Hundreds of supporters of imprisoned American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier rallied outside the White House on Sept. 12 – Peltier’s 79th birthday – calling on President Biden to release their “brother and elder” after more than 47 years of unjust imprisonment. Peltier, who is now in poor health, was imprisoned for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in 1975. His supporters maintain that no evidence tied him to the crime and exculpatory evidence was withheld at his trial.
Amid dancing and drumming and the lifting up of an enormous banner with their demand, 35 people were arrested when they refused to leave the White House fence line. All were fined $50 and released. The rally was organized by the two groups, NDN Collective and Amnesty International USA.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus was there and recorded several of the speeches. We hear first from Holly Cook Macarro with the NDN Collective, who read a letter from Peltier addressed to his supporters.
[Web editor’s note: The audio version of this excerpt had been edited to fit broadcast time length constraints.]
HOLLY COOK MACARRO: I spoke with Leonard yesterday, and he was, as always, is remarkable to me, in good spirits and remains hopeful. Hope after all these years is what has always struck me. He wanted to send a message of thanks that everyone had gathered here today and for all the work that everyone is doing, and he asked me to read this statement:
LEONARD PELTIER: Dear friends, relatives, supporters and loved ones. 79 years old. Mother Earth has taken us on another journey around Grandfather Sun. Babies have taken their first breath. People have lived, loved and died. Seeds have been planted and sent their roots deep below red earth and their breath to the stars and our ancestors. I am still here. Time has twisted one more year out of me – a year that has been a moment and a year that has been a lifetime. For almost five decades I have existed in a cage of concrete and steel. With the good time calculations of the system, I’ve actually served more than 60 years.
Year after year, I have encouraged you to live as spirit warriors. Even while in here I can envision what is real and far beyond these walls. I have seen a reawakening of an ancient native pride that does my heart good. I may leave this place in a box – that is the cold truth. But I’ve put my heart and soul into making our world a better place and there is a lot of work left to do. I would like to get out and join you in doing it.
I know that the spirit warriors coming up behind me have the heart and soul to fight racism and oppression and to fight the greed that is poisoning our lands, waters and people. We are still here.
Remember who you are! Even if they come for your land, your water, your family, we are children of Mother Earth and we owe her and her other children our care. I long to turn my face to the sky. In this cage I am denied that simple pleasure. I am in prison, but in my mind I remain as I was born – a free native spirit. That is what allows me to laugh, keeps me laughing. These walls cannot contain my laughter, or my hope. I know there are those who stand with me, who work around the clock for my freedom. I’ve been blessed to have such friends. We are still here and you give me hope. I hope to breathe free air before I die. Hope is a hard thing to hold, but no one is strong enough to take it from me.
I love you. I hope for you. I pray for you. And prayer is more than a cry to the Creator that runs through your head. Prayer is an action.
In the spirit of Crazy Horse, Leonard Peltier
MELINDA TUHUS: That was Holly Cook Macarro, with the NDN Collective, reading a letter from Leonard Peltier. Next is Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians.
FAWN SHARP: We’re also here with purpose to call out the president of the United States, the only person on the face of this planet that has the sole decision. It is a choice he has to release Leonard, our relative. We call on the president of the United States: Release our elder! Release Leonard! (chant)
We have to understand and realize that while we are individuals, while we are in a human body, the strength and the spirit that lies within each one of us is an indestructible force. And while you look at a power structure like this, like the White House and the Capitol of the U.S., the spiritual strength of our people towers.
If you can imagine our ancestors from when time began until time ends, from the ground to the heavens, how mighty, how powerful we are surrounded by our ancestors every single day. We are surrounded by their strength. We are surrounded by the heavens and our relatives, all things living.
And while our relative is in prison, that is just his body. His spirit has led a movement while he is locked up, he has led a movement and that movement has affected all of us, and that, my friends, is an indestructible force. There is nothing they can do to break our relative’s spirit. There is nothing they can do to break our spirit. And we are going to stand here united until our friend, our relative, comes home.
Chant: Free, free, free Peltier!
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