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This Article Originally Appeared in Mawo Newsletter #12

Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity.
But silence is impossible.
Silence screams.
Silence is a message,
just as doing nothing is an act.
Let who you are ring out & resonate
in every word & every deed.
Yes, become who you are.
There's no sidestepping your own being
or your own responsibility.
What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.
You become your own message.
You are the message.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
- Leonard Peltier

In the 1970’s the Oglala Lakota nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota was ruled by a ‘climate of fear’. The FBI backed ‘Goon Squad’ maintained corrupt rule on Pine Ridge through a ‘Reign of Terror’ against the Lakota people. Based on US government reports, this Reign of Terror included over 60 unsolved and unresolved murders of Oglala Lakota men and women between 1973 and 1976. On top of this terror campaign, the Pine Ridge Lakota suffered the lowest life expectancy rate and the lowest per capita income in the US.

In this climate of fear and oppression, the elders of Pine Ridge asked members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) to come support the Lakota in their struggle. In response to this call, hundreds of young Indigenous people from across the US and Canada traveled to Pine Ridge to form the front lines of the struggle for Indigenous self determination in the US. One of these young warriors was Leonard Peltier.

The Case of Leonard Peltier

On June 26th 1975, two FBI agents sped into the Pine Ridge climate of fear in an unmarked car with guns drawn. In the subsequent shoot-out between the terrorized Indigenous people on the reservation and the FBI agents, both of the agents were killed. In the FBI siege that ensued, one Indigenous man, Joe Stuntz, was shot dead by a sniper. While his murder was never investigated, the FBI began the most extensive ‘man hunt’ in US history for the AIM members fingered for the deaths of the FBI agents.

AIM organizers Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were captured and stood trial for murder while Leonard Peltier fled to Canada, convinced that he would never stand a fair trial in the US. Even in the highly racist climate of South Dakota, Butler and Robideau were both found ‘not guilty’ for the shooting because the jury found that they were acting in self-defense, and there was no evidence pinning them to the ‘fatal shots’ anyway. Determined to knock down AIM and the rising movement for Indigenous self determination, the FBI transferred their attention to Peltier.

On February 6th 1976, Peltier was arrested in Alberta Canada and faced an extradition hearing in Vancouver BC. The Attourney General of Canada found that “after considering all the evidence that is before me that [Mr. Peltier’s charges were not] offences of a political character. Nor has it been established that the proceedings in question are being taken with a view to try or punish Mr. Peltier for an offence of a political character.” He was extradited on select evidence manufactured by the FBI, stood trial in South Dakota on select evidence manufactured by the FBI, and was convicted of the murder of both FBI agents on select evidence manufactured by the FBI. No reasonable evidence was presented tying Peltier to the fatal shootings. To this day, the FBI is still refusing to cooperate in Freedom of Information claims by Peltier’s legal defense team and is withholding an unknown amount of documents.

30 Years of Injustice

February 6th 2006 marks 30 years of unjust imprisonment for Leonard Peltier. Today, as in 1976, Peltier remains a political prisoner framed up and jailed through the joint action of the colonial governments of the US and Canada in the international war waged against Indigenous nations in North America.

In this era of war and occupation, with oppressed people around the world facing the war machines of the US, Canada, and all imperialist countries, the struggle of Leonard Peltier and Indigenous nations within the US and Canada must be taken up by the anti-war movement with a renewed importance. The continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier is part of the continued attack on Indigenous people by colonialism and imperialism. When the anti-war movement is able to see the struggles of Iraqi, Palestinian, Afghan, Haitian, and Indigenous people in the US and Canada as all vital parts of one international struggle for the self determination of all oppressed nations, we will lift Leonard Peltier up upon our shoulders as a political prisoner and a hero in this struggle. Leonard Peltier’s fate is tied to the fate of all oppressed people in the world, and his freedom will be ours as well.