Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 13, 2023

Lakota Nick Estes: Oceti Sakowin is Our Seat of Power -- Free Leonard Peltier

Rally for Clemency for Leonard Peltier. Photo by Nick Estes

Lakota Nick Estes: Oceti Sakowin is Our Seat of Power -- Free Leonard Peltier

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, September 13, 2023

While hundreds rallied outside the White House on Tuesday, urging clemency and freedom for Leonard Peltier on his 79th birthday, Nick Estes, Lakota, spoke of the seat of power of the people, and the reason to free Leonard Peltier.

"We are here again, in the belly of the beast saying what we have said since 1978, that the FBI has waged a reign of terror against the American Indian Movement and social movements who are fighting for freedom, for justice, and more importantly treaty rights."

"This is not the seat of power in Indian country. Look around you, all of our relatives that came from the communities from across the country. We have the wild Oglalas who are here, that is the heart of Oceti Sakowin territory, that is the seat of power, for our nation Oceti Sakowin, not the White House, not Congress."

"That is why on January 6, these guys came here because they thought this was the seat of power to try to take it."

"For us, our seat of power is the land, the water, and the air -- that is what Leonard Peltier was defending," said Estes, Lower Brule Lakota, historian, and co-founder of Red Nation.

Havanna Times, and Democracy Now, shared these words spoken by Nick Estes, during the rally organized by NDN Collective and Amnesty International.

“All Leonard Peltier was fighting for is the future of our people as Indigenous people, because they tried to take that away with boarding schools. They tried to erase our children. It’s not just about taking them and making them speak English. When you steal youth, you try to steal the future.”

During the rally, Native grandmothers and Carriers of the Eagle Staff were among 35 people arrested in front of the White House. 
Chauncy Peltier, Peltier's oldest son, asks to bring home his father, whom he grew up without.

Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians, and Paul O'Brien, executive director of Amnesty International, were arrested.

Holly Cook Macarro, Red Lake Ojibwe, read the statement from Peliter, "Remember who you are." She said she spoke with Leonard on the phone, and he sounded hopeful.

Peltier said, "Year after year, I have encouraged you to live as spirit warriors. Even while in here, I can envision what is real and far beyond these walls. I’ve seen a reawakening of an ancient Native pride that does my heart good." (Read the statement below.)

Kevin Sharp, a former federal judge, and Peltier’s pro bono attorney said, “As a lawyer and a former federal judge who had tried dozens and dozens of criminal cases, it didn’t take long to become shocked at what I was seeing with Leonard’s case."

"The level of constitutional violation and misconduct by the United States government, including by federal law enforcement and a federal prosecutor was abundantly high," Sharp said.

Peltier's words were delivered in a second statement, read by one of his attorneys.

"We are a unified Oyate. Forty-seven years, we have just begun."

Peltier said that when he was arrested in 1976, he was protecting people from being murdered. There were over 60 murders that were never investigated, and the FBI was supplying the weapons and ammunition.

There was mass sterilization, Peltier said, "our children kidnapped, our language forbidden," and there was uranium mining and the water poisoned with cancer.

"This is genocide. I stood in their way."

"The government spent millions to convict me. It shows you the value of a freedom fighter. Just like they tried to buy the Black Hill, they tried to buy me too."

"Resistance is power."

"I have never given up and I won't start now."

"We are winning," Peltier said.
Watch on Twitter

Leonard Peltier's letter to supporters


79 years old. Mother Earth has taken us on another journey around Grandfather Sun. Babies have taken their first breath. People have lived, loved, and died. Seeds have been planted and sent their roots deep below red earth and their breath to the Stars and our Ancestors.

I am still here.

Time has twisted one more year out of me. A year that has been a moment. A year that has been a lifetime. For almost five decades I’ve existed in a cage of concrete and steel. With the “good time” calculations of the system, I’ve actually served over 60 years.

Year after year, I have encouraged you to live as spirit warriors. Even while in here, I can envision what is real and far beyond these walls. I’ve seen a reawakening of an ancient Native pride that does my heart good.

I may leave this place in a box. That is a cold truth. But I have put my heart and soul into making our world a better place and there is a lot of work left to do – I would like to get out and do it with you.

I know that the spirit warriors coming up behind me have the heart and soul to fight racism and oppression, and to fight the greed that is poisoning our lands, waters, and people.

Remember who you are, even if they come for your land, your water, your family. We are children of Mother Earth and we owe her and her other children our care.

I long to turn my face to the sky. In this cage, I am denied that simple pleasure. I am in prison, but in my mind, I remain as I was born: a free Native spirit.

That is what allows me to laugh, keeps me laughing. These walls cannot contain my laughter – or my hope.

I know there are those who stand with me, who work around the clock for my freedom. I have been blessed to have such friends.

We are still here and you give me hope.

I hope to breathe free air before I die. Hope is a hard thing to hold, but no one is strong enough to take it from me.

I love you. I hope for you. I pray for you.

And prayer is more than a cry to the Creator that runs through your head. Prayer is an action.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

                     (Above and below) Screenshots by Nendawen of Ford Fischer's work

Key figures involved in Mr. Peltier’s prosecution have stepped forward over the years to urge his release – former Judge Gerald Heaney, who presided over Mr. Peltier’s 1986 appeal in the Eighth Circuit, called for his release in 1991 and again in 2000. Former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds, whose office handled the prosecution and appeal of Peltier’s case, has called on President Biden to commute the remainder of his sentence. Retired FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley wrote a letter to President Biden on December 3, 2022, in support of clemency for Peltier. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention specifically noted the anti-Indigenous bias surrounding Peltier’s detention, stating simply that he “continues to be detained because he is Native American.” -- Statement by NDN Collective

Read more:

WASHINGTON – Thirty-five Indigenous leaders and allies were arrested by U.S. Park Police outside the White House Tuesday afternoon as they joined hundreds of activists and allies in urging President Joe Biden to grant clemency for imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Held on Peltier’s 79th birthday, many activists traveled to the D.C. rally in a caravan that started on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Hundreds of activists and Indigenous leaders rallied outside the White House on Tuesday to support Leonard Peltier on the imprisoned activist’s 79th birthday, holding signs and chanting slogans urging President Joe Biden to grant clemency to the Native American leader

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