U.S. Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier Sends Inspiring Message to Those Gathered for ‘Day of Mourning’

Peltier’s letter read by Herbie Waters, a student at Boston University, produced by Melinda Tuhus

American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier has been in prison more than 40 years, serving two consecutive life sentences for the murder of two FBI agents on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Lakota Indian reservation. His extradition from Canada and his trial in the U.S. were rife with violations, including perjury of witnesses and the withholding of crucial evidence that proved the bullets that killed the agents didn’t come from Peltier’s gun.

In the years since Peltier has been incarcerated, a retired appellate judge who had been involved in his case called for a new trial. In 2017, a former U.S. attorney whose office prosecuted Peltier wrote to President Obama supporting Peltier’s bid for clemency, maintaining that no one knows who killed the two FBI agents.

Peltier, now 78, is serving time at a federal prison in Florida and is in poor health. His new attorney and defense committee continue working for his release. Every year on Thanksgiving Day, the United American Indians of New England hold a Day of Mourning at Plymouth, Massachusetts. And every year that he’s been in prison, Leonard Peltier sends a letter to mark the occasion. For decades the letter was read by Dr. Herbert Waters Jr. of the Wampanoag nation. This year, Peltier’s letter was read by Dr. Waters’ grandson and namesake, Herbie Waters, a student at Boston University.

HERBIE WATERS (reading a letter from Leonard Peltier):

Greetings, my relatives, friends, loved ones and supporters,

First, I want to say how deeply grateful I am that you would want to hear what I have to say. It’s an honor to be with you in spirit, though I am far away. Being my age, and having spent these many years in prison, plays on your heart to the nth degree.

I am here because I wanted to make a difference for our people and I want to encourage others to do the same. My heart has not changed and my intentions have not changed. The love and faith I have in our future generation has not changed. All the world now faces the same challenges that our people foretold regarding climate damage being caused by those taking more than they need, dismissing the teachings of our fathers and the knowledge of countless generations living upon the earth in harmony.

I may sound a bit dramatic and sensitive, but after all these years and the 78 journeys around the sun, I often feel and think that I should speak my mind and heart whenever I can and to whomever I can, because when you are my age, you never know if you are going to live another 20 years or another 20 minutes.

Our people have been through a lot. Generations have been imprisoned, beaten, murdered, and dispossessed of our lands, and they have fought so we might live. We are proud of our ancestors. I have tried to make the best of my time upon the earth in my given circumstances. To say the least, this has not been an enjoyable life journey, but I am proud to have been given a chance to stand for our people, and I encourage you to do the same.

I am not a speaker, but I have spoken. I am not a leader, but I have led. Having said this, knowing what I know now, feeling what I’ve felt, seeing what I’ve seen and hearing what I’ve heard, I would do it all over again. For, as our ancestors loved the future for us, I love all people who have walked upon this earth. I recognize her as the greatest manifestation of the Creator, and she should be recognized as such.

On this day of Mourning, I encourage you, with a hopeful heart, to continue to gather and have ceremony in remembrance of our people, especially those who have given their lives so that we might live. Each of you has the potential within you to make a difference in the world. Each one of you has the opportunity and ability to do one act of kindness for someone in need, and one act to make the earth a better place for all life. I, with the help of others, have started a food forest movement. We encourage all people throughout the earth to plant at least one fruit-bearing tree (applause) so that all the animals and all creatures of the earth will have healthier food, better air and cleaner water.

Forgive me if I’ve said too much or too little. Time in this place is often irrelevant to the task at hand. May the Creator bless you, your families and all our peoples of like mind.

Peace, love, and blessings, in the spirit of Crazy Horse, Daksha,
Leonard Peltier.

For more information, visit the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee at whoisleonardpeltier.info.


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