September 12 was Native American artist Leonard Peltier’s birthday, his 40th behind the bars of a jail in the USA. FRANCES MADESON pays tribute to him.
Leonard Peltier is the longest held Native American political prisoner in the U.S. He was wrongfully convicted in the 1975 killing of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Leonard was at Pine Ridge at the request of the traditional elders who witnessed the brutal murders of over sixty Native people in what is termed the “reign of terror.” To date, no one has been charged or brought to trial [for those 60 murders] and yet he has served over 40 years for standing between the line of fire and the Keepers of our Sacred Ways on the very soil that was witness to the massacre at Wounded Knee. The trial for Leonard consisted of numerous documented constitutional violations, intimidation and coercion of government witnesses, falsifying of information, and manufactured evidence. Although the prosecutor admits “we don’t know who killed the agents,” and Mr. Peltier was denied the right to present a defense, he remains in a super-max penitentiary.
The Peltier capture and incarceration story is an important through line in the ongoing narrative of colonization of Native peoples. As much as one might desire to assign him dual hats — a jaunty beret for artist, a feathered warbonnet for AIM (American Indian Movement) freedom fighter — the identities are merged, and not readily separable; donning and doffing haberdashery is a privilege a man in Leonard Peltier’s position does not possess. He has but one vulnerable hatless, head, and it’s been on the chopping block for a very long time.