Since its inception in 1968, the American Indian Movement (AIM) has experienced a most conspicuous lack of coverage and analysis on the part of the mainstream American left. Such tabloids as have afforded consistent attention to AIM have tended to be Indian-focused publications such as Akwesasne Notes. While a host of books emerged during the 1970's concerning "Indian affairs" (of the 18th and 19th centuries) only a meager handful were released which purported to deal with the contemporary issues in which AIM was involved.
Of these, almost all were produced under movement auspices (broadly posited), and those which received even a modicum of general exposure were single-issue oriented, e.g. Peter Blue Cloud's Alcatraz is not an Island (Wingbow Press, 1972); Trail of Broken Treaties: BIA I'm Not Your Indian Any More (Akwesasne Notes, 1973); Voices from Wounded Knee, 1973 (Akwesasne Notes, 1974); and Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz' The Great Sioux Nation (International Indian Treaty Council/Moon Books, 1975).
Perhaps the single example of a well-received writer producing work on contemporary Indian issues during this entire period has been Vine Deloria, Jr. His Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and We Talk, You Listen (1970) achieved best-seller status, captured a certain well-deserved--if temporary--celebrity for this author, and should have laid a firm foundation in the public consciousness for an understanding of the issues and politics of AIM.
As Deloria shifted from the penning of manifestoes to more serious analytical work (Of Utmost Good Faith, 1971; Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties, 1972), however, attention to his books noticeably lessened. By 1974, when his major accomplishment (to date), God is Red, appeared, response was soggy across the nation. A later effort, The Metaphysics of Modern Existence was scuttled by its publisher, Harper and Row.
Under such circumstances, it is easy enough to assert that the consciousness of the average American leftist concerning AIM--and Indian matters generally--is usually nil. This may, in large part, be due to a certain understandable preoccupation within the U.S. opposition to the fact of its own demise. After all, by 1972, the formerly proliferate American anti-war coalition had crashed and burned, driven into "postwar" retirement or into scattered and tiny underground sects. The old civil rights movement was an historical ghost. Its revolutionary outgrowths--such as the much-vaunted Black Panther Party--shattered upon the anvil of the FBI's COINTELPRO.
The "notables" of the American left were busily realigning their careers to accommodate stock brokerage ventures (Jerry Rubin), insurance sales (Rennie Davis), electoral campaigning (Tom Hayden), evading prosecution for cocaine transactions (Abbie Hoffman), writing cookbooks (Bobby Seale), running outcall prostitution services (Huey Newton), and establishing cults of sperm-worshipers (Eldridge Cleaver).
Small wonder that many people retreated under an iconoclastic shell of "me-ism". Small wonder, too, that few devoted time and energy to acknowledging the fact that, as the aggregate American left disintegrated, AIM not only continued, but geared up its oppositional activities to the U.S. And, unlike other "holdovers" from the 1960's, AIM continues to this day, not as a self-conscious anachronism (ala the IWW for example), but as an extremely active, multifaceted and viable organization.
During the late '70's/early '80's a scattering of books attempted to bridge the informational gulf evidenced on the left concerning things militantly Indian. In 1979, Johanna Brand's excellent The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash (James Lorimer and Co, Canada) was released, followed quickly--in 1979--by Monthly Review's publication of Wasi'chu: The Continuing Indian Wars by Bruce Johansen and Roberto Maestas. 1981 saw International Publishers enter the arena with Steve Talbot's Roots of Oppression: The American Indian Question.
None of these volumes, for various reasons, may be said to have attracted a great deal of attention on the left of anywhere else. Johanna Brand's book deserves much more acclaim than it has heretofore received. Using the biography of a young Micmac warrior woman, Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, as its vehicle for elaborating a history of AIM and governmental repression of the organization, it is well crafted, readable and largely ignored.
Wasi'chu, which has garnered the widest reading of the three, is neither so well written nor as well formulated. While Johansen and Maestas provide a great deal of information which should be of use and interest to any progressive individual seeking insight into AIM, their effort collapses at the end for lack of a coherent theoretical structure into which to plug the impressive data array; body counts are substituted for conclusions.
Talbot suffers no such lapses of theory. His approach is to bring the structures of Marxist orthodoxy to bear upon Indian affairs, shedding data at will to force events to conform to predetermined conclusions. AIM finds itself crammed into a wholly unlikely cage, as the author busily pounds a vast array of round facts into square intellectual holes. Aside from the tedium of such an exercise, for those who delight in such things, there is little to commend Roots of Oppression.
