[S.I.S.I.S. note: On November 16, 1997, 1200 people attended a rally in San Francisco for Leonard Peltier. Leonard sent the following statement to the rally. A report on the rally follows.]
First, I thank all those who worked so hard for this event to happen, to those who contributed financially, and to those who still believe in the struggle.
Twenty-one years ago when I was illegally extradited from Canada, tried, and sentenced in a U.S. court to two consecutive life sentences, many issues faced Native people. Most of these issues involved wrongdoing by national and state government agencies such as:
1. The forced sterilization of over 3,000 Native women by the Department of Healthand the list goes on.
2. The forced removal of Dineh & Hopi families from the coal-rich country of their own lands on the Navajo reservation by the Department of the Interior
3. The targeting of Indian lands for use as nuclear dump sites by the Department of Energy
4. The fishing struggles of the Pacific Northwest and Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin where the various states were halting our people from exercising treaty rights
On the Pine Ridge Reservation, the FBI supported the GOON squad which killed 64 Native people during the time from 1973 to l975. All victims were members and supporters of the American Indian Movement. Twenty-one years later, not one arrest [in those] killings has been made, or even an investigation.
Today, we still face issues that threaten our way of life, our environment, our youth, and the future of this planet. These issues are found in every state, every region, every city. Large corporations are allowed to pollute the air, water and land without penalty. This pollution--the highly toxic, radiated contamination of soil; the chemicalization of rivers and streams which kill all water life; and the millions of tons of smog and life-threatening odors spewed into the air hourly, every day of the year--is tampering with the work of the Creator. Now violent gangs are controlling the streets of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Miami, and many other large metropolitan centers. In short, the issues of yesterday are still very much with us today.
That is why I call upon young America to stand in struggle and exercise your heritage and future to take back the streets, take back the nights, take back this country from those who are destroying it. Ask yourself, "What is more important?"
Bottled water or naturally pure water?
Productive soil or soil in which nothing grows?
Clear cutting or reforestation?
To think only of this generation or for seven generations to come?
Stand up America, stand up and move to action. Let our generations to come be proud of our stand. Let them be proud of who we were. Let them say, "They knew what was wrong and moved head on to bring about change."
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
In an historic show of solidarity, 1,200 people joined in a spirited rally here Nov. 16, demanding freedom for imprisoned Native leader Leonard Peltier.
For five hours, people of all ages and nationalities celebrated the spirited Native drumming, music and words of singers and speakers--including American Indian Movement leaders Dennis Banks, Mary Jane Wilson, Floyd Westerman and John Trudell. Ramsey Clark, just returned from his trip to Iraq, also gave a major talk.
There was very strong participation of hundreds of Native people from over 25 tribes and reservations--including Choctaw, Oglala Lakota, Wahpeton Sisseton, Wailaki, Anishinabe, Santee Sioux, Ihanktopwan Sioux, San Juan Bautista and San Manuel bands of Mission Indians, Cancow, Pitt River, Pomo, Paiute, Tlingit, Western Shoshone, Navajo, Winnebago and many others.
The word of the rally had spread through the Native communities. People came from California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska and Colorado.
Everyone who attended evinced a real sense of optimism that Leonard Peltier will be freed through the people's action. Cheers of "Free Leonard Peltier!" broke out continually.
Youths and students were everywhere, listening to talks or helping out. Volunteers worked hard all afternoon.
Millions around the world recognize Peltier as a political prisoner. He was framed by the FBI, and the U.S. government has vindictively held him in prison for over 21 years.
Legal appeals and 35 million petition signatures have failed to win his release despite overwhelming evidence of an FBI frame-up. As Peltier has said, it will take the people's struggle to win his freedom.
The National People's Campaign initiated this rally to raise anew public awareness of Peltier's struggle. It was co-sponsored by the American Indian Movement and the Bring Peltier Home Campaign, and endorsed by dozens of groups.
In the last two months, Native students and other youths had held meetings to publicize the gathering, and mobilized to attend. Local Peltier support committees, prisoners' rights and environmental groups also joined in.
Chief was a participant in the 1972 AIM takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington. He was imprisoned for his courageous stand in refusing to surrender papers taken from the BIA.
The All-Nations drummers, led by Mike Bellinger, then sang the AIM song to the thunderous drum beat. The Friendship House Sobriety Drummers also sang.
Mary Jane Wilson of the Anishinabe nation was the master of ceremonies along with NPC organizer Gloria La Riva and the Rev. Dorsey Blake. Wilson is a co-founder of AIM, which was begun by Dennis Banks in 1968 in Minneapolis.
She began by saying: "It pains my heart when I think about my brother Leonard and the time that he is spending away from us. It pains my heart every night when I talk to my grandchildren and I know that my brother would like to be home doing this."
The first speakers were Cora Lee Simmons and Bear Lincoln from Round Valley Indian Reservation, three hours north of San Francisco. Lincoln became known when he was charged with first- and second-degree murder in an ambush killing of his friend by the Mendocino County police during which a police officer was also killed. Lincoln faced the death penalty if convicted.
Cora Lee Simmons, Wailaki and Little Lake Indian, formed the Round Valley Indians for Justice to support Lincoln. On Sept. 23, in a major victory, Lincoln was acquitted of the first- and second-degree murder charges. He still faces charges on manslaughter but is currently free on bail.
At the rally, Simmons and Lincoln received joyous cheers from the audience for their struggle and victory. Simmons said: "The injustices, we're sick and tired of it. We say no more, no more. It's come full circle. Now it's our turn for justice, and that's just what we got for Bear Lincoln."
Lincoln remarked on the similarity between his case and Peltier's: "There was police cover-up, police corruption just abounded in my and Leonard's case. ...
