In a remote section of South Dakota just north of Nebraska lies an Indian reservation known as Pine Ridge. At one time largely agricultural, it became hugely attractive to the U.S. government when it was discovered that beneath the Indian lands lay one of the largest uranium reserves in the United States. All through the years, treaties with the Indians had been consistently violated because of the major mineral reserves beneath the Indian territories.
When Pine Ridge became the focus of the United States government, the Indian residents were strongly opposed to uranium development on their turf. Bitterness grew as problems were exacerbated with the increasing threat of U.S. intervention. Turning to the American Indian Movement (AIM) for assistance led to military conflict with the FBI, which refused to listen to the complaints of the Indians. The struggle lasted 71 days, resulting in the deaths of two Pine Ridge natives and the outlawing of all activities at Pine Ridge.
During the following three years, now referred to as the “Reign of Terror,” violent assaults continued to take place in which vast numbers of Indians were murdered or maimed. With the government intent on destroying the AIM and thereby removing a major obstacle in their plans to exploit the uranium booty, homes were burned, shootings and beatings became rampant. So many native Americans were killed that Pine Ridge had the highest annual murder rate in the U.S. Again the AIM came to their assistance, and among those who responded was Leonard Peltier. The conflict led to three murder indictments including that of Leonard Peltier, accused of shooting two FBI agents. No evidence was ever introduced to support the accusation. Subsequently, Peltier escaped to Canada, convinced that he would never receive a fair trial in the U.S. Less than a year later, he was apprehended.
Myrtle Poor Bear was an Indian woman who had never met Leonard Peltier. Terrified under interrogation by the FBI, she testified against him. This terror-induced accusation led to the extradition of Peltier to the U.S. All of her incriminating statements were later withdrawn, and Myrtle Poor Bear confessed that her fear of the FBI had led her to make false statements. With the government determined to pin the guilt on Peltier and thus remove the bête noire from their uranium quest, her confessions were thrown aside and ignored.
Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, the trial was rigged against him with perjury and manufactured evidence. No witness was ever found who could identify Leonard as the man who shot and killed two FBI agents. Hundreds of thousands of pages of critical evidence pinpointing the unprovoked attack on Pine Ridge were withheld from the trial.
The events here described and the part played by Peltier were detailed in a book by Peter Matthieson, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. This revealing report was kept out of print for eight years, while the FBI sued the author and publisher for libel. Although the Supreme Court eventually denied the suit, the stunning evidence produced by the book was unavailable at the time of Leonard Peltier’s trial.
Today Pine Ridge has an 86 percent unemployment rate, the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. The government’s vindictiveness toward the Lakota people led to the ruin of innumerable lives. The ongoing penal servitude of Leonard Peltier at Leavenworth Prison is the direct consequence of the FBI’s unabated pressure to keep him confined.
Despite worldwide appeals from human-rights organizations, and the publicity given to the merits of his case, 500 FBI agents marched in Washington to oppose clemency for him. They continue to use their authority to thwart all efforts to obtain his freedom, now denied him for 28 years.
Leonard Peltier is not in prison for the murder of two FBI agents. Of that he is demonstrably not guilty. Leonard Peltier is in prison because he is a potential threat to governmental forces intent on exploiting the mineral resources that lie buried beneath In- dian territory. The facts of Leonard’s conviction are well known. Well known also is the bitter massacre of the Indians at Wounded Knee, which left an entire community devastated.** Terror-stricken families and ruined lives draw little compassion from those whose motives are purely profit-driven. They are “collateral damage.” The drive for profit under capitalism overrides all human considerations. Like the conflict in Iraq, the huge loss of lives and the obliteration of the infrastructures are a price worth paying for the control of huge oil reserves needed for the operation of the capitalist machine.
Such reports are not unique to America. All over the world human values are subordinated to the primal needs of capital.
Indeed, they scream out for a change from this power-driven, cash-oriented social system to one that emphasizes cooperation, and in which human values are the measure of all human action. They send a message to all who will listen that the world hungers for a society that will eliminate needless suffering and re- place it with opportunities for all human beings to lead fulfilling lives.
* Sources: Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Anthony Rayson (Prison Abolition), Matt Sherman (AIM) and Leonard Peltier (“Prison Writings”).
** The massacre at Wounded Knee took place on December 29, 1890. See, for example, http:// www.lastoftheindependents.com/wounded.htm. The siege at Wounded Knee, referred to above, began on February 27, 1973 and lasted 71 days.
Leonard Peltier has provided us with words that should resonate with those who share this vision:
Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity.
But silence is impossible.
Silence is a message,
Just as doing nothing is an act.
Let who you are ring out and resonate
in every word and every deed.
Yes, become who you are.
There’s no sidestepping your own being
or your own responsibility.
What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.
You become your own message.
You are the message.