We thus arrive at the year 1982 with the history and nature of AIM as well as the events and circumstances surrounding its brutally strange odyssey all but unknown outside the realm of Indian activism. A recent spate of books seems destined to change all that, belatedly no doubt, but once and for all.
The books at issue--Rex Wyler's Blood of the Land: The Government and Corporate War Against the American Indian Movement (Everest House, 1982), In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen (Viking, 1983), and Jim Messerschmidt's The Trial of Leonard Peltier (South End Press, 1983)--pursue very related but nonetheless distinct themes. Although a considerable portion of the information overlaps, they do not tend to cancel each other out, serving instead--as a group--to at least present the well-rounded portrait of AIM which has been lacking this past dozen years.
Wyler's effort presents the broadest sweep. This is a bit odd in that, at less than 300 pages, it is not quite half the length of the volume offered by Matthiessen. The managing editor of New Age, however, paints with a broad brush, presenting a reasonably balanced account of the movement across the entirety of the United States (rather than focusing upon "hot spots") as well as internationally.
He is able to compellingly demonstrate that the use of the term "war" in his title is no rhetorical device. running the gamut of argumentation from analysis of governmental/corporate conduct under both constitutional and international law to citation of the casualty rates sustained by AIM and onward to a definition of the motivations for such "official" behavior (the massive mineral resources--particularly the energy resources--underlying Indian land), Wyler leaves little room for debate.
It is within this context that he explains that AIM undertook armed self-defense during the first half of the 1970's not as a political gesture (as the Black Panther Party did in its early days) but as a literal expedient to survival. Some 300 AIM members were killed on and around the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation alone in the two-year aftermath of the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation there, a casualty rate comparable to that experienced by the left in Chile at the height of Pinochet's U.S.-sponsored repression.
And it is from this perspective of the murky and continuous armed violence on Pine Ridge that Wyler offers--as he had earlier done through an excellent series of articles in his magazine--a brief articulation of the strange case of Leonard Peltier.
In 1975, Peltier was an AIM warrior heading an armed defensive encampment near the village of Oglala on Pine Ridge. On June 26 of that year, two (also armed) FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ron Williams--roared up to the camp, ostensibly to search for a young Indian accused of stealing a pair of cowboy boots. The agents had been to the camp the day before and had determined the "suspect" was not present. On the fatal morning, their aggressive entry was met with a volley of gunfire; shortly thereafter, both agents and an AIM member--Joe Stuntz Killsright--lay dead in the grass under the South Dakota sun.
There followed the greatest "manhunt" in FBI history. While no determination has ever been made as to the circumstances of Stuntz's death--or any of the other AIM casualties of this period--the Bureau quickly decided that the killers of its agents were likely four Indian men: Jimmy Eagle (the individual supposedly sought in the boot caper), Bob Robideau, Dino Butler, and Leonard Peltier, all of whom walked cross-country and escaped the massive dragnet--including helicopters and armored personnel carriers--the feds threw across the reservation immediately after the firefight.
Eagle was apprehended but never brought to trial; "lack of evidence" was cited. Robideau and Butler, captured in the wake of the explosion of their car near Kansas City, were brought to trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and acquitted amidst a controversy concerning FBI misconduct in the prosecution of their case (no effort has ever been made to investigate the FBI in this connection).
Peltier, earlier on, had sought asylum amongst the Cree people of western Canada. Apprehended by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the behest of the FBI, he formally petitioned the Canadian government to grant him status as a political refugee, contending that regardless of his guilt or innocence in any criminal matter, he could not receive a fair hearing in the U.S. because of his position as an AIM activist.
The FBI responded by providing the Canadians with two demonstrably fabricated "eyewitness" affidavits signed by one Myrtle Poor Bear, a clinically unbalanced Lakota woman who, it was later revealed, had never laid eyes upon Peltier and who was more than 50 miles from Oglala the day of the firefight. The Canadians thereupon honored the U.S. extradition request.
With Robideau and Butler acquitted, and with its own conduct in question, the FBI was desperate for a conviction. The feds sought, and received, a change of venue from the scene of their disastrous prosecution in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to a new location in Fargo, North Dakota. Along with the site change came a change in the trial judges. The new one, Paul Benson, proved more accommodating to federal interests than had his predecessor; virtually the entire defense case which had won dismissal of charges against Butler and Robideau and which had exposed at least a portion of the FBI "investigative techniques" being utilized, was ruled inadmissible. The prosecution, on the other hand, enjoyed free reign. Thus was Leonard Peltier sentenced to serve two life sentences for the "murder" of federal agents.
