Clemency for Leonard Peltier demanded decades after his incarceration

A demonstrator holds up a sign offering more information about incarcerated Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier at a rally organized by The Red Nation in front of the Pete V. Domenici Courthouse in downtown Albuquerque on the evening of Monday, Feb. 6, 2023 (Photo by Shelby Wyatt for Source NM)

By Maddie Pukite/ Source NM

People in Albuquerque joined others across the country demanding the release of Leonard Peltier from federal prison.

“His imprisonment was meant to demoralize us and to discourage us from resisting. He was meant to be made an example of, to show people this is what happens if you speak out,” Jennifer Marley said in front of the federal courthouse downtown on Monday.

Marley (San Ildefonso) said Peltier is a political prisoner because he stood up against the occupation of imperialist forces.

“This is what happens if you are revolutionary,” Marley said. “And we say no, because you can incarcerate the protester or the resistor but you can’t incarcerate a movement, right? So we all walk in the spirit of Leonard Peltier.”

Peltier (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) is an activist and member of the American Indian Movement, and has lived in federal maximum security prison for more than 40 years. Advocates pushing for his clemency say the FBI handled his prosecution with misconduct and false information. He became eligible for parole in 1993.

With that perspective they don’t want to see Peltier die in prison.

Ruth Anna Buffalo (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation) is a state representative in North Dakota and visits Peltier regularly at the federal prison he’s at in Florida. She said he’s in poor health.

“When I saw him he said he doesn’t have 10 more years or six more years or anything like that,” she said.

Despite the organizing support seen in Albuquerque and other cities across the country, Buffalo is concerned Peltier thinks he will die in federal custody.

“He’s pushing for clemency, but he just doesn’t think that it’s going to happen with (President) Biden right now,” she said. 

Even with that personal concern people in Albuquerque are still hoping to carry his spirit and fight for his release.

Justine Teba (Santa Clara/Tesuque/Acoma) said Peltier’s fight is the blueprint for much of the work Indigenous activists, including herself, are doing today. 

“He could be any of us,” Teba said. “(Police) could arrest any of us and they could do the same thing to us and that’s why his clemency in his freedom is so important to our movement.”

A heavy police presence quickly followed and surrounded those gathered as they marched from 1st and Central, toward the federal courthouse. The Red Nation organized the event, and Teba said the group brought their own support to help safely manage crowd control during the march.

“We got our own people. We have our own security. We have our own cars. We have our own car support. We have our own people who are protecting us the cops aren’t here to protect us… It’s infuriating to see them.” Teba said.

Deborah Jiron (Kewa/Tuí), an elder and activist at the protest, said her sister was at the shootout where the federal agent was killed. She said that no one expected Peltier to be in prison this long but remains hopeful.

“Some people are saying he’ll never be free. You know, but, hearing that, then we’ll never be free. Because there’s so much injustice that we’re still continuing to go through,” Jiron said.  

Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI agent who was close to Peltier’s case, recently called for his clemency, she told the Red Nation Podcast that she was indoctrinated by the FBI to believe their narrative that he killed an FBI agent.

This motivates Teba because she sees this as momentum from their work fighting for Peltier’s freedom.

“There’s so much momentum going because there’s so many people who put that energy out, and there are people who receive it and are moved to do more,” Teba said. 

The Red Nation organizers at the event said their work continues to grow from the principles of AIM, and the liberation of all Indigenous people.

“We consider Red Power to be a continuation of the resistance that Indigenous people have always put forth since the inception of settler colonialism,” Marley said. “So it’s one big fight,” “And so we consider ourselves to be of the same traditions of resistance.” 

This story is originally published by Source NM