Sunday, November 16, 2003
Have you heard of Leonard Peltier? Most likely not. Who is he, you ask? He is an American Indian activist serving two consecutive life sentences for the 1975 murders of 2 FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The details of his “crime” and punishment are detailed in the website above. Why is this something worth mentioning? I think it’s newsworthy for a couple of reasons.
Native Americans in the US are some of the most impoverished, least employed and least educated people, a fate which would evoke sympathetic news articles and stories were it another group suffering this fate. However, it is very rare that their plight is highlighted by the mainstream media. Would it make a good story? It has all the makings of a scandalous and heart wrenching expose. They are a people slaughtered by our government of old. Forced from their homes and land, to some of the most desolate land we have in this country-South Dakota, deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, forced to live on these reservations which are supposedly sovereign land. Their history is rife with bloodshed, betrayal, and sorrow. Read the books “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and “The Trail of Tears”, and you will garner an understanding of how they came to arrive at their present state. I could launch into a pages long diatribe about the injustices to which they have been subject, but that is a “blog” for another time. Suffice to say, theirs is a history of which this country is not proud. A history which is not taught in high school history classes-classes which stick to stories such as those of Sacajawea and other native Americans whose history is positive and supportive of the “American dream” (manifest destiny), or those who are portrayed as bloodthirsty, cold hearted fanciers of scalps. The real stories and histories are saved for those who indulge in further education, satisfy their curiosity with their own research, and the descendants of those who suffered. We condemn those who practice ethnic-cleansing, yet we refuse to look back at our own history and accept the fact that we too, once embraced the same practices. There is a saying: “those who refuse to accept history are doomed to relive it”. Such is our history as a country. Continual denial of our practices while preaching to those subject to our domination.
But I digress.
Back to Leonard Peltier. Again I pose the question, why do I resurrect a story that is seemingly in the past and no longer relevant to us today? The man killed 2 federal agents. Why question his incarceration?
These facts are known: the trial which imprisoned Peltier was rife with corruption, lies, and blatant disregard for the justice system and Pelier’s rights. Evidence was withheld. Witnesses were intimidated into giving false testimony against Peltier. Witnesses have since recanted their statements and cover-ups have been exposed Despite all this, he remains in jail, parole hearings have been denied, re-trials have been denied, and now it’s nearly 27 years hence and he is still in jail.
For a situation so central to native American plight, why do any relevant news stories always appear deep into a newspaper-for example, page 38 in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, November 5, 2003? And if conditions are so horrid, why do are we not enlightened to their plight?
It is easier to forget our past transgressions than to atone for them and admit the error of our ways, hoping the problem will disappear.