In appeals to the 8th Circuit Court in St. Louis,the defense was able to demonstrate severe procedural and evidentiary problems in the handling of Peltier's trial. Chief Judge William Webster duly noted these and found them "disturbing" and then determined a retrial was nonetheless not called for. Shortly afterward, Webster was named to head the FBI. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately refused even to hear the case. A judicial impasse had been reached.
Nevertheless, Peltier defense team members developed a second strategic approach, filing under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act for the release of FBI file documents related to the case. As of this writing, some 12,000 of the estimated 18,000 pages of FBI material have been secured. (The Bureau maintained the balance could not be released for reasons of "national security" but more lately says it has "lost" all the remaining documents.)
The new information concretized many defense allegations concerning FBI procedure: spurious ballistics information introduced at the trial; "eyewitness sightings" of Peltier in the killing zone which were physically impossible (even by Bureau standards), suppression of evidence, fabrication of evidence, intimidation of witnesses and extortion of testimony, and so forth. The documents also demonstrate conclusively that Paul Benson, the trial judge, met regularly with the federal representatives both before and during the trial in order to coordinate trial procedures in a matter favorable to the prosecution.
With this information in hand, the defense went back to Fargo in 1982 with two motions. First, that Judge Benson disqualify himself as compromised by his own trial conduct, and second, that an evidentiary hearing be conducted concerning the 12,000 pages of exhibitable evidence "unavailable at the time of the original trial." Perhaps predictably, Benson both refused to step down or to hear any new evidence. The defense has since gone back to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking an evidentiary hearing. At this juncture, it appears that Chief Judge Lay of that august body, may also be seeking to deny even so much as a hearing on the matter. Without the hearing, there can be neither a new trial nor a reversal of the results of the old one.
[pg note: In fact hearing was denied, leading to more appeals, and eventual final failure of the legal process.]
Meanwhile, Leonard Peltier, with seven years incarceration under his belt [pg note: now 18 years] and a lifetime to go, sits caged within the maximum federal security prison at Marion, Illinois. Short of an unlikely congressional investigation, or an even more unlikely presidential pardon, this is his last stop before an eternity of confinement for a "crime" he did not commit.
Note that the preceding "did not" was not qualified by any "likely" or "probably". It is, rather, a flat statement of fact. Leonard Peltier did not fire the fatal bullets. Who did fire them is known: it is fairly common knowledge on Pine Ridge, the reviewer is aware of the identities in question and most important of all, the FBI has known almost from the minute the shots were fired.
This of course leaves open the question of why the feds have pursued the particular course they have chosen for this matter; only they can say for sure. But it can leave no question as to Peltier's status as a political prisoner, indeed, a prisoner of war targeted for living death on the basis of his beliefs and activism rather than for any "crime". As such, and because of his steadfast refusal to name names when this might have lessened his own persecution over the years, he has become a symbol of movement struggle, a director of international AIM (from his cell) and--more lately--a focus of activity in his own right.
Peter Matthiessen has chosen to narrow the focus of his 600 page opus from the broader arena illuminated by Wyler to an exhaustive investigation of the context of circumstances surrounding the Peltier case. He is therefore able to elaborate in depth the nature of the government/Indian combat on and around Pine Ridge during the critical period, to develop fine portraits of the characters and personalities of many of the principal actors. Peltier, Robideau, Butler of course, but also Russell Means, Dennis Banks, Anna Mae Aquash and FBI agents such as David Price as well. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse presents the definitive treatment of the experience of Dakota AIM, the veritable cutting edge of Indian activism since 1973.
Matthiessen is the most skilled writer among the three authors in question here (having published some 15 books). It shows to a significant extent. His greatest strength is allowing the Indians to speak through him directly. In a way he has been able to construct the best statement of AIM feeling and impetus--as opposed to recitation of fact--ever assembled. In a way, but not quite.
