A walk to justice. The American Indian Movement is leading a group from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness for Leonard Peltier, one of the nation’s longest-held political prisoners. Feven Gerezgiher reports.
1,100 miles. 11 weeks. Eight states. That’s how long advocates plan to walk in prayer for elder Leonard Peltier’s release from prison.
“There were dreams that were coming to us….” said Rachel Thunder leading a rally kicking off the spiritual walk last week with the American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council.
“I would be in Leonard’s prison cell with him. And he’d be sitting there in bed with his face in his hands and he wouldn’t say anything. But in each of these dreams, I would say, your people are coming to get you. AIM is coming to get you. Your people haven’t forgotten about you. Don’t worry, we’re coming,” she said.
Peltier, now 77 years old, has spent 46 years in prison.
Since 1977, he has been incarcerated for his alleged role in the killing of two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Activists, human rights organizations, as well as U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to grant Peltier clemency on the basis of his failing health… and issues with Peltier’s trial which was riddled with misconduct including tampered evidence and witness intimidation.
Frankie Orona is of Chumash and Tongva heritage and is executive director of AIM in Central Texas. He was one of many in attendance at the sunrise ceremony the day after the rally.
“We came all the way from Texas. Some came from Southern California, you know, Canada, Arizona, from all many different states and farther distances than that even….I think we’re in a crucial point where our voices are being heard, our youth are standing up, and our elders are supporting the younger generations. And there was many that did not know of Leonard and the situation before as much as there is now,” said Orona.
Nick Estes, a University of Minnesota professor from the Lower Brule Sioux tribe, said Peltier’s incarceration resonates differently as a boarding school survivor.
“In some ways, Leonard Peltier has never left the prison, he was taken as a young child, you know, stripped from his family and his community, stripped of his language, his culture. And that’s why he joined the American Indian Movement. That’s why he fought for rights. That’s why he fought for dignity. And now he’s back in jail,” said Estes. “So this isn’t just about a political prisoner. It’s about the whole history and for this country to actually confront its past because we’re trying to move forward and they want to live in the past. They want to hold an elder hostage.”
Nick didn’t learn about Leonard Peltier until college, later joining the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. He noted that an Indigenous man, Joseph Stuntz, was killed during the 1975 shootout between AIM and the FBI, yet Stuntz’s death was never investigated.
With growing awareness of historic harms…and more Native people in office.. Nick hopes there is more support for change.
“There’s a lot of young people like myself, who are very interested in this case, because we see it as a continuation not only of centuries of colonization but also what they did to water protectors at Standing Rock and at Line Three. In this state, there are many Leonard Peltiers. And you know, and this, this city, Minneapolis was founded on creating Leonard Peltiers. Fort Snelling was a concentration camp where my Dakota ancestors were imprisoned because they did the exact same thing Leonard Peltier did, which is defend land, territory, life and dignity. And in this country, the continued incarceration of Leonard Peltier is the continued incarceration and stamping down of indigenous life and dignity.” said Estes.
The AIM-led group is expected to arrive in D.C. on November 14th. Find updates and more information on their Facebook page “Leonard Peltier’s Walk to Justice.”
Feven Gerezgiher reporting for Minnesota Native News
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