Reporter's Notebook from Leonard Peltier Freedom Month

The Spirit of Wounded Knee

By Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #1030, November 14, 1999

"When I led my people into Wounded Knee that dark night, a chain of events was set in motion which has placed my brother Leonard Peltier in a cage. I leave in the morning to stand and demand freedom for a man whose only crime is being Indian and proud in America."

Carter Camp, Ponca Nation AIM,
Ponca City, Oklahoma, 10/29/99

As we stood in a circle for the sunrise ceremony that began Leonard Peltier Freedom Month in Washington, DC, I looked out across the rolling lawn at the White House in the distance. I wondered if our brother Leonard can ever see the morning sun from the dungeon where he is being held.

Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned now for 23 long, hard years--for defending the people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota during an FBI-backed reign of terror after the armed occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. And he has continued to fight for freedom for Native people from his prison cell. He has lent his support to other just struggles such as the battle to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. And he has focused attention on the great crimes this government has committed and continues to commit against Native people and become a symbol of resistance to millions.

Now, Leonard Peltier is 55 and is seriously ill. He has a heart condition, diabetes and is unable to chew food because of a jaw condition which prison authorities will not allow doctors to treat. The situation is urgent. His defense committee and supporters called for this month of action to demand that President Clinton sign an order of executive clemency and release Leonard.


"I can only hope, I say hope, my friends, that I will see you soon. I dream of the day when I can tell you all thank you in person. I can truthfully say that I will never give up. I ask that all of you never give up on me. We can and will win this battle. That I am very confident about. Let me shake all of your hands and embrace you with my love and friendship. Thank you, my friends, for showing me all the love you have."

Excerpt from a message
from Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier Freedom Month began with three days of protests that focused on the events that led to Leonard's unjust imprisonment. At Lafayette Park just across the street from the White House residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation spoke out for Leonard. They moved people to tears with their stories of the reign of terror they endured at the hands of the FBI, tribal chairman Dick Wilson and his "GOON" squads before, during and after the occupation of Wounded Knee. And veterans of the armed occupation of Wounded Knee raised our spirits and hopes with their stories of how they got a taste of a different way to live inside that "liberated territory" for 71 days.

Those who spoke included traditional elder Ellen Moves Camp, a spokesperson and leader at the occupation of Wounded Knee; Carter Camp, who led the advanced armed squad that seized Wounded Knee; Rosaline Jumping Bull, who lived on the ranch in Oglala where the shoot-out took place; Rosaline's niece Fedelia Cross; Jean Day, who lived in the compound where the shootout took place; Jean Roach, a survivor of the shoot-out; Russell Loud Hawk, an elder resident of Oglala who assisted the Wounded Knee occupation, his daughter Arlette Loud Hawk and grandson Russell Blacksmith.

Edgar Bear Runner read a statement on behalf of the people from Pine Ridge which said in part:

"Because of Leonard's known advocacy and support for human rights, indigenous sovereignty, justice and resistance against total U.S. colonization of indigenous peoples of America he certainly was punished for it and continues to suffer today at the hands of ongoing U.S. oppression. His 1976 federal conviction and 200 year sentence speaks for itself. Anybody who stands up for their rights can face the risk of also being framed and imprisoned like Leonard Peltier.

"The FBI willfully, knowingly and unconditionally committed acts of aggression, governmental misconduct, crimes against humanity, peace and the dignity of mankind, fabrication of a felony extradition, perjury against traditional oriented individuals and activists from the Oglala Lakota Nation. From 1972 to 1976, the Oglala Lakota people have witnessed the outright murders of over 500 tribal members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Today, the FBI admits that there are over 60 unsolved political murders remaining from the 1970s. Members from the FBI's private army, better known to us as the GOON squad on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation during this era, have admitted that they were supplied with intelligence, guns and ammunition by the FBI...

"Out of the 537 federally recognized tribes in America over half of the tribes support Leonard's quest for freedom. We have Congressional support. We have foreign governments that offered resolutions supporting Leonard Peltier's freedom. We have city councils throughout America that have endorsed Leonard's freedom by offering resolutions of support. What more do we have to do? We have done enough. We have worked hard and now we are here today at the nation's capital asking that an innocent man be freed."

Statements demanding Leonard's release were read from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchú, Subcommandante Marcos from the EZLN, a member of the Belgian Parliament, the Native American Network, John Trudell and Peter Matthiessen.

At one of the sunrise ceremonies, led by Lakota spiritual advisor David Chief, actor Danny Glover told the press:

"I'm a supporter of Leonard Peltier's struggle. It is a struggle that is deeply rooted in the struggle of Native American people, the history of Native American people. It is a struggle that is rooted in the struggle of those people who've been oppressed. Leonard has made his sacrifice. We cannot forget Leonard. We demand that Leonard be paroled. There's no evidence-- there's no reason why he should be still incarcerated and we will continue to struggle for his freedom as long as we have breath."

Attorney Jennifer Harbury talked about Leonard's legal case. Bill Muldrow, formerly with the United States Commission on Civil Rights, described civil rights violations his group documented on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Chief Billy Tayac of the Piscataway Nation and Medicine Bird White Eagle of the Cheyenne Nation brought messages of solidarity. Freedom Runners who arrived from Philadelphia were greeted with a prayer and a song on the drum. Leonard's family members spoke: his brother Irvin, his daughters Marquita and Kathy; his granddaughter Alex and his niece Eva. A vigil honoring Native lives was held where people stood in front of the White House holding handmade signs with the names and pictures of people murdered on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

This powerful gathering of support for Leonard Peltier did not go unnoticed by the rulers of this country. The FBI took out radio and newspaper ads full of lies that called on Clinton to deny Leonard Peltier executive clemency.

Ben Carnes, a spokesperson for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, told me: "Those who feel a sense of justice in this country should really examine the facts of Leonard Peltier's case and from there they can just know that an injustice has been done to this man."

One of the most moving moments was when a young Black woman spoke. Her father had gone to Wounded Knee and never returned. The family contacted the FBI who claimed they knew nothing about what happened to him. But AIM member Carter Camp remembered her father. He had, indeed, made it into Wounded Knee to take part in the occupation. But he didn't make it out alive. Carter Camp said, "In that no man's land and in those gullies of that reservation 40 or 50 of our people were there that we don't know where they're at, where they're buried at. But we know that they were caught and killed. And her father happened to be one of them."


I spent four days gathering the stories of the people from Pine Ridge and AIM who made great sacrifices and came thousands of miles to stand up for Leonard as he has stood for them. They opened their hearts despite the pain in their eyes when they spoke of how this system has systematically brutalized and murdered Native Peoples. And their stories were full of hope and determination--that the people will free Leonard Peltier.

The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee is asking volunteers to come to D.C. during November. For information on how you can help contact:
Leonard Peltier Freedom Coalition, D.C. 202-857-1469
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Kansas 785-842-5774;

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