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Reader View: Move on, absolve, forgive

December 11, 2016

What whites call the “Indian Wars” are not over, despite proclamations by the U.S. Army toward the end of the 19th century. And if you were Leonard Peltier, you would know this very directly and personally. Peltier has been imprisoned for more than 40 years for a crime that intensive recent legal research indicates he may well be innocent of committing. That research indicates also that the court proceedings against him were highly irregular in nature.

In 1975, in Oglala, S.D., American Indian Movement (AIM) activists squared off against the FBI in a brief standoff that led to the deaths of FBI agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams and one Native American, Joe Stuntz. No legal action was taken regarding the death of Stuntz. Though the exchange of gunfire had been at a distance, witnesses found the two agents had been shot at close range, execution-style.

The politics of this situation were explosive; Natives were facing unimaginable hardships, and the U.S. government at the time believed AIM posed a militant threat to what we so often hear described as “law and order.” After the shootings, Peltier was extradited on the testimony of witnesses that later, it turned out, were coerced. He was arrested, convicted and has served, I believe, four times the amount of time that would have been required for him to be granted parole.

Time after time, as a model prisoner, with no record of violence, Peltier has been denied parole. With the best possible record of behavior, he has still been denied a chance to show that he has been rehabilitated, or perhaps, that he is not guilty of the crime of murder. Other prisoners with similar convictions have received parole or pardon. Why not this man? My readings on this case suggest that a desire for revenge on behalf of the FBI is so strong and its hatred of Native American activism so great, that there is no willingness on the part of the courts to examine this situation objectively.

As the days of sanity for our country dwindle to a few, before a hate-filled administration takes over, the president has the option to pardon Leonard Peltier and send a sick old man home to live in peace. This is not an acknowledgement of guilt or innocence. Justice may or may not been served. A man has spent almost his entire life in prison. He is now very ill and is no threat to any human being. I ask the president to do what is right. Peltier himself has said that he wishes to live peacefully. Families of the slain FBI agents have expressed a desire for closure and that anyone who is not guilty not be punished. The family of the dead Native American man has not seen any similar closure for that tragedy. It’s time, Mr. President, to pardon Leonard Peltier. I ask all my fellow Santa Feans to request the same from President Barack Obama. Please, do it now.

Rebecca Procter is a local archaeologist specializing in the prehistory of the Southwest. She lives in Santa Fe.