By Mark Wachtler
December 9, 2014. Leavenworth, KS. (ONN) In 1973, a 71-day armed stand-off at the Wounded Knee Reservation between members of the American Indian Movement and US authorities launched a bloody and deadly revolt by Native Americans who wanted an end to the poisoning of their water and the bribery of their elected officials by large drilling and mining corporations. Over the next three years, a number of federal agents and over 60 AIM members were murdered. Leonard Peltier was an AIM member framed by authorities for two murders of FBI agents that he didn’t commit.
Supporters march to Free Leonard Peltier. Image courtesy of LeonardPeltier.info
When the smoked cleared after a 1975 shoot-out between a large number of federal agents and AIM members at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, two FBI agents lie dead. Even though a hail of bullets was fired by both small armies, Leonard Peltier was convicted of being the person who shot and killed both agents. His conviction was based on the testimony of two witnesses - one Native American eye-witness and the FBI’s forensics expert. Both later confirmed they committed perjury to convict Peltier, with the witness accusing the FBI of threatening her into providing false testimony and the FBI expert admitting he falsified his test results to show the fatal bullets matched Peltier’s gun, which we now know they didn’t.
In 1977, Leonard Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences. Amnesty International lists his trial and conviction in their ‘unfair trials’ category and considers him a political prisoner. The ‘Free Leonard Peltier’ movement has been lobbying for his release, with one US President even promising to pardon him while on the campaign trail, only to go back on his word once elected.
Just over a week ago, Leonard Peltier penned an open letter to his supporters and all Americans. Here is the full transcript of that letter (from Whiteout Press):
Greetings my Relatives, Friends and Supporters.
I was thinking about the national holiday “Thanksgiving” the other day. I won’t even go into what a horrible shame this American holiday is based on. Instead, I will just let it remind me of the common bond I have with all my brothers and sisters of the Earth. Even if Thanksgiving, the holiday, is based on an incorrect portrayal of history, the concept of being Thankful is a universal truth. I mean, let’s face it, being thankful/grateful has been part of Indian Nations much longer than the invention of a holiday.
I admit there are days in here when I find it very hard to be thankful, but it does not take much to bring it back for me. Most days, I get cards and letters from people all over the world, sometimes I can even smell the soil, the pines, and sometimes even fry bread in the paper that is sent to me. I hear stories of your lives, your troubles, your children, your jobs. Oh there is some word for what I am trying to say but I don’t remember it. But I get a sense of life through all of you, and I am thankful for that. I often want to reach out and help you sometimes. I would love to come work on your cars or help you build sweat lodges, or even just mow the lawn. I miss helping people and I hate asking for help, which it seems, is all I do.
In here, I am able to focus on the simple things in life. You have no idea how cool it is to just get a new pair of socks. In the last few months I have really been feeling my age, and I am so very thankful for all the support you have all given me. I won’t lie, it has been a rough time lately, but I am hopeful that is changing.
My people have always had a deep and connected relationship with the Sun, and I realized the other day just how much I miss the Sun. When I had the Sun’s light upon me, I felt stronger. These walls hold out the Sun’s energy, and it weakens me. When you miss something, it is easier to be thankful for things you do have.
My friend and Spiritual advisor, Lenny Foster, visited me recently, and he reminded me of some basic things I have to be thankful for. I have watched him age over all these years too, and I am thankful for him and his wisdom. He sang with me and prayed with me, and I felt a bit of the Sun again. I guess my point is, that we can find the things we need in places we may not expect. I can always pray, this can never be taken away from me, and through that prayer, I can keep the Sun and hope alive.
And so, on this day, “Thanksgiving”, I will choose to be thankful and not to celebrate tyranny. I also want to pray with and for you. I pray for each and every one of you, whether you support me or you do not. I pray that your lives will be full of meaning and you will find new ways to learn. I pray for your strength and that you will always stand up for the things you know are right. I pray that each one of you will find a way to protect our Mother Earth, she is crying out for us to hear her.
I pray that you will listen to your inner wisdom and let it guide you to make choices that will help each other, and that you will be examples for those still learning their way in this life. I pray that you will be present with the moments you have, enjoy the simple things in life— like the Sun, The Dirt, The Air, The Water, and that you would protect them as you would your own children. I pray that you will look for opportunities to lift up your sisters and brothers and not to bring them down.
I pray that you will grow and enjoy good natural foods. I pray for you to savor the attention of your loved ones. I pray for you to build productive bridges of peace with those you oppose. I pray that when others make bad choices you help them find positive solutions. I pray for understanding in times of misunderstanding. And yes, I pray very deeply and honestly that I can go home for a little while before I cross over to the Spirit World.
I am with you always, and I feel your prayers too. I am always grateful for your support, your love, your friendship, your letters and the contact you give me with LIFE. It is harder for me to physically see well enough to write letters these days, so please forgive me if I don’t write you back. It is not that I don’t want to. Know that I am often sitting and thinking of you, and being thankful for all of you.
Your old, thankful friend and brother. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
For more information or to help Leonard Peltier with his bid for freedom, visit LeonardPeltier.info.
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