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The Leonard Peltier Case

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Created: August 5, 2003
Latest Update: June 19, 2004
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Leonard Peltier is imprisoned at Leavenworth.
(Leonard Peltier Defense Committee)

Answerability and Art in Prison

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, August 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Who is Leonard Peltier?

First of all, for those of you who don't know the story, it's important that you have access to as much of the story as can be pieced together for this discussion. As in most stories, there are many perspectives. And where there are many perspsectives, there are contradictions. I've listed just a few sources here that will give you two separate perspectives. The Free Peltier as a political prisoner perspective, and the story as told by a journalist, Scott Anderson in Outside Magazine.

    Free Peltier:

  • The Case of Leonard Peltier, Native American Political Prisoner Free
  • American Indiam Movement (AIM)
  • Statement of Bobby Castillo to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Leonard Peltier
  • The Martyrdom of Leonard Peltier By Scott Anderson. Outside magazine, July 1995. . . . Backup. Outside is a fairly general travel and sports magazine. Scott Anderson is an invsrigative reporter several of whose stories are on the Internet.

    "Coming away from my meeting with Ellison, I'm struck yet again by a strange irony: All the most visible and tireless proponents of the ongoing Peltier crusade--Matthiessen, Ellison, the filmmakers, the earnest young people in Lawrence, Kansas--are not Indians, but whites. It's an irony that Robert Grey Eagle, the former Pine Ridge AIM member, noticed a long time ago.

    "I think from the very beginning, we--both AIM and Indians in general--were hurt by a lot of white outsiders who came in, attached themselves to our cause, and ended up using the Indian movement for their own purposes. Maybe they didn't do it deliberately, but that was the result, and it is still going on. They are not letting these old wounds heal, and I resent that."

    Even worse, says Grey Eagle, is the subliminal message being communicated to American Indians: "I reject this idea that we, as Indians, are helpless victims and that the only heroes our children have to look up to are men in prison. I don't believe that. I find that an extremely condescending message."

    From Scott Andersens article; scroll down to about an inch from the end of the file.

    Ellison is Peltier's attorney. Matthiessen is the author of a book on Peltier, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. Matthiesen's book is wholly supportive of Peltier's claims of innocence. Given that the deaths of FBI officers were pretty horrific, the prosecution carries considerable affect for law enforcement, as well as for the American Indian Movement and its supporters.

    The Other Side:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. How are social movements altered by time?

      Here, the Pine Ridge community seems to have moved on. As Scott Anderson points out, today Peltier's supporters are more likely to be young white people. The Pine Ridge community and other Native American communities appear more concerned with the possibilities of civil improvements through gaming, through better equipped civil governance.

    2. Do these historical changes erase the merit of the contributions of the leaders of the AIM movement, or does it simply require us to re-interpret our history and understanding?

      I was affected by Scott Anderson's treatment of the effects of Leonard Peltier's almost mythical notoriety on the issue of his release.

    3. What does Scott Anderson have to say about Matthiessen, who wrote Peltier's story in the Spirit of Crazy Horse?

      Scott Anderson questions the extent to which facts were thoroughly investigated. These are evidence questions, and they should be answered from a legal standpoint. That means that suspicions aren't enough. Circumstantial evidence, which puts people on the scene at the same time counts, actual physical evidence of acts or presence, such as fingerprints and presence of a gun at some point where it could not have been under anyone else's my establish facts. And there are myriad rules of evidence. We are not entitled to decide for ourselves who is right, X, or Matthiessen, or Peltier, or the police who were near the scene. That is for the trier of facts to determine. Don't forget that as you read these many versions of the story and read, for example: "I know for an absolute fact . . . "

      As you read all this bear in mind that much of the evidence was circumstantial fact. That means that once the trier of fact has decided, the decision is regarded as legal truth, but that doesn't mean truth in the ordinary sense of the term. It means that once the trier of fact has decided what is "true" that may no longer be challenged on appeal by later courts except under such special circumstances as the sufficiency of the evidence standard.

      Who is Robbie Conal? And what role does he play in all this?