FBI’s Cointelpro programs were running secret, illegal tactics to eliminate political organizations of dissent, including the strategic assassination and imprisonment of activists. Cointelpro was officially abolished in 1971, but the illegal tactics it used continue.
Leonard Peltier was born to Alvina Robideau and Leo Peltier on the 12th of September 1944 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He was the 1st of 14 children and is a citizen of both the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations.
At the age of 4, Leonard parents separated and he went to live with his grandparents. His Grandpa had a small ranch, it was here Leonard was taught hard work and determination. At the tender young age of 8, Leonard was taken from his home and sent to Wahpeton Indian School. At this school, the children were forbidden to speak their own language, suffering physical and psychology abuse.
When he was a teenager he returned the Turtle Mountain Reservation to live with his father, Leo Peltier. At this time the Turtle Mountain was targeted for termination as a federal recognized nation because of Public Law 280 passed during the Eisenhower administration. This law gave jurisdiction to the state thus stopping all federal funding to the reservation. The termination policy withdrew all funding thus stopping food to those that remained on the land, sending a clear message to relocate to urban ghettos or starve. Thus many people remained, they were deserted by the government and left to starve. The lack of empathy to a dying people, from starvation at the hands of the government, ignited protests resulting in an investigation on the conditions on the reserve by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At one of the local meetings, Leonard heard his cousin speak out about this injustice. He quickly noticed she spoke with passion, tears flowing down her face ‘Where are our men warriors, why did they not stand up and fight’? It was at this time Leonard vowed he would help his people for the rest of his life.
When Leonard was 14, he left for the West Coast, traveling to many native communities doing odd jobs. His uncle Bill Robideau taught him welding and machine work, he and his cousin Steve Robideau both became welders taking their skill into the shipyards in Portland, Oregon.
In 1965, Leonard was part owner of a body shop in Seattle, Washington. It was here, over the body shop they had somewhat of a halfway house for natives, struggling with alcohol addiction and ex-convicts trying to find employment. They offered counselling in traditional ways to the residents. It was after this time Leonard became involved with the American Indian Movement, especially on the spiritual and traditional programs.
By the late 60s the American Indian Movement explode onto the scene. In 1970, the takeover of Fort Lawton, an abandon military base, took place in Seattle, Washington by Native Americans. There was an old federal law that gave Native Americans first claims to any land abandoned by federal agencies, they tested this law. This resulted in the police rushing in beating people in the crowd and arresting 14 people, Leonard was one. When they tried to release him from jail, he refused to leave until the others were also released. Fort Lawton is not a Native American Cultural Centre.
In the early 70s Leonard joined the American Indian Movement in Denver, Colorado. It was here Leonard met Vernon Bellecourt, he explain what Aim was about and their objectives. He later travelled with Vernon to his first AIM meeting in Leech, Lake Minnesota.
The discovery of uranium in 1953 brought in a renewed effort to strip the land of its natural resources. By the late 60s a domestic market for nuclear energy was created. Vast tracks of land was stripped of coal and oil by energy corporations with large tracks of land sold to private corporations, Most of the uranium in the United States was found on tribal land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs encouraged tribal governments to lease portions of the reservations for mining. After years of total devastation of tribal land many Nations started to cancel their land leases.
Traditional Native Americans stood in opposition to the mining because they knew the destruction of Indian land would be the destruction of Native people, the most vocal was the American Indian Movement. They were soon labelled by the FBI as a communist inspired terrorist organisation in hopes of disrupting the AIM grassroots in order to neutralise the AIM leadership.
Corrupt actions perpetrated against Native people in South Dakota was receiving no coverage by the main stream media outlets. Every illegal practise by the governmental agencies was covered up or justified; one abuse after another. In those day, it was of no help to the American Indian Movement when black propaganda sponsored by the FBI through COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) was sensationalised by the media. These exercises were orchestrated to induce a negative image of AIM in the minds of the American citizens. COINTELPRO was used to monitor and manipulate social and/or political organisations in order to disrupt the group. This practise was to have ended in 1971 but has since been proven to still be in use today even though criticised by Congress and the American people for violating the first amendment right and for a wide variety of other reasons.