"It's a miracle that I'm here to speak about the shooting incident. All of you are here to share in that victory because you wrote letters and cards. We need to get stronger in unity and we will see Leonard Peltier free."
Dorsey Nunn of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children talked of the FBI's COINTELPRO war on African American and Native communities. "Behind Leonard are 1.5 million human beings locked up in cases in the U.S," Nunn said.
Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, gave an update on the IITC's work at the United Nations against arbitrary detentions of people in the United States. With an upcoming resolution, she said, "We hope to begin a real investigation into the case of Leonard Peltier."
Next was the beautiful voice of Floyd Red Crow Westerman, a Lakota singer/guitarist and actor who has appeared in movies and on television. He is also AIM's cultural ambassador. Willie French Lowrie, Tuscarora of North Carolina, accompanied him.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Irish liberation activist, sent solidarity greetings, saying, "We have to stand together now and stand behind all the victims of political repression." Tahnee Stair, NPC youth coordinator for the rally, read the statement and detailed the struggle of Devlin's daughter, Roisin McAliskey, being held in prison by British authorities.
Texas death-row inmates in the group Panthers United for Revolutionary Education sent a moving message of solidarity. These brothers, even while fighting for their lives, have issued declarations of support for many causes.
Their letter read in part: "For 22 years now this great Native leader has been unjustly locked away but our hope and faith that he will one day again be free has not whittled one iota across time and space. ... Long live the People! And forever may we stand in solidarity! Free Leonard Peltier!"
John Trudell, AIM director from 1973 to 1978 and a recording artist, was a young participant in the 1969 Alcatraz Island occupation, and later at Wounded Knee. His introduction alone, detailing a life of struggle, drew a standing ovation.
Trudell read a poem, "Shoot-Out at Jumping Bull," and said, "The reason that Peltier cannot get justice, why the courts are acting as an extension of the FBI, is because there's a cover-up going on and the U.S. government does not want the American people to know."
Larry Holmes of Workers World Party received a standing ovation when he spoke of the U.S. government's war against Mumia Abu-Jamal and Peltier. "Why is the government bent on murdering Mumia? Why are they bent on seeing Leonard rot in jail? What are they afraid of?
"They're afraid of us! This government is afraid of anyone standing up and saying, 'No, I will protest injustice, I will stand up to racism.'
"Because this government defends the capitalist system that needs control and order, it cannot tolerate challenge here or anywhere else. That's why President Clinton has sent an armada of ships, warships with bigger bombs, to the Middle East, to beat up on Iraq some more.
"In many ways, what this whole meeting is about, what Peltier and Mumia and all the political prisoners mean, is that we live in a system defended by a government that's afraid of its people."
Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general and Peltier's lead lawyer, expressed the great spirit of the crowd, "If the words and music you've heard this afternoon haven't stirred your soul, you'd better check in with your local coroner and find out what happened with you!"
Clark said: "Leonard would be pretty upset if I didn't talk about a crisis because he always stood up to every crisis. That's why he was on the reservation of Pine Ridge in June 1975, on the 99th anniversary of the battle of Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876. ...
"The crisis is our government again threatening massive violence against the defenseless people of Iraq."
To applause and cheers, he concluded: "Until Leonard is free we are all at risk--because he represents whether the American people have the will to stand up finally to powerful economic interests that control communications and media, that control our military-industrial complex, that are ravaging poor people across the planet. It's essential that we free Leonard Peltier now, and having done that, that we recognize Native American people as first, first, first among equals."
Leonard Peltier's aunt, Patty Bear Robideau of the Wahpeton Sisseton reservation in South Dakota, talked on behalf of her family. She spoke of the last time she saw Peltier, just before the FBI came to her house searching for him. Of course, she refused to cooperate.
She read from a letter to her from Peltier, saying, "Please thank everyone at the demonstration for me, and tell them I love them very much."
A special statement from Leonard Peltier to the rally was read by Desert Horse Grant, a Stanford University student, Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, who had organized members of the Stanford American Indian Club to attend the rally.
To introduce Dennis Banks, Mary Jane Wilson gave an eloquent explanation of the hopelessness that existed for Native people--the poverty, racism, brutal repression, state kidnappings of Indian children--before the American Indian Movement was founded in Minneapolis on July 28, 1968.
She said: "That movement came about because someone had a vision. A vision that something could be done about what was happening to us. Someone heard. You know who that was? Dennis Banks."
Banks, Anishinabe, emphasized one point--the struggle--in a rousing and fiery speech.
He said: "I want to take one of the lines from Leonard, 'and to those people that still believe in struggle.' Every day that you wake up, every morning, every year, you have to be about struggle. If there is somebody in prison, you must be about struggle ... . And if this country, the United States of America, is threatening another country, you must be about struggle!
"What might have been the outcome if this same crowd had lived in 1875, during 1889, 1890, when the military was going out to massacre people at Wounded Knee? What might have been the outcome? It might have been different. But instead 250 men, women and children were gunned down, killed, put in a mass grave because people were not about struggle.
"And 21 years ago, Leonard Peltier, on the Pine Ridge reservation, was about struggle."
Banks proposed a cross-country caravan for Leonard Peltier in March 1998, to join with the March 27 Jericho '98 March in Washington for political prisoners. He called on young people at the rally and others to join him in March.
"We would like to go there to express our solidarity for all those prisoners who are in jail because of their political beliefs. Leonard Peltier is in jail not because of the incident that happened at Oglala, S.D. It is because the government of the United States was afraid of the American Indian Movement.
"Today, we want to show Leonard Peltier, if he can hear: Leonard, I want you to hear the voices of San Francisco. Free Leonard Peltier! Free Leonard Peltier!"
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