Leonard Peltier

Free Leonard Peltier!

Line drawing of Leonard Peltier with an eagle

Message to National Day of Mourning 2021 from Leonard Peltier

Download Leonard Peltier's Statement

For more information about the case of Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, and to find out how you can support, please go to the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website.

(read by Herbert Waters IV)

Greetings Relatives,

Each year as November nears I try to think back on all that has happened in my world in the past 12 months. And I know that in my world I can only see a very small part of what is happening on the outside. For me, this year somehow seems to carry more weight than usual.

I have passed ever so slowly into the world of the elderly. I am now closer to 80 than to 70. The truth is I never believed I would live this long. I was just passed 31 old when I came to prison. It was almost half a century ago. My body is now the body of an old man. And it is harder to try to keep myself from being overtaken by sickness or depression or loneliness. They are constant companions here. I keep them at arms length and I know I cannot ever let them overtake me. If I allow that to happen it will be the end. There is no mercy here. No compassion.

I cannot even imagine what it is like on the outside. I only hear stories and cannot believe half of what I hear.

For me, the best days here at USP Coleman 1 in Florida were the days when we could be outside in the yard and feel the sun. Even though they purposely built the walls so high that we cannot even see the treetops, the occasional bird or butterfly gives a welcome glimpse of our relatives in the natural world, but even that is very rare now.

I know Covid has cost all of us, you and me, in many ways. And I offer my condolences for all of you who have lost loved ones and friends to it.

Here inside the steel and concrete walls it is no different. Constant lock downs caused by both Covid and Violence have made life here even harder than usual. I have not been allowed to paint in eighteen months and we are almost always in some form of lockdown.

We are stuck in our cells for days at a time. It is an extremely rare day when we get to go outside to the yard.

I feel moved to try to explain something that has been on my mind for many years. I think maybe it will be helpful if I say the words out loud.

When we started to emerge from the darkness of Residential schools it became clear that we had to go back to try and reclaim what they robbed from us.

And what they robbed us of was the very heart of who we were. Our language, our ways and our connections back home. They wanted us leaving those “schools” thinking like little non-Indians who would just go along with the program and not rock the boat. Even with all the terrible damage they did to so many of us, many of us did survive them. And then we began the process of reclaiming our culture and way of life. I know that process continues to this day.

I am so deeply saddened in hearing the stories of all the children’s graves they are finding at Residential schools. I guess I was one of the lucky ones who made it home. But the death of those children is so sad and outrageous and I am glad the world is finding out at last.

Back then even our home at Turtle Mountain was under threat of Government termination. I remember how hard my Dad who was a World War II veteran fought to save us.

Over the years we fought so many fights to keep our way of life alive and protect the natural world.

After our family was relocated to Portland, Oregon I took part in the fishing struggles with Billy Frank and his Nisqually people at Frank’s Landing. The rednecks were cutting up their nets and attacking both women and men who just wanted to continue to fish as their ancestors did.

And when they shot Hank Adams it was a very dark time and outraged all of us but we stood strong to protect the Nisqually people. I will always be proud of that.

There were so many outrages back then.

When the land at Fort Lawton in Washington State fell into disuse we went there and occupied it under old treaty law. That was also a hard time. At one point soldiers were pointing flame throwers at us. But we held our ground and eventually they gave in. We put our good friend Bernie White Bear in charge and he helped to build the Daybreak Star Center that is still a great asset to Indian people today. Bernie is gone now as are so many of the others from those days.

Same thing when we took the abandoned Coast Guard Station in Milwaukee with Herb Powless. Our actions might have been unpopular at the time but they led to a school, alcohol treatment center and employment office. The school is still thriving and is an asset to the Native community and the Milwaukee area. Herb is gone too.

So even though the price we paid was very very high, we did make things better for our people and we did help to turn things around.

I wonder if many people understand the events in our history and how connected they are. I was born in 1944. The massacre at Wounded Knee was in 1890. That was just 54 years earlier and both Geronimo and Chief Joseph died only 35 years earlier in 1909. Think about that. 35 years ago now it was 1986. Not very long ago at all.

I want to leave you with some positive thoughts.

Retired United States Attorney James Reynolds did an interview with the Huffington Post last week and actually apologized to me for all the wrong they did to me. I hope that is spread all over the world and I am grateful to him.

