Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a TMO contributor. Her opinions are her own.
A letter from long term political prisoner Leonard Peltier was read aloud by Bert Waters at the 45th Day of Mourning commemoration, which took place on November 27, 2014 in Plymouth Massachusetts. Every year, a letter from Peltier is read out loud to the crowd. Native American organizer Peltier, who grew up in Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian Reservation, North Dakota, has served 37 years of a life sentence for allegedly killing an FBI agent. Peltier has long insisted on his innocence, and asserted that during his trial, the government withheld evidence and intimidated witnesses. Every presidential term, Peltier’s supporters have begged unsuccessfully for amnesty.
“The blatant government misconduct was a mitigating factor which should bear strongly on whether I should be immediately considered for parole,” he argues.
Peltier is now 70 years old and losing his vision. This year’s letter reading was particularly moving because it sounded like he doesn’t have much time left to live. Still, he is trying to stay positive.
“In here, I am able to focus on the simple things in life. You have no idea how cool it is, just to get a new pair of socks,” Peltier wrote. “In the past few months, I have really been feeling my age, and I am so very thankful for all the support you have given to me. I won’t lie, it has been a rough time, lately, but I am hopeful that is changing. My people have always had a deep connected relationship with the sun, and I realized the other day just how much I miss the sun. When I had the sun’s light upon me, I felt stronger. These walls hold out the sun’s energy, and it weakens me.”
Peltier stressed that personal visits and even the smell of the fiber in the paper his letters are written on helps him feel “a bit of the sunshine again.” He said that his point is that “we may find the things we need in places that we might not expect.”
“I can always pray. This can never be taken away from me. And through that prayer, I can keep the sun, and hope alive. On this day, Thanksgiving, I shall choose to be thankful, and not to celebrate tyranny. And I’ll also pray for you, and with you. I pray for each and every one of you, whether you support me or not. I pray that your lives will be full of meaning, and that you will find new ways to learn. I pray for your strength, and that you will always stand up for the things that you know are right. I pray that each one of you find a way to protect our Mother Earth. She is crying out for us to hear her. I pray that you will listen to your inner wisdom, let it guide you to make choices that will help each other and that you will be examples of those still learning their way in this life. I pray that you will be present with the moment you have, and enjoy the simple things of life, like the sun, the dirt, the air, the water, and that you would protect them as you would your own children.
“I pray that you will look for opportunities to lift up your sisters and brothers, and not bring them down. I pray that you will grow and enjoy good, natural food. I pray that you savor the attention of your loved ones, and that you build bridges of peace to those you oppose. I pray that when others make bad choices, that you would help them find positive solutions. I pray for understanding in times of misunderstanding.
“And yes, I pray very deeply and honestly that I can go home, go home for a little while, before I cross over, cross over to the spirit world.”
At this point many people in the audience of about 300 persons began to weep.
“I am with you always, and I feel your prayers too. I am always grateful for your support, your love, your friendship, your letters and contact you give me with life. It is harder for me to physically see well enough to write letters these days, so please forgive me if I I don’t write back. It’s not that I don’t want to. Know that I am often sitting and thinking of you and being thankful for you, all of you. Your old, thankful friend and brother. In the spirit of Crazy Horse, Leonard Peltier.”
A red blanket with gold fringe was carried through the crowd to collect donations for Peltier’s legal fund, so that he can continue to fight for his release (see leonardpeltier.info).
The group then performed their traditional march through town, past Plymouth Rock, chanting among other things, “Free Leonard Peltier!” singing tribal songs and beating drums. After a prayer and burning of sage at the town square where the head of the rebellious Wampanoag chief Metacom, also known as King Philip, was displayed on a stake for twenty years by the Puritans in front of First Parish Church in the late 1600’s, the crowd enjoyed a turkey dinner inside the church, provided by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE).
Despite his imprisonment, Peltier is widely recognized for his remarkable contributions to humanitarian causes. He “has played a key role in getting people from different tribes, with a history of animosity, to come together in peace.” He has worked with various communities to improve health care on US reservations, stimulate reservation-based businesses, organized an emergency food drive for Mexico, and developed prisoner art programs. Peltier counsels other Native American prisoners to rehabilitate themselves by advocating a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle upholding the beauty of their tribal heritage and customs.