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Minnesota Native News

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Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


After Justice Walk, Community Hopes President Biden Releases Leonard Peltier

This is Minnesota Native News. I’m Marie Rock.

For over two months, advocates for Leonard Peltier walked in prayer from Minneapolis to D.C. to raise awareness about his unjust imprisonment. This week reporter Feven Gerezgiher speaks with the walk lead and Peltier’s lawyer to hear how the walk went…and the outlook on Peltier’s release.

Senator Tina Smith was one of seven lawmakers that recently signed on to a letter calling on President Biden to release Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Peltier has been incarcerated since 1977 following a trial legal experts say had a “shocking level of misconduct and constitutional violations.”

Past presidents declined clemency for the now 78-year-old…but some see a changing tide.

We really feel and hope and believe that Leonard Peltier is going to be released before the end of the Biden administration

That was Rachel Thunder, Plain Cree and a director in the American Indian Movement. She led a 2.5-month trek from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness around Peltier’s deteriorating health and continued imprisonment.

The walk started with about 20 people. By the last mile, there were several hundred, according to Thunder.

I think it's gonna take a minute for it to set in. Because it was such a huge undertaking. (And like so many different things happened. And there were so many good days and there were challenges, you know, just looking back, but I wouldn't change anything.)

…It was really beautiful, really to see so many people come from all over Turtle Island, all from all over the States and Canada and even internationally. 

An ending rally at the Lincoln Memorial featured speeches from various Native leaders and notably, one of the U.S. attorneys that put Peltier behind bars.

Over the following few days, advocates met with U.S. lawmakers. 

Peltier’s attorney Kevin Sharp said they had a receptive audience.

A lot of the folks that we met with, were not born yet….I did not leave any meeting regardless of who I was talking to were at some point their mouths weren't open going, Oh, my God, I did not know this. And, you know, there's a there's a narrative if they didn't know it, it might only know the FBI version. And there is a version that the FBI has been touting for decades, that is nowhere close to the truth.

The former federal judge has been pushing for clemency since taking on Peltier’s case pro bono about four years ago. Sharp said the general public is waking up to things Native American communities have known for generations. He noted awareness of boarding school history, treaty violations, (and) police violence..

And then you put on top of that a president who, unlike any president before, understands the importance of Native Americans, their issues and to get, you know, the crass political side of it, their voting power. Right now, it's the Electoral College with with states as close as they are with winning and losing a state turning on 20-25-30,000 votes. All of a sudden thatNative American vote wins and loses the White House, right?

Sharp explained Peltier’s clemency petition is one of tens of thousands still under review with the Department of Justice. AIM plans to continue meeting with members of Congress, hoping that the political pressure gets Peltier’s file to the White House.

President Biden will have had the last chance to save this man's life. .. we just need to get Leonard home and, you know, give him at last opportunity to see his grandchildren, his great grandchildren, and his own children who, you know, he's he's missed 47 years, he hasn't been able to see them grow up.

Sharp encourages supporters to call or email the White House with the message that it’s time to free Leonard Peltier.

For Minnesota Native News, I’m Feven Gerezgiher.

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