The Case of Leonard Peltier, Political Prisoner in the US Jails
West Coast Justice for Leonard Peltier Tour, A Great Success!
By Aaron Mercredi
ďÖno human being should ever have to fear for his or her life because of their political or religious beliefs. We are in this together, my friends, the rich, the poor, the red, white, black, brown and yellow. We share responsibility for Mother Earth and those who live and breathe upon her. Never forget that.Ē -Leonard Peltier
The end of March brought a flood of activity to raise awareness around Leonard Peltierís struggle for freedom in the US prison system. With the intention of re-igniting solidarity work in Canada for Leonard Peltier, the Justice for Leonard Peltier West Coast Tour travelled to different campuses and community centres throughout the lower mainland and Victoria. Organized by the Indigenous Rights and Action Project (IRAP), this tour featured Bob Robideau, the co-director of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, a relative of Leonardís and also a co-defendant in the shoot-out at Oglala. Bob travelled from the US to speak on Leonardís case and follow up on the great amount of support that Leonard has been received in the past from people in Canada.
On June 26th 1975, Leonard was involved in a shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This shoot-out took place during the FBI-orchestrated Ďreign of terrorí on that reservation, which saw over 60 Indigenous people murdered and hundreds more assaulted in an effort to crush resistance to uranium mining and the selling of their land. The FBIís other hope was to rid the area of the American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM had gone to Pine Ridge to defend traditional people who opposed the US domination over their territory and the corrupt tribal president, Dick Wilson, who was in the colonial governmentís pocketbook and had his personal mercenary squad, the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONS). Leonard joined the ranks of many young Indigenous people from all over the US who went to defend Lakota people against Dick Wilson, his GOONS, the FBI and the threats of murder on Pine Ridge.
It was in this period of heightened political terror that two FBI agents in unmarked cars sped on to the Jumping Bull compound and a shoot-out ensued. It ended with the deaths of the two agents, Special Agents Coler and Williams, along with Joe Stuntz, a young Indigenous man who was shot in the FBI attack. Although Joe Stuntzís murder was never investigated, the hunt was on to pin the deaths of the agents on someone.
Fearing that he would not receive a fair trial in the US, Leonard fled to Canada. Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, who were also involved in the shoot-out, were arrested and went to trial for the deaths of the agents. They were acquitted on grounds of self-defence, finding their involvement in the shoot-out was justified given the climate of fear that existed on the reservation. With the FBIís full scope on Leonard Peltier, he was arrested in Canada in 1976. The FBI presented fabricated evidence to the Canadian court, and the Canadian authorities collaborated to have him extradited to face trial in the US for the deaths of two agents. On April 18th 1977, Leonard was convicted for the first degree murder of the agents, and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in a courtroom that reeked with blatant bias, fabricated evidence, and the intimidation of witnesses. Anything it would take to lock Leonard up.
For 31 years now, he has been a political prisoner in a US jail. He has come to represent the struggle of Native people who fight back for what is theirs; a symbol of the US governmentís hypocrisy and the injustice that has been inflicted on Native people for hundreds of years. He also continues to provide inspiration to not only Native people, who see a man who continues to fight even behind prison bars, but to all people who struggle against oppression.
The recent tour was a result of that inspiration and the need to build awareness and support for his freedom with people around the world. The West Coast Justice for Leonard Peltier tour re-ignited activity in Canada around Leonardís struggle. Over 350 people came out to the five events that were organized; from speaking events at Capilano College, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, and the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, to the musical fundraiser which brought out artists and community members who wanted to show their support for the cause.
The tour did, however, encounter some minor obstacles in building solidarity work around Leonardís case. At two of the events, attempts by individuals were made to disrupt the forums and hijack them away from the focus on Leonardís freedom. Although it is unfortunate that this has the potential to ruin an event, the widespread interest among people, especially young people, about Leonardís case kept the events going.
Something that was inspiring about this whole tour was seeing people who had been involved in Leonardís original defence committee in Canada come out, with the determination to keep fighting for his freedom. Combined with a newer generation of people who are learning about the injustice committed against Leonard, and who see his case as their own, there is a strong amount of support to build the necessary defence and solidarity work here in Canada. That is why we need to continue moving forward to free him from prison. All poor and working people in Canada need to know about this case and fight for it.
His freedom is our freedom.
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