Mural Unveiled in Honor of Leonard Peltier
By Chloe Marina Manchester
On October 12, during Olympia’s inaugural Indigenous People’s Day celebration, Chauncey Peltier, Leonard Peltier’s oldest son, and Ira Coyne, unveiled a mural at the Artesian Well in honor of Leonard Peltier. The mural itself is a replica of an original painting by Leonard Peltier called Stalking, which he made while in prison.
Coyne, the mural painter, was looking through some of Peltier’s paintings from his time in prison and said that pink lion jumped out at him.
Leonard Peltier is the longest held Native American (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) political prisoner in United States history. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 1977 for the alleged murder of two federal agents in a shootout on Pine Ridge. He admitted to having been at the shooting but denies having committed the crime. There is evidence that he did not murder the agents, including one document released under the freedom of information act suggests that the bullet found in one of the agent’s trunk came from a different gun than the one connected to Peltier.
Some of the Pine Ridge American Indian Movement members had cases against them thrown out for evidence mishandling and other rights violations. Documents released to Peltier’s lawyers in the 1980’s suggest similar issues with evidence issue. The jury on Peltier’s case was not allowed to know about the FBI coercion and evidence mishandlings on other similar cases. Peltier has been in maximum security prisons for nearly forty years. He is now 71.
The unveiling celebration fir this new mural began with drumming and singing from three long time Leonard Peltier supporters from various tribes. They set up beneath one of two tents, the other housed a donation box, petitions, “Free Peltier” buttons for a dollar, and some original and reproduced examples of Leonard Peltier’s art.
After the drumming, speakers took the stage. Leonard Peltier’s son, Chauncey Peltier, spoke first. He started by speaking about his father’s supporters. When Leonard Peltier was first in prison there was outrage, but now many people don’t even know about his case at all, he began, others think he was let out by president Clinton and that it’s all over and done with, but it’s not. He argued, people still need to fight for Leonard Peltier to be granted clemency. Chauncey Peltier says that President Obama is likely his last real chance at getting clemency and Obama only has so much time left in the White House. Many people with whom Chauncey Peltier has spoken too in the past say that they already signed a petition or wrote the White House, but that has to happen again with every new president. He said, “If you ever supported Leonard call, write the White House.”
A theme through Chauncey Peltier’s speech was that this could happen to anyone. “Anybody could be Leonard Peltier these days. If they don’t like what you’re saying, you could be Leonard Peltier […] It don’t matter what color you are anymore.”
This was echoed by later speaker, Raven Redbone, “Anyone who speaks out runs the risk of being put in.” Redbone went on to say that the rights violations that Leonard Peltier has endured and continues to suffer at the hands of the United States government aren’t just happening to him. It could happen to any of us. “We gotta live by this justice system. All I’m asking is justice.” Said Chauncey Peltier.
Multiple speeches given at the unveiling also centered around environmentalism, with Chauncey Peltier saying that the destruction of their natural land was one of the reasons the people of the Pine Ridge reservation asked for Leonard Peltier to come help defend them against the federal government.
In the years leading up to the shootout for which Peltier was convicted. There was what has long been referred to as the “Reign of Terror” on the Pine Ridge Reservation. During that time, 64 Native Americans were murdered and nearly 350 were subjected to non-lethal but serious physical assault. Almost all of them had ties to the American Indian Movement. This culminated in the 1975 “incident at Oglala” which lead to Peltier’s conviction.
The American Indian Movement was started around the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the Chicano Power Movement. It was centered around Native American rights and preservation of Native American people and land.
A factor in the murders of many Native Americans on the Pine Ridge reservation were the natural resources present there. Resources many corporations wanted, said Chauncey Peltier. He went on to say that the corporations and governments are trying to bleed the planet dry for money, not caring that it ruins the lives of the non-wealthy. “They’re already up there looking for a new planet, do you think they’re going to take any of us with them? Heck no!”
Following the majority of speakers Chauncey Peltier went around and smudged the mural and the audience while the drummers were singing and drumming. For those unfamiliar, smudging is the cleansing and protection of people or places by way of ceremonially burning herbs, usually sage, and wafting the smoke. Adrian, one of the drummers, said the song they were performing was Leonard Peltier’s song. “This song says ‘Our friend is over there, we are over here, we will dance for you,’ over there meaning that he is in prison.”
Amnesty International considers Leonard Peltier a political prisoner and believes he should be released. From the Amnesty International website, they believe “that in the context of these ongoing concerns, the US authorities should order Leonard Peltier’s release from prison on humanitarian grounds and in the interests of justice.” During Peltier’s trial, ballistic evidence was withheld and a key witness, Myrtle Poor Bear, who said she saw Peltier kill the two agents later admitted this was false and being coerced by the FBI.
To learn more about Leonard Peltier’s case or find out how you can help him and his cause, go to whoisleonardpeltier.info. To find out more about his art go to peltierart.com, which his son manages.