Peltier's 69th birthday, calls for clemency continue

Organizer Mary WhiteFace passes out information about Leonard to educate people about his plight


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

on 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 Peltier in November 2011.

James Anaya, special rapporteur

with The

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

, also

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


urging 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?"

Carrie Castoreno,

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

, 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."

To sign

the petition asking for executive clemency for Leonard Peltier,

go to: