It’s Indigenous Peoples Day! And on this important holiday, I wanted to take a moment and call attention to an easily ignored item on the Illinois ballot.
Leonard Peliter was running as the Vice Presidential candidate for The Party for Socialism and Liberation. I immediately googled this, and it appears that he has since had to pull out from the race. But it’s important that his name is on the ballot in Illinois and other states, because it gives us a reason to talk about Peliter.
Leonard Peliter is an Indigenous activist from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Fort Totten Sioux reservations in North Dakota. He has spent almost 44 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. I can’t do this man, or the violence that existed on the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1970’s, justice in a blog post. However, as we are all filling out our November ballot, I want to encourage everyone to look up the events that took place on the Jumping Bull property on June 26th, 1975.
There are important parallels to present day in this story. The Jumping Bull family had invited members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) onto their land to help protect them from the state supported violence that was happening across the Pine Ridge reservation. On June 26th, two FBI agents drove unmarked vehicles onto the property. The wore street clothes and never identified themselves. Shots were fired, and when it was over, the two officers and a young Coeur d’Alene man named Joseph Killsright Stuntz were dead.
In 1998, I hosted a weekend of speakers and events around Native American activism. One of the activities from that event was a banner created with the names of those who died from state supported violence on Native land.
The shootout on the Jumping Bull property is part of a history of state supported violence in our country that continues to this day.
The FBI launched a large media campaign to focus on members of AIM who were on the property, particularly on Leonard Peltier. Investigators built a case against him out of evidence that was manipulated. Peltier fled to Canada where he was arrested on February 6, 1976. He was extradited in December based on testimony that the FBI knew to be coerced.
The trial was never intended to be a fair one that would shed light on what actually happened that day. The case was reassigned to a new judge right before it began. The government infiltrated the defense team. The jury was an all white jury. The defense team was unable to present evidence of FBI misconduct. Important ballistic evidence was withheld from the defense. There was no eye witness testimony that Peltier shot the FBI agents. I would recommend people read the “Trial of Leonard Peltier” by Jim Messerschmidt. It’s a book that really influenced my own work and activism when I read it nearly twenty five years ago. You can also read Peltier’s own reflections on his time in prison in his book “Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance.”
Leonard Peltier is a man who was defending his people from state supported violence, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and has spent the last 44 years behind bars. He is a political prisoner. And this month, his name is on the ballot for Vice President here in Illinois and in other states. If nothing else, I hope his placement on the ballot draws attention to his case. I hope everyone who does their ballot research takes the time to learn about him and then advocates for his freedom.