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Leonard Peltier. Now what do we do?

by Paul DeMain, Editor

For years it was a search for the truth. And several thousand, maybe millions of prayers later, with pipes and ceremonies behind us, perhaps that is what is happening. It is one thing to make a vow on a Pipe not to tell on one another... which Leonard has invoked again and again over the years when people have attempted to speak out — about the events of June 26, 1975 and subsequent murder of Annie Mae Aquash and others that AIM supporters thought were going to or did, "rat on him," and other AIM activists.

Perhaps his Canupa is telling on him. For those of use who believe in the Pipe and traditional ways, we know one thing, say what you want, but the spirits know the truth. Ask humbly, and they will tell you what to believe now as well.

There is nothing in this message that can make you happy. To people like Ron Lessard, Harvey Arden, Peter Matthiesson, Frank and Anne Dreaver, members of the LPDC, politicians and everyday common people who have put their lives, their money, their political careers on the line to elevate the issue of Leonard Peltier to the world, my heart goes out to them, you and me too. But, I can’t be afraid to say the King has no clothes. To do so would be to turn my back on everything I believe about the role of Native story tellers, speakers, messengers and the truth as I know it. And it makes me angry to think we have all been used.

The search for the truth has been like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with a thousand different pieces. Over the course of 27 years, I and others, like the late Richard LaCourse, have worked to put the pieces together. I have flown to Washington D.C. to review FBI files. I have looked over hundreds of 302s, the infamous FBI reports which in the end discredited as much of their evidence as it provided clues to what happened. I have read again and again, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse and have little notes hanging on dozens of pages that highlight important statements. I have reviewed trial transcripts, newsletters, news articles, magazine interviews and countless statements by Peltier, filling boxes and boxes of material now stored on the shelves of the NFIC archives.

But in the end, while crossing back and forth over the issue of "without doubt," and crossing back again to wonder, it simply took a delegation of people who were tired of all the deceptions, lies and dangers to step forward and tell me the truth. "Peltier was responsible for the close range execution of the agents..." and that was the end of that. I have no reason to doubt the group of people, and others I have since conversed with, that they are now telling the truth. They are people who have agonized for years, grandfathers and grandmothers, AIM activists, Pipe carriers and others who have carried a heavy unhealthy burden within them that has taken its toll.

These people tell me another reason why they had to step this far forward while indicating that at some time in the future, they believe that who they are, and all the reasons they came forward will become public. They told me Leonard has endangered the lives of a lot of other people who were at Jumping Bull compound, and on the FBI suspect list. They have to live an unclosed life, denying inquiries, getting questioned like they may have been the real killer, and if they aren’t why were they hiding the real killer and keeping Leonard in jail? "There has been no closure, no healing possible while this charade continues. We can not get on with our lives," as long as Peltier insists that he is an innocent man. Think about it.

I’ve also been told that Cris Westerman drove the Red Pick-up truck into the compound to look for Wanda Siers and her children or other people. When they found out that most had already fled, the driver turned the truck around and left the compound, driving past a police road block, without stopping, on the way out. The Red Pick-up had no other significance.

While putting the puzzle together, most of the journalists that had contributed to our effort had pieced together 950 of the pieces. The picture drawn was consistent, maddening, angry and troublesome, just like the times were in 1975 at Pine Ridge. But what to do with the left over pieces, and why were there 100 pieces, when it would take only fifty to finish the puzzle? It’s because fifty pieces represented the truth and would fit, and another fifty were lies, deceptions, smoke and mirrors. Part of a charade.

Not any better that the FBI engaged in the same game. Perhaps knowing exactly what happened June 26, 1975 but unable to penetrate the deep hate and anger, silence they helped create with their actions at Pine Ridge, engaging in activities that have led to the discrediting of evidence, secret and selective release of documents, murky witnesses that evaporated through-out the Peltier case, operatives darkening their own reputation and helping people to find that element of doubt that leads them to believe it possible that Peltier is innocent of shooting the agents.

But let’s look at just some of the pieces of the puzzle, some that ended up being smoke and mirrors when we looked at all the things said.

Peltier, Feb. 7, 1976 to Corporal R.C. Tweedy

Peltier told Tweedy... that the two agents had been killed because they had come to arrest him on the Wisconsin attempted murder charges. Asked if he himself shot the agents, Peltier told Tweedy, "No, but I know who did."

