, no matter where their physical body may be forced to be or what tortures that body may have inflicted on it.. Even death has no meaning to Spirit.

On the other hand, it would be nice if the nation that professed itself to be the land of the brave and the home of the free, giving equality to all, that it really live up to this promise written on paper.

It would be admirable if courts were to actually protect the rights of not just minorities including gays, but also acknowledge the special place of the first people who held this nation in trust for future generations, living a sustainable lifestyle.

This nation was not meant to be pillaged, polluted and profited from for a few pieces of worthless paper.

Anonymous said...

Your 30 years of wrongful incarceration is both heinous and so very sad. It has angered so many people; not only because of the falsity of it but because no one has been able to free you, Leonard. Please know that you have support from many and we will continue to follow your tragic story in hopes one day that someone will be strong and brave enough to expose the wrongs that were done to you. God bless you!

Anonymous said...

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Martin L. King Jr.

Mr. Peltier, you hit President elect Obama right where it hurts. For so long he and his supporters have been saying that his was a victory for all people - because it showed that ANY person could grow up to be president. I won't believe this to be true. Not until they release you. And not until all Native Americans are treated with the justice and equality the same as EVERY man and woman deserves.

Unknown said...

i believe in living.
By Assata Shakur

i believe in living.
i believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
i believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs;
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
i believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
i believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.

i believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path
i have seen the destruction of the daylight
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted

i have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
i have walked on cut grass.
i have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference

i have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know anything at all,
it's that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

i believe in living
i believe in birth.
i believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.

And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home to port.