Despite Matthiessen's best efforts, one is continuously aware of the interview aspects of what is said, both because of the format uniformly employed and because of the subjects' relentless homing upon matters which are of specific interest to the author. (Most Indians don't ordinarily tend to talk the way Matthiessen obviously needed them to, unless more or less forced into it.) The result is somewhat contrived, and should be contrasted to Wyler's allowing Winona LaDuke's superb poem "Song for Moab, Utah" to stand--unfiltered by his own editorial/ideological preoccupations--as the final statement of his book. Matthiessen would have done well to follow such a prescription
All of Matthiessen's lengthy prodding and probing of the context does, however yield some highly interesting and unquestionably important results. Outstanding among these is illumination in great detail of the sordid Janklow/Eagle Deer/Banks/Durham question. This supposedly tangential matter relative to the Peltier case itself sheds a penetrating light upon the nature of contemporary government/Indian relations, a context which has obvious bearing upon the "why" of Peltier's railroading.
William Janklow is [was in 1984] the current governor of south Dakota. In 1955, at the age of 16, he was convicted of the sexual assault on a 17-year-old woman. As a "juvenile offense" this conviction carries little weight under U.S. law. However,r in 1966, while working as a tribal attorney [pg: No, he was a U.S. legal services attorney] for the Rosebud Sioux tribe, Janklow--aged 27 at that point--was accused of raping his 15-year-old babysitter, Jancita Eagle Deer at gunpoint. [pg: No. There was evidence of physical force, but not of a gun.] In his capacity as head of reservation legal services, Janklow was able to head off the filing of formal charges, leaving tribal jurisdiction shortly thereafter.
Having matriculated through the "mainstream" South Dakota legal system in the intervening seven years, Janklow had achieved status as state Deputy Attorney General by the time of the AIM occupation of Wounded Knee. Opting to run for Attorney General the following year (1974), Janklow undertook a hardline prosecutorial assault upon AIM members designed to win him the advantage of local headlines and the support of the state's aroused and virulent anti-Indian Euroamerican citizenry.
AIM countered Janklow's offensive when organizational officer Douglas Durham "discovered" the old Rosebud files. AIM leader Dennis Banks secured the filing of charges and brought the case before Rosebud tribal judge Mario Gonzales. Durham, meanwhile, had located Jancita Eagle Deer in Iowa, where she had resided since dropping out of school and leaving the reservation.
[pg note: Neither Matthiessen nor anyone else ever asked me about this; I'm the one who investigated the Jancita matter. Jancita bore an illegitimate son to Janklow, Janklow arranged his adoption by a white Iowa family. In 1989, the boy--who, despite his dark skin and hair facially resembles pictures of the young Janklow--repudiated his rapist-biological father and expressed the wish to be an Indian.]
Durham was able to persuade Eagle Deer to return to Rosebud to testify at the upcoming trial. Janklow refused to enter tribal jurisdiction to answer the charges. Gonzales then issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of rape and obstruction of justice. Durham and Eagle Deer apparently became lovers. (In any event she became her traveling companion.) [pg note: it would be more appropriate to say Durham served as her pimp, with Jancita in forced servitude to him.]. Janklow won his election bid on November 2.
In his new capacity as Attorney General, Janklow intensified his campaign against AIM, focusing his most lethal attentions upon Dennis Banks (who had showcased the charges) rather than upon Durham (who had brought them up and steadily pursued them). "The only way to deal with Dennis Banks is with a bullet between the eyes.&Quot Regardless of his political stance, Janklow is a trained attorney possessed with the usual legalistic logic. His omission of Durham from his personal "hit list" particularly given Durham's relationship to Jancita Eagle Deer (the one witness who could link him concretely to the rape charge), seemed odd at the time. It was soon to seem less so.
It was during the January, 1975 AIM occupation of the Alexian Brothers Abbey in Wisconsin that it came out that Durham was a paid ($1,000 per month cash) FBI informant. [pg: Well, AIM knew it them, I drove him away from the Shawano Motel where he was doing press relations and meeting with local vigilante groups, but it wasn't publicly revealed until the following March.] As head of AIM Security, Durham had been privy to many of the private defense team meetings during the so-called "Wounded Knee Leadership" trials of Banks, Means, and other AIM leaders, despite prosecution assurances--provoked by direct questions from the trial judge--that the defense team had not been infiltrated by government agents.
Although Banks and Means were acquitted at this trial, it remains true that no effort has ever been made to bring the prosecutors or responsible FBI officials to court on what amounted to flagrant perjury and contempt of court (as well as obviously attempting to deliberately cause miscarriages of justice).[pg note: A few days after the conclusion of the St. Paul trial, the Justice Department gave prosecutors Hurd and Gienapp outstanding achievement awards in fact.]
