was no cake to put candles on, but the small group gathered on Monument Circle
on Sept. 12 made a birthday wish anyway. They then gathered signatures in
support of that wish, which will be forwarded to President Obama with a request
for executive clemency for political prisoner Leonard Peltier,
whose 69th birthday they were commemorating.
by Kelly Reagan Tudor, a Lipan Apache mother of two, the rally provided an
opportunity to educate the public about Peltier. "Most
people don't know who Leonard is," she said. "Most of them have never
even heard his name."
Peltier, an Anishinaabe-Lakota and an American Indian Movement activist,
has been in prison for 38 years for the murder of two FBI agents, a crime he
insists he didn't commit. Denied a wide range of basic human rights, he has endured beatings
and been denied medical care for a number of health issues.
Amnesty International acknowledges Leonard as a
political prisoner, listing his case in the "unfair trials" category of itsAnnual Report: USA 2010, citing
concerns about the fairness of the proceedings. In
July 2013 the group once again called for his release
for his releaseon humanitarian grounds.
They aren't the only ones pleading for Peltier's release. The list of notables includes Nelson
Mandela; the Dalai
Lama; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights; the Parliaments of Europe, Italy and Belgium and the Kennedy Memorial
Center for Human Rights. Before he passed away, Judge Gerald W. Heaney of the Eighth
Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his previous opinion at the trial and joined
those asking for Peltier's freedom.
The National Congress of American Indians
unanimously passed a Resolution for Clemency
for Clemencyfor Peltier in November 2011.
James Anaya, special rapporteur
supports clemency. He presented his remarks to the United Nations in September
Hoping to collect 300
signatures, Tudor said that upon hearing Peltier's
story, most passersby signed the petition
petitionurging clemency "right away." She plans to forward the
petitions to the White House by way of the Leonard Peltier
Defense Offense Committee.
But, expressing fears that nothing will
change, she wonders, "How many petitions is it going to take?"
president of the Native American Student Alliance at Indiana University-Purdue
University Indianapolis, speculates that the government is "scared of the
uproar" his release would cause. Nevertheless, she expresses faith in the
president. "I want [President] Obama to
act. He can make a difference."
far, he hasn't. Over a year ago the White House received more than 5,000
electronic signatures and 7,000 hard-copy signatures on a petition to free Peltier. Not only has Obama failed to grant executive clemency
to grant executive clemency, but he has also declined to comment on the
petition, citing White House policy not to comment on individual pardon
keep spirits from wavering, Peltier sent a message of
encouragement to his supporters, writing:
I am Barack Obama's political prisoner now, and I hope and
pray that he will adhere to the ideals that impelled him to run for president.
But as Obama himself would acknowledge, if we are
expecting him to solve our problems, we missed the point of his campaign. Only
by organizing in our own communities and pressuring our supposed leaders can we
bring about the changes that we all so desperately need. While the current administration has done more for our people
than any in recent history, we cannot stand idly by. We must be involved
with bringing about the change we need.
Believing that the time has come to address the
many years of abuse suffered by Indigenous people, Peltier
continued: "We cannot afford to sit back and wait for justice and equal
treatment for our people. We cannot sit back and wait for change and 'hope'
that conditions will get better. We have to get involved in making that
change happen. We have to take charge of our destiny."
It's one of the many lessons Peltier
has offered to his supporters over the years, as his message has become one of
unity. In fact, he has become a rallying point for disparate tribes. According
to Mary White Face, who has collected signatures in support of Peltier at more than one rally, "All Indians are upset
about Leonard being kept in prison."
Recalling a history of mutual support amongst
Indigenous peoples, Peltier said that is once again
the goal at hand. "We want to
re-establish that relationship. As Indigenous peoples, we must never forget
that we are all related. The time has come for us to come together
again, to mend the sacred hoop that forever keeps us as one mind in one
family. Let no man divide us forever."
the petition asking for executive clemency for Leonard Peltier,