On the Pine Ridge Indian reservation the then tribal government under Dick Wilsons regime, supported by the FBI and the BIA unleashed a ‘Reign of Terror’ on the Traditional tribal members that opposed his form of government. He overpaid his staff primarily made up of his family members and supporters leaving the rest on the reserve in total depravation. Anyone opposing his leadership was intimidate, beaten or murdered. There were over 60 unsolved murders, no one felt safe, and thus most carried guns for self-protection.
In 1972, the traditional Natives opposing Dick Wilson attended a meeting of concern about the violent conditions of life on the reservation. The climate of fear and the lack of resources was a real and true concern. At this meeting, it was the women that voiced their desire for change and it was the women that ask the men to take a stand, it was decided they would go in to Wounded Knee to demand a restoration of sovereignty. There were over 100 men, women and children from 64 different Nations came together for 71 days. The occupation ended with promises from the United States government to seriously meet with Tribal leaders and discuss the 1868 Treaty, it was quickly recognised as ‘another broken promise.’
The next 2 years was the most violent period on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was at this time the then tribal chairman Dick Wilson unleashed a ‘Reign of Terror’ on the ‘Traditional’ Native opposing his form of government. He hired a group of vigilantes made up of mostly supporters and family members, armed by the United States government. This group called themselves the ‘Guardians of the Oglala Nation’ in short G.O.O.N.s. It was this most important aspect that lead in the incident at Oglala.
Due to the violent episodes taking place, the traditional community sought the help from members of the American Indian Movement to help protect them from this reign of violence. Leonard Peltier and a few AIM members answered the call and went to the Pine Ridge reservation setting up camp in the Jumping Bull farm. They settled into life in Oglala, helping with such jobs as cutting grass, hauling fire wood, helping some with a lift to and from local shops. Leonard’s primary focus was on security because of the violent atmosphere.
On the morning of June 26th, 1975, in secrecy, Dick Wilson awarded custody of the Northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation to the United States government where uranium had been found. On the same morning, an alleged warrant had been issued for the arrest of Jimmy Eagle a teenager, for the suspected theft of a pair of cowboy boots. Ronald Williams and Jack Coler agents for the FBI, were on the reservation in an unmarked car looking for Jimmy Eagle. They thought they had spotted him in a red pickup and followed him onto the Jumping Bull. There was an exchange of gun fire and remarkably a short time later the entire Jump Bull farm was surrounded by BIA tribal police, FBI agents other law enforcement agencies, white famers to include some of the GOON’s. When the shooting stopped FBI agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler lay dead, along with one young Native American Joe Stuntz, shot by sniper fire. No law enforcement agency bothered to investigate the death of Joe Stuntz.
There were up to 40 men, women and children camping on the Jumping Bull farm. Miss information was being fed to the main stream media of a ‘cold blooded ambush’ by a well-trained guerrillas, sophisticated bunkers and arms cache. They painted a picture to the general public of two FBI agents dragged from their car and executed, bodies riddled with bullets, all the descriptive needed to sway the ordinary citizen’s sympathy toward the FBI. Later, the US Civil Rights Commission stated in their report the information leaked to the press had been manipulated by the FBI; ‘It is patently clear that many of the statements that have been released regarding the incident are either false, unsubstantiated, or directly misleading.’
Almost everyone escaped on that day from the Jumping Bull farm and scattered in the four directions. The FBI issued warrants for 4 people: Leonard Peltier, Dina Butler, Bob Robideau and Jimmy Eagle.
On July 9th Jimmy Eagle turned himself in to the US Marshall’s office in Rapid City on an unrelated charge. On July 28th he was rearrested while in jail for the theft of a pair of cowboy boots and on 2 counts of murder in the first degree. Charges were eventual dropped against Jimmy Eagle for a lack of evidence.
In September Dino Butler was arrested on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and Bob Rodideau was arrested after the car he was traveling in caught on fire on the Kansas Turnpike near Wichita.
Bob Robideau and Dino Butler were the first to go to trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At the time, Leonard Peltier had been captured in Canada and was fighting extradition. The jury found both Robideau and Butler ‘Not Guilty’ for reasons of self-defence.
Leonard Peltier now in the US having lost his legal battle against extradition to the US, was to be tried alone. He subsequently was found guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree and on June 1st, 1977 he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for murder in the first degree.
There is much to his story that I have not written, such as the trial and all the constitutional violations committed by the US government against Leonard Peltier.
For more information please click on the various links below:
In The Spirit of Crazy Horse By Peter Matthiessen
Please watch Robert Redford’s documentary: