I was rummaging through stowed away books from my college days and came across Leonard Peltier’s Prison Writings: My Life is my Sundance. I repressed a wry smile as I flipped through the few pages containing haphazard underlines and scrawled notes. Ahh to relive those awkward classroom discussions where no one had done the readings but everyone was ready to make a (contrived) contribution…
I was inspired to read (or re-read, I just can’t remember) this book after President Obama denied Leonard Peltier clemency back in January 2017. Hopes were (naively?) high that Obama would let this iconic political prisoner go mostly due to granting a record number of commutations, but, much like his entire presidency looks can be very deceiving (Obama set a record for commuting sentences — but he’s not the most forgiving president in history)
Leonard Peltier is a Native American activist, warrior, writer, poet and a glowing symbol for all Indigenous People. Falsely accused of killing two FBI agents in a shootout on a South Dakota reservation, he is spending his 40th year in maximum security prison and is gravely ill. I won’t go over the terrible events leading up to the shoot-out and its aftermath, nor the absolute farce that was Peltier’s trial, but it is a context that must be understood (you can read about it all at The International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee’s carefully curated website). The terror campaign the US government and FBI have waged against Native Americans for generations (and to this day: the DAPL pipeline) will be reckoned with, and what a reckoning it will be.
Peltier talks about his difficult childhood, his various brushes with the law, how he became politicized and of course the grueling life of the cell block. Interspersed throughout are his searing poems that shine a light on his transcendent soul. He talks about forgiveness, spirituality, the interconnectedness of all beings, and saving Mother Earth. He pays tribute to the thousands of slain Indians and condemns “racist White America.” His story is not just about tragedy but also triumph because although falsely accused and cruelly imprisoned he has won. A testament to that are the millions of people worldwide who still, decades later, tirelessly work for his release and who champion the right of a dignified life for all oppressed peoples.
A passage that really struck a cord with me was:
I too do not put my hope in fallible man-made laws. I too look skyward..
And in summary (because I’ve rambled enough) may we grow to have such an indomitable spirit as Peltier’s and may we all be committed to something higher than ourselves..