But most importantly, Leonard Peltier sits in prison because he, along with many courageous men and women of the American Indian Movement (AIM), dared to confront the most powerful government in the world to demand justice and true democracy for their people. Among other things, they demanded that whites should not get away with murdering Native Americans, that tribal governments be accountable to the people, that the US government end its exploitation of Indian land. These demands expressed legitimate grievances that any American citizen should have a right to present.
What did the US do in response? Rather than seeking justice, it labelled AIM members as “terrorists” and “armed extremists”, then launched a massive paramilitary assault which resulted in the deaths of the two agents and one of the Native American defenders, Joe Stuntz. To mop up any further resistance, the FBI engineered a surrogate force, appropriately called the Goons, who began a reign of terror on Pine Ridge in which nearly 80 AIM members were brutally murdered. That this could happen in the US is unbelievable!
I see many parallels between the US oppression of Native Americans and the handling of dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In the US, AIM members were called “terrorists” or “armed extremists”; in the Soviet Union they were labeled as “hooligans” or criminals. Puppet governments were installed in the republics and Eastern Europe to create the impression of self-determination. On Pine Ridge and other reservations Tribal Councils served this purpose. Rebellions in Eastern Europe were brutally crushed by the surrogate for Moscow, the Warsaw Pact; at Pine Ridge, the FBI clandestinely instigated a reign of terror through its surrogates, the Goons. Not surprisingly, the scores of brutal murders have not been investigated to this day.
What is most distressing about this tragic situation is that while Leonard Peltier still suffers his unjust imprisonment, other political prisoners are now free and even leaders of their countries, as in some East European countries and South Africa. Sadly, due to genocide, Native Americans may never share power with those who have taken over their land. However, any country which claims to respect human rights could not punish the indigenous people for wanting to retain control of their land and identity.
The continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, despite appeals from Nelson Mandela and other well-respected human rights advocates, is a sign of the Jekyl-Hyde nature of the United States. Perhaps it is too busy pointing fingers at others to see the log in its own eye. The so-called “Indian problem” is really a problem with the United States whereby it cannot, after 500 years of violence and oppression, declare an end to the Indian Wars. What would be so terrible if peace were to be declared and Leonard Peltier released at last? Why not let Native America live with the rest of America for the enrichment of all Americans? How beautiful it would be if the United States actually practiced what it preached to others!