I can say that I am heartened and encouraged by the courageous water protectors from Standing Rock to the beautiful manoomin (wild rice) lands of Northern Minnesota.

I am proud of Winona LaDuke and her peoples work to protect those beautiful lands and lakes and her work to offer alternatives to fossil fuels.

Using hemp could fix so many things. It is not something we can fix in a year or ten years but it is something that all reasonable people should understand.

We cannot poison the water that sustains us. All of us. Not just Native and First Nations people, but all people. We have that in common. People should understand, we are trying to protect our homes and our natural lands. Water IS life.

And I am deeply grateful for the courage and Vision of Deb Haaland the new Secretary of the Interior Department. I know she went to Alcatraz this week. That is an acknowledgment that what we did was right and honorable. I was not at Alcatraz but those of us, woman and men who stood up in those days were right. And in other parts of the country we formed our own branches of United Indians of all Tribes. So their efforts led to others joining in.

I heard that Deb Haaland said that the day has come when Indians no longer have to protest to be heard by the U.S. Government. That is music to my old ears.

Our people were, and many still are, suffering.

Anyone of any race would do the same things to stop the sufferings of their people.

I wish all of you good health and happiness in all you do. You are in my prayers and I am grateful to all of you who have supported me or will support me going forward.

I still hold out hope that I can make it home to Turtle Mountain while I can still walk out under my own power.

I remain grateful for the gift of life.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,

Leonard Peltier

Message to National Day of Mourning 2020 from Leonard Peltier

Download Leonard Peltier's Statement

For more information about the case of Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, and to find out how you can support, please go to the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website.

Greetings my relatives, friends, loved ones, and supporters.

First of all, I want to thank you for the privilege of being allowed to express my feelings about this “Day of Mourning” as we call it, and “Day of Thanksgiving” as the rest of the US calls it. Sometimes I’m at a loss for words to express all the thoughts I have going on in my head after 45 years of imprisonment.

I do want to express my appreciation for our ancestors before us, who fought so hard that we would live today. I want to express my feelings of remembrance for the ones who were overpowered by the weapons of war coming from Europe and the pandemics they faced. Though we have been attacked by the invaders from Europe, over and over in every way possible, and everything that has been done to destroy us, our culture, and traditions, we still survived until today because we are an expression of the Creator’s Will and an expression of the Creator’s Truth. We are a manifestation of that truth, that all mankind should live within the boundaries of those laws.

There is nothing that came from Europe that has made this portion of the Earth a better place to live, but like all nature, we have survived, and nature continues to survive, though mankind is on the edge of destroying itself. The truths that our people spoke of, the need to live in harmony with each other, the Creator, the Mother Earth, and respect one another’s’ approach to spirituality, when expressed by non-Indians becomes a sensation around the world. We must continue to speak our truth, to live our truth, and to support one another, for there lies our survival. The most powerful weapons that we can obtain is knowledge of truth and love for one another, and the practice of that truth and love.

We must unite and work together every chance we can and embrace all others who are of like-mind and willing to work to correct this worldwide pandemic of greed and selfishness that has infected the whole earth and mankind.

On this Day of Mourning, let us again remember our relatives before us, who fought every challenge imaginable that we might survive, and in our prayers say “Thanks for not giving up. Thanks for giving your lives that we might live.” And to all of you out there, I want to say thanks for not giving up on me and my quest for freedom. May the Creator bless you in every way. You brother always, in all ways.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse and Resistance,
Mitakuye Oyasin,
Leonard Peltier

Statement of Leonard Peltier to National Day of Mourning

November 27, 2014, Plymouth, MA

Greetings my Relatives, Friends, & Supporters:

I was thinking about the national holiday “Thanksgiving” the other day. I won’t even go into what a horrible shame this American holiday is based on. Instead, I will just let it remind me of the common bond I have with all my brothers and sisters of the Earth. Even if Thanksgiving, the holiday, is based on an incorrect portrayal of history. The concept of being Thankful, is a universal truth. I mean, let’s face it, being thankful/grateful has been part of Indian Nations much longer than the invention of a holiday.

