AIM leader fights for his freedom

By Julie Fry


On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents were killed during a shoot-out at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. A sniper’s bullet also claimed the life of a young indigenous man, Joe Stuntz, during the shooting, but his death has never been investigated. The shooting took place in the context of years of racist abuse, brutality and betrayal of the indigenous nations within the United States by the U.S. government. During this period in particular, the U.S. and specifically the FBI, were targeting a relatively new, but extremely dynamic and militant political organization called the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Like the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, AIM fought for the empowerment of their own community and organized to defend themselves against state terrorism. Leonard Peltier was a young leader of AIM in 1975 when the Pine Ridge shootings occurred. Although there were no witnesses who pointed to Peltier as the shooter, he immediately became the central target of the investigation because of his influence in AIM.
In a trial before an all white jury in 1976, with very little evidence and with witnesses threatened by the FBI, Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life terms. The government even admitted during one of the appeals that they could not prove Peltier was the shooter.

Peltier has been in prison since 1976. He was denied parole in 2009 and he won’t be eligible for parole again until 2024 when he will be 79 years old. He has always maintained his innocence, even though he has been told that admitting guilt might make it easier for him to be granted parole.

Peltier is an international symbol of the U.S. government’s refusal to accept the sovereignty of indigenous nations and its complete brutality toward their communities. Despite his long imprisonment, Peltier remains in good spirits and his supporters still continue the fight for his freedom. The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee issued a statement after his parole was denied last year explaining that “Currently we are in the process of finalizing plans for efforts around exercising our right to challenge this decision, advocating for intervention by President Barack Obama, and succeeding in getting both proper medical attention for Leonard and a transfer to a federal prison closer to home. We will be issuing directives within the near future.”

For more information on Peltier’s case and the struggle to free him, visit Cards and letters may be sent to Leonard Peltier, #89637-132, USP-Lewisburg, P.O. Box 1000, Lewisburg, PA 17837.


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