Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier speaks with People’s World
Leonard Peltier. | Democracy Now

On the day People’s World posted my Florida Strike article, out of the blue, I received a phone call from federal prisoner Leonard Peltier. He is also in federal prison in Florida. In fact, he and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee were early supporters of #OperationPUSH.

Let me put this in context: A friend and fellow Yuchi tribal member, Richard Ray Whitman, recently was in a movie I had reviewed. I wrote Leonard a letter and sent him a copy of this review in October 2017. I’ve written Leonard several times before but never got a reply. So this phone call from him was an honor. Richard knows Leonard and was at Wounded Knee in 1973.

Richard is an accomplished artist, and drove to Wounded Knee with a camera in tow. In an interview with the Oklahoma Gazette, he relates this experience. “It became a serious joke that my first collectors were the FBI,” Whitman jokingly said. While a student at California Institute of the Arts he took a weekend trip with his camera to document artistically the AIM takeover. That weekend turned into 71 days, including his arrest along with Peltier and others. He was released, but the FBI kept all nine rolls of film. “Unfortunately, no one but the FBI has seen the film,” Whitman laments. He has tried to fill out paperwork throughout the years but to no avail to get his pictures returned.

Leonard spoke exclusively with PW with his current pleas and requests. “I have a very unique and interesting tale to tell,” Peltier stated. “I want all Indian involvement from the director down to the writers, to the actors.”

“I knew (Marlon) Brando in the 1960s and many others,” Peltier related. “I worked with many other Native people to get Hollywood to change the stereotypical portrayal of Indians.”

Leonard’s website states the background to what led up to the 1973 AIM takeover. “Actually the AIM takeover was just organized as protest,” Peltier says. However, it turned into a 71-day shoot-out with the government agents shooting many rounds of various caliber of ammo.”

At first, the AIM occupation was to protect the elders and citizens of the Oglala Sioux Natives who were being abused by then Tribal President Dick Wilson and his “goon squad.” A previous PW article outlines some of Leonard’s case.

In the ensuing occupation, several FBI agents were killed. Peltier was put on trial and subsequently imprisoned. Peltier has been in prison since 1977, making this Year 41 as a political prisoner.

“I went to Canada and asked for political asylum. Which places me under the International Extradition Treaty laws, America signed into law,” Peltier related. “I did this under the advice of my elders because they knew the American justice system would have to ‘prove’ I was guilty of first degree murder.”

In Peltier’s 1982 appeal in the 8th Circuit Court in Minneapolis, some interesting facts arose. “Judge Heaney asked the prosecutor Lynn Crooks, ‘Just what was Mr. Peltier convicted of, as we cannot find any evidence of first degree murder in the records,” Peltier said. “Crooks told the judge, ‘Your Honor, the government doesn’t know who killed our agents nor do we know what participation Leonard Peltier may have had in it.’ This completely exonerated me.

“Yet here I sit still in federal prison away from my family,” Peltier sighed.

“You know, brother, I didn’t come to prison to become a political prisoner,” Peltier pointed out. “I’ve been part of the resistance since I was 9 years of age.” Peltier related how he and his sister Betty Ann and first cousin Pauline Peltier were forcefully removed from his grandmother and sent to boarding schools.

“Shit, my sister and cousin cried for days because of that. They were traumatized,” Peltier lamented. “Pauline was so traumatized she has never fully recovered.” The school officials finally let Leonard go see them in the girls’ dorm to tell them he was next door in the boys’ dorm.

“That incident to this day still has an enormous effect on me,” Peltier remembers.

Right now his own family is being traumatized by the government not paroling him. “I just had heart surgery and I’m 73 years old,” Peltier related. “I don’t think I have another ten years. I want out of here so I can be with my family.

“I want to see and hug my children, grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren,” Peltier pleaded.

Through his International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Peltier is retooling their information. He stressed the need for folks to support him.

“Right now I want to get folks interested in helping me,” Peltier pleaded. “We need lots of small donations, and people stepping up to help me get paroled.” Peltier reiterated that he is 73, and has been locked down for 41 years. He is tired and just wants his freedom so he can be with his family. He mentioned for folks to be sure to read his story, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, as it goes  in depth into the challenges he has had to face. “I really hope folks will buy it and read it, it’s a great book.”

Federal prisons only allow for a 15-minute phone call. So it was near the end of our conversation when he specifically spoke about his case. “There is no evidence on me, that came out of our 1983 appeals case,” Peltier states. “The government lawyer said [the government] does not know who fired the shot, nor if I even had anything to do with it.” The government still has not paroled him. He remains locked up to this day.

“This is what I am up against,” Peltier sighed. “This is why I really need the people’s help right now.”

Even behind bars, Leonard Peltier has been the voice of reason for over 41 years to the Native people. He encourages Native youth to embrace their culture, to respect the elders. He encourages and still fights for Native rights.

Peltier was a warrior from age nine. At 73 he remains a warrior still.

You can write to Leonard at:

Leonard Peltier
USP Coleman I
P.O. Box 1033
Coleman, FL 33521


Mark Maxey
Mark Maxey

Oklahoman Mark Maxey is a Yuchi Indian, enrolled in the Muscogee Nation, and has a degree in radio/TV/film. He is a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO. He’s worked as an administrative assistant, petroleum landman, barista, staff writer, paralegal, content producer and graphic designer. He spent six months as a National Data Team volunteer for the Bernie Sanders for President campaign.