I admit there are days in here when I find it very hard to be thankful, but it does not take much to bring it back for me. Most days, I get cards and letters from people all over the world, sometimes I can even smell the soil, the pines, and sometimes even fry bread in the paper that is sent to me. I hear stories of your lives, your troubles, your children, your jobs. oh there is some word for what I am trying to say but I don’t remember it, but I get a sense of life through all of you, and I am thankful for that. I often want to reach out and help you sometimes. I would love to come work on your cars or help you build a sweat lodge, or even just mow the lawn. I miss helping people and I hate asking for help, which it seems, is all I do.

In here, I am able to focus on the simple things in life. You have no idea how cool it is to just get a new pair of socks. In the last few months I have really been feeling my age, and I am so very thankful for all the support you have all given me. I won’t lie, it has been a rough time lately, but I am hopeful that is changing.

My people have always had a deep and connected relationship with the Sun, and I realized the other day just how much I miss the Sun. When I had the Sun’s light upon me, I felt stronger. These walls hold out the Sun’s energy, and it weakens me.

When you miss something, it is easier to be thankful for things you do have.

My friend and Spiritual advisor, Lenny Foster, visited me recently, and he reminded me of some basic things I have to be thankful for. I have watched him age over all these years too, and I am thankful for him and his wisdom. He sang with me and prayed with me, and I felt a bit of the Sun again.

I guess my point is, that we can find the things we need in places we may not expect.

I can always pray, this can never be taken away from me, and through that prayer, I can keep the Sun and hope alive.

And so, on this day, “ Thanksgiving” I will choose to be thankful and not to celebrate tyranny.

I also want to pray with and for you.
I pray for each and every one of you, whether you support me or you do not.
I pray that your lives will be full of meaning and you will find new ways to learn.
I pray for your strength and that you will always stand up for the things you know are right.
I pray that each one of you will find a way to protect our Mother Earth, she is crying out for us to hear her.
I pray that you will listen to you inner wisdom and let it guide you to make choices that will help each other, and that you will be examples for those still learning their way in this life.
I pray that you will be present with the moments you have, enjoy the simple things in life— like the Sun, The Dirt, The Air, The Water, and that you would protect them as you would your own children.
I pray that you will look for opportunities to lift up your sisters and brothers and not to bring them down.
I pray that you will grow and enjoy good natural foods.
I pray for you to savor the attention of your loved ones.
I pray for you to build productive bridges of peace with those you oppose.
I pray that when others make bad choices you help them find positive solutions.
I pray for understanding in times of misunderstanding…….
And yes, I pray very deeply and honestly that I can go home for a little while before I cross over to the Spirit World.

I am with you always, and I feel your prayers too. I am always grateful for your support, your love, your friendship, your letters and the contact you give me with LIFE.

It is harder for me to physically see well enough to write letters these days, so please forgive me if I don’t write you back. It is not that I don’t want to. Know that I am often sitting and thinking of you, and being thankful for all of you.

Your old, thankful friend, and brother.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier
Mitakuye Oyasin!

Letter from Leonard Peltier on the 28th year (Feb. 6, 2004) of his incarceration January 23, 2004

Photo of Leonard Peltier smiling Hau Kola, Hello my friends, my relatives:

You can never imagine the heartfelt comfort it brings to know you're not forgotten in prison. This is my 28th year, and I've seen others come and go and return again. I can't help but feel a great sorrow for many of these young men who keep coming back for one reason or another; most of which are alcohol related offenses. So much has changed since I came here and yet, in many ways, it's still the same.

The government, under the pretext of security and progress, liberated us from our land, resources, culture, dignity and future. They violated every treaty they ever made with us. I use the word "liberated" loosely and sarcastically, in the same vein that I view their use of the words "collateral damage" when they kill innocent men, women, and children.

They describe people defending their homeland as terrorists, savages and hostiles, and accuse us of being aggressors. We have never fought a battle or war that was not on our own land; we never fired the first shot ... ever. My words reach out to the non-Indian: Look now before it's far too late - see what is being done to others in your name and see what destruction you sanction when you say nothing. Your own treaty, the one between yourselves and the government, is being violated daily; this treaty is commonly known as the Constitution.

With us, they started a little at a time, encroaching on our rights until we had none at all. It will be the same for the Constitution; this is not conjecture, but fact. We are not embattled with the color of man, but with the weakness of man, a mindset that lusts for power and wealth at the expense of life.

