Native American activist imprisoned since 1977 makes a case for clemency: interview

Native American activist imprisoned since 1977 makes a case for clemency: interview
image via Creative Commons.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents, Ronald Arthur Williams and Jack Ross Coler, were fatally shot at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Native American activist Leonard Peltier, a prominent figure in the American Indian Movement (AIM), was later found guilty of murder in connection with those killings and has been serving two life sentences since 1977.

Peltier has long maintained his innocence, and over the years, everyone from Mother Theresa to the late South African President Nelson Mandela (who spent decades in prison himself) to Amnesty International has called for Peltier’s release. Yet in 2023, Peltier, now 78, is still locked up in a maximum-security federal prison in Florida. And his supporters are still hoping he will be granted clemency.

Peltier discussed his case during an interview with The Guardian, maintaining that he did not kill either Williams or Coler and describing the conditions in that prison.

READ MORE:Ex-FBI Agent Pleads for the Release of Leonard Peltier for Humanitarian Reasons

The AIM activist explained, “Being free to me means being able to breathe freely away from the many dangers I live under in maximum custody prison. Being free would mean I could walk over a mile straight. It would mean being able to hug my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Peltier added, “I have been kept away from my family and only seen them a few times over the past 47 years. It is more than hard, especially when the kids write to me and tell me they want to see me and I cannot afford the cost of travel. If I was free, I would build me a home on my tribal land, help build the economy of our nations and give a home to our homeless children.”

According to Peltier, the COVID-19 pandemic has made his incarceration even more restrictive. Peltier tested positive for COVID-19 in 2022.

The Native American activist told The Guardian, “This place is becoming a complete lockdown institution. I’m living in a 6x12 cell built for one person that I am forced to share, where we spend 24 hours a day during these frequent lockdowns. You’re on guard every moment of the day.… I am not receiving the medical treatment that I need, and I suffer a lot of pain from the illness that needs treatment. A lot of programs are being taken away, and other privileges which make it even more stressful.”

READ MORE: Please Help Free Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier

According to The Guardian’s Nina Lakhani, former FBI special agent Colleen Rowley helped ghost-wrote 1990s op-ed arguing against Peltier’s release. But now, Rowley, at 68, is urging President Joe Biden to grant Peltier a presidential pardon.

Peltier told The Guardian, “I’m very disappointed that she was involved in creating false evidence and took this long for her to come forward. However, I am grateful now that she did decide to tell the truth.… I am hopeful that Biden will sign my clemency, but I am not sure there will be any difference.”

READ MORE: Native American tribal sovereignty must no longer be overlooked

Read The Guardian’s full Leonard Peltier interview at this link.

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