Leonard Peltier

Artist Statement

   

Leonard Peltier, (pictured above in a 1988 photo) a citizen of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations, is a father, a grandfather, an artist, a writer, and an Indigenous rights activist. He has spent more than twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Amnesty International considers him a "political prisoner" who should be "immediately and unconditionally released."

To the international community, the case of Leonard Peltier is a stain on America's Human Rights record. Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev. Jesse Jackson are only a few who have called for his freedom. To many Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history of abuse and repression they have endured. The National Congress of American Indians and the Assembly of First Nations, representing the majority of First Nations in the U.S. and Canada, have repeatedly called for Leonard Peltier's freedom.

Leonard Peltier is 58 years old and was born on the Anishinabe (Chippewa) Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He came from a large family of 13 brothers and sisters. He grew up in poverty, and survived many traumatic experiences resulting from U.S. government policies aimed to assimilate Native Peoples.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's Leonard Peltier began traveling to different Native communities. He spent a lot of time in Washington and Wisconsin and was working as a welder, carpenter, and community counselor for Native people. In the course of his work he became involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM) and eventually joined the Denver Colorado chapter. In Denver, he worked as a community counselor confronting unemployment, alcohol problems and poor housing. He became strongly involved in the spiritual and traditional programs of AIM.

Leonard Peltier's participation in the American Indian Movement led to his involvement in the 1972 Trail of broken Treaties which took him to Washington D.C., in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building.

Eventually his AIM involvement would bring him to assist the Oglala Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the mid 1970's. On Pine Ridge he participated in the planning of community activities, religious ceremonies, programs for self-sufficiency, and improved living conditions. He also helped to organize security for the traditional people who were being targeted for violence by the pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his vigilantes. It was here that the tragic shoot-out of June 26, 1975 occurred, leading to his wrongful conviction.

Despite the harsh conditions of imprisonment, Leonard Peltier has continued to lead an active life. From behind bars, he has helped to establish scholarships for Native students and special programs for Indigenous youth. He has served on the advisory board of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, and has sponsored children in Central America. He has donated to battered women's shelters, organized the annual Christmas drive for the people of Pine Ridge Reservation, and promoted prisoner art programs.

He has also established himself as a talented artist, using oils to paint portraits of his people, portraying their cultures and histories. He has written poetry and prose from prison, and recently completed a moving biography titled Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance (St. Martin's Press, NY, 1999).

Leonard Peltier credits his ability to endure his circumstances to his spiritual practices and the love and support from his family and supporters

Exhibited Works