Men of all colors, cultures and religions must stand together to oppose the genocidal policies that face us all as the corporate world seeks to enslave all, and pit one nation against another.

If you avoid breaking laws and do what you're told and ignore the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden - you probably won't be bothered. If you try to right what is wrong, however, you will surely meet great opposition and run the risk of imprisonment or death.

I am a Sun Dancer. I took a vow for my people. I chose to seek the Creator's will and to follow it to the best of my ability. I WILL NOT STAND DOWN FROM THAT VOW. I will continue to speak, write and organize until Grandfather himself quiets my life. If I can do this in prison, I have no doubt you can do much better from where you stand.

I encourage you to do your best, be kind to one another, seek harmony and balance with all natural life, enjoy what freedom you have left, and most of all, never, never give up.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier
Mitakuye Oyasin

Statement from behind the prison walls

written by Leonard Peltier
for the occasion of the 33rd National Day of Mourning, 2002

Greetings Brothers and Sisters:

The first thing I want to do is to say "thank you" to the organizers of this important and historical national event. I know of the struggles and sacrifices you have had to make to keep this event alive. Your sacrifice and persistence makes the world a little more aware of us, and our struggles, which continue to this day. I also want to thank those who traveled here to stand alongside us in solidarity. And lastly I want to "thank you" ALL for being the kind of human beings that care enough to take action and who are willing to make a sacrifice to ensure that justice applies to all people.

It is a great honor for me to once again be a part of a gathering such as yours. As an Indigenous person I know first hand what it means to be unwelcome on my own soil. I know first hand of the oppressors' mighty vengeance against those who would take a stand and question their laws. I fought for and protected my people from a government that wanted us dead or assimilated. My only crime is that I did dare to take a stand against what was and still is unjust.

So as you gather here today, I remind you once again to encourage each other in this continuing struggle for justice as you encourage me with your letters and your love. For without your encouragement I would not be able to go on. Your love and encouragement has kept me going through the times when I didn't want to care.

Now it's my turn to encourage you to stay strong when you feel that there is no hope or that you're too tired to continue. You must always remember those who came before us and how they struggled. Remember the teachings handed down to us from generation to generation. Remember all those who are imprisoned because they dared to stand up and challenge oppressive government policies and the continuing injustices we see today.

Despite the distance between us I am here with you today as I have been in the past. And I once again thank you for allowing me to participate in this important and historic event.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier

Statement of Leonard Peltier to National Day of Mourning

11/26/98, Plymouth, Mass.

Greetings, Friends and Supporters.

Well, here we go with another holiday that America loves to celebrate, Thanksgiving Day. I know this has been said numerous times by many Native people of this country, but it is just not a day for many of us to celebrate. Although some things have improved on some reservations, there are an overwhelming number of us that have nothing to celebrate. These are the people who still have my concern, my hope and my love that things will get better. I'm talking about the people of Big Mountain, some of whom have already received their eviction notices. It's about the Western Shoshone, about the people all over this continent who are fighting for their treaty rights and sovereignty. It's about the people in Chiapas, the people in Central and South America who are being tortured and slaughtered every day. It is about the people whose stories we do not hear. The people who are resisting by simply surviving the "third world" conditions that they live under in the wealthiest nation on Earth.

As you gather today at this historic spot, remember those who struggled and gave their lives before you. Remember those who are in prison and those who are being tortured and denigrated today. Remember those who gave you the teachings that were handed down generation to generation. Remember as you continue the struggle for justice and equality in this land that is ours to caretake.

We need to reach out to the youth and embrace and encourage them to follow in our footsteps in order to continue the struggle.

We are losing part of a generation of our young people to drugs and alcohol and consumerism. My time on this Earth is rapidly passing by and the young people must step in mine and the shoes of others who have fought this long hard struggle. I encourage and challenge you to educate yourself and your children in social concerns and the politics of the world. We have to remember that only true unity of all people will allow us to be successful and victorious in effecting change.

I also want to thank all of you who continue to sacrifice and work for my freedom. It is through your love and support that I make it through the hard times. And there have been many and I'm sure more to come.

Before I end, I ask you to remember our teachings. Thanksgiving is every day. Wake up and thank the Creator for a new day every day.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Leonard Peltier