Peltier, 1995 interview with Lee Hill.

"All I can say is this, people on my reservation know about what happened that day. They know who fought and they knew who was courageous and they know who was the hero. They know I fought very, very hard that day. Although I didn’t kill nobody, I fought very, very hard. I was not afraid. I stood there (unintelligible) the enemy as a warrior should when he’s victorious. I wasn’t afraid. I was not afraid any of those times. I can’t get up here and say, tell the world I was a courageous warrior. Especially in this system, I can’t tell the system I was shooting at their police officers that were trying to arrest me. They’ll hold that against me. I’ve got to be careful about that stuff."

Peltier, 1991 in Incident at Oglala regarding

Mr. X killing the agents

"This story is true. But I can’t and will not say anything about it. For me to testify against anybody or even mention, try to get somebody else in trouble is wrong. And I won’t do it."

Peltier, 1991 during Darrin Wood interview regarding Mr. X

"For me it’s something very heroic that he’s done. He’s putting himself at risk, seriously at risk. I will say this: that this brother is a very strong brother. He is not a cold-blooded murderer. He is not a bad person, he’s very kind, generous and sincere."

Peltier, 1995 interview with Lee Hill regarding Mr. X

Q. Would you say you did it to get out?

Peltier: "If I got the approval from my chiefs, my leaders back home on the reservation, traditional leaders, yeah. If they said, yes, do it, so I can get out of prison, yeah, I’d probably do it. It wouldn’t be true, but I don’t give a shit. Then the case is closed and Mr. X never has to worry. He can go on spend the rest of his life, whatever, live the rest of his life out without having to ever worry about it." ...I am so sincere and committed to my belief that we’re not the guilty parties there, on Pine Ridge on June 26, that I will die in prison if I have to before I would implicate, before I would make false accusations. If they came to me today and said, you tell us who Mr. X is, we’ll turn you loose now. My response is fuck you. ...of course I’d have to see it on paper that I was getting out the door."

Dino Butler, 1995 interview with

E.K. Caldwell, News From Indian Country

"That is all totally false." "It was brought up about creating this lie about Mr. X being there and killing those men... to create this lie to show that someone else pulled the trigger... so it was decided that nobody would use this Mr. X theory — that it would be shelved."

Peltier, 1999 interview with Peter Worthington, Toronto Sun

"I don’t know for a fact who did the shooting, but I think I know," "But I can’t say anything. Who’d believe me? Besides, we have a tradition that you don’t turn against your own. This wasn’t a domestic dispute in 1975, it was a war."

Peltier, 1999 interview with CNN

"I didn’t kill those agents. I didn’t see who killed those agents. And if I did know, I’m not telling."

Peltier, 2000 interview with Pacifica Radio, Democracy Now

"Mr. X is, could be anybody. I mean there’s no doubt somebody killed these agents, but we don’t know who he is."

Peltier, 2000 interview with Lee Williams, Argus Leader News

"I know I’ve said in the past who he is. I said it out of anger, I don’t know who it is, either Mr. X, Y or Z."

Peltier, 1999 interview with CNN

Mark Potter: So with those cars down there, at the center of all that, you, as a leader, never, never went down to see what was going on? Peltier: Right.

Mark Potter: You never saw the bodies? Peltier: No.

Later Peltier changes his account when told that another AIM member said publicly [that] he and Peltier approached the agents’ cars.

Mark Potter: Did you see the agents dead?

Peltier: Yeah, Well, shoot. I mean I, I. Yeah, I gue[ss], you know. I knew they were de[ad], they got killed; I heard they got killed. I knew they got killed.

Robert Robideau to Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

When the Red Truck was gone, the three men crossed the pasture to the agents’ cars. A shotgun was leaning against the rear bumper, and there was a rifle on the ground... "while Dino and Leonard was searching’ em for weapons, I was gathering up whatever I could find."

Peltier to Matthiessen, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse

In his account of the silence after the killing, when he and his partners had approached the bodies, Leonard had grunted, his face colorless. "I felt like we were all dead," he said to somebody. "I was feeling crazy because there were still women and children up there in June’s cabin. When Joe came down there to the cars, I said to him, I think they’re gonna kill everyone here. That’s what I told him, this is the day to be a warrior."

(Next Issue: Mid February, a few more pieces of the puzzle fall in place)
 
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