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Leonard Peltier — Political Prisoner
A Brief Biography
Leonard Peltier, (1988 photo) a citizen of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations, is a father, a grandfather, an artist, a writer, and an Indigenous rights activist. He has spent more than twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Amnesty International considers him a "political prisoner" who should be "immediately and unconditionally released."
To the international community, the case of Leonard Peltier is a stain on America's Human Rights record. Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev. Jesse Jackson are only a few who have called for his freedom. To many Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history of abuse and repression they have endured. The National Congress of American Indians and the Assembly of First Nations, representing the majority of First Nations in the U.S. and Canada, have repeatedly called for Leonard Peltier's freedom.
Leonard Peltier is 58 years old and was born on the Anishinabe (Chippewa) Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He came from a large family of 13 brothers and sisters. He grew up in poverty, and survived many traumatic experiences resulting from U.S. government policies aimed to assimilate Native Peoples.
At the age of eight he was taken from his family and sent to a residential boarding school for Native people run by the US Government. There, the students were forbidden to speak their languages and they suffered both physical and psychological abuses.
As a teenager Leonard Peltier returned to live with his father at the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. It was one of three reservations, which the United States Government chose as the testing ground for its new termination policy. The policy forced Native families off their reservations and into the cities. The resulting protests and demonstrations by tribal members introduced Leonard Peltier to Native resistance through activism and organizing.
one particularly difficult winter on the Turtle
Mountain Reservation Leonard Peltier recollects
protests by his people to the Bureau of Indian
Affairs about the desperate lack of food. (The
termination policy withdrew federal assistance,
including food, from those who remained on their
land). Following these protests, B.I.A. social
workers came to the reservation to investigate the
situation. Leonard Peltier and one of the organizers
on the reservation went from household to household
before the arrival of the investigating party to
tell the local people to hide what little food they
had. When he got to the first house, he found that
there was no food to hide and the same story was
repeated in each of the households that he went to.
This experience awakened him to the desperate
situation for all people on his reservation.
1965, Leonard Peltier moved to Seattle, Washington,
where he worked for several years as part owner of
an auto body shop which he used to employ Native
people and to provide low-cost automobile repairs
for those who needed it. During the same period, he
was also active in the founding of a Native halfway
house for ex-prisoners. His community volunteer work
included Native Land Claim issues, alcohol
counseling, and participation in protests concerning
the preservation of Native land within the city of
In the late 1960's and early 1970's Leonard Peltier began traveling to different Native communities. He spent a lot of time in Washington and Wisconsin and was working as a welder, carpenter, and community counselor for Native people. In the course of his work he became involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM) and eventually joined the Denver Colorado chapter. In Denver, he worked as a community counselor confronting unemployment, alcohol problems and poor housing. He became strongly involved in the spiritual and traditional programs of AIM.
Peltier's participation in the American Indian
Movement led to his involvement in the 1972 Trail of
broken Treaties which took him to Washington D.C.,
in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
behind bars, he has helped to establish scholarships
for Native students and special programs for
Indigenous youth. He has served on the advisory
board of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, and has
sponsored children in Central America. He has
donated to battered women's shelters, organized the
annual Christmas drive for the people of Pine Ridge
Reservation, and promoted prisoner art programs.