Meanwhile, Durham essentially dropped out of sight--with Jancita in tow. [pg: No. He sent her to South Dakota to mingle where he no longer could.] In March, 1975, Eagle Deer was found dead alongside a road in central Nebraska. While the state police report listed cause of death as being "hit and run" even their autopsy report indicated she had been beaten sometime prior to having been run over.
[pg note: This is entirely wrong. Jancita was struck while walking uncertainly in the center of the road by a 17-year-old son of a local wealthy farmer. I interviewed the coroner, state police and others on this matter, both as a followup on Durham and in support of a lawsuit brought by Jancita's mother-in-law on behalf of her 4-year-old daughter. Coroner told me she might have been beaten or flung from a fast-moving car--I had established Durham picked her up earlier that day in South Dakota, driving his father's old blue Chevvy--but it was presumed she was drunk. No blood alcohol was done on her. Local efforts actually were bent toward protecting the 2 drunken farm boys whose car had struck her. They reported the accident from a nearby farmhouse. Hit and run wasn't involved, the only real question is whether she jumped or was pushed from the moving car driven by Durham. The insurance claim was unsuccessful in joining Durham to the cause of action.]
Durham was never questioned in the matter of his companion's death.
[pg note: Not true: I questioned him as extensively as I dared to in May of 1975, before he took off to Dallas, Texas, where he is living now, and continuing to work for other agencies of the U.S. government--the FBI were never his only employers.]
Durham was called as the sole witness before a House Internal Security Subcommittee investigating AIM in the summer of 1975. There he provided "evidence" that AIM was a "terrorist" organization, then went on a lecture tour for the John Birch Society during the winter of '75-'76.[pg note: His tour had an odd itinerary--around towns by every major Indian reservation in the U.S. Durham's talk identified AIM as &communist sponsored" as well as terrorist. Durham also masterminded local incidents such as the shooting of AIM member Jerry Roy and the burning of AIM's files at the White Earth reservation, while speaking to John Birchers at Bemidji.]
Janklow, freed of the spectre of Eagle Deer's possible testimony against him, proceeded to secure a conviction of Dennis Banks--before an all-white western South Dakota jury--on "riot" charges stemming from a police assault on AIM in Custer, SD in January, 1973. Faced with a prison sentence in Janklow's tender care, Banks went underground. When he surfaced again, it was in California, where the circumstances surrounding his case were deemed odorous enough to warrant Governor Jerry Brown's granting of sanctuary from extradition to South Dakota.
As Matthiessen makes abundantly clear in his epic sifting of the facts, it is against the backdrop of such circumstances that the case of Leonard Peltier--indeed of AIM itself--must be understood and assessed.
Jim Messerschmidt narrows the focus of investigation once again, this time to consideration of the particulars of Peltier's trial itself. Here we run head on into the full absurdity of the "evidence" introduced by the FBI in order to secure a last-ditch conviction of an AIM "notable" in the deaths of the two field agents. The Trial of Leonard Peltier examines the facts systematically, one at a time.
First, there is the matter of the "mysterious" red pickup truck--or red Scout, or red jeep, or red Scout pickup or orange pickup, or orange van, or red van, or red and white van...depending on who's telling the tale--agents Williams and Coler were reported to have chased into the killing zone. Relatedly, there is the fact that this vehicle disappears from testimony once the shooting starts, only to resurface as a concrete "link" between Peltier and the killings. (He was known to have driven a borrowed red and white van from tim to time, although no testimony links him to this van on the day in question...assuming that this van is even the vehicle in question.)
Second, there is the matter of two separate autopsies, performed by two separate coroners commissioned by the FBI, which tend to cancel each other out in certain respects, and which cannot be said to even tack down conclusively the calibre of the weapon used for the fatal shots. (Calibers .22, .223, .30, .36, .306, .308, .30-.30, .44 magnum and .45 were all "tested" in the process of performing the autopsies; clearly a "fishing expedition".) All the good doctors could confirm was that the agents died as the result of pointblank rounds fired from a "high powered rifle".
Third, there is the matter of some rather odd ballistics data, or perhaps lack of ballistics data is a more accurate description. All the FBI ever produced along this line were some fragments of slugs located in the ground under where the agents were lying, which could (they admitted) have been from any .22 calibre-series weapon and which could not even be determined to have been fired on the day in question. Nonetheless, the FBI was prepared to assert in court that the fatal weapon was a .223 calibre AR-15 rifle.
Fourth, there is the matter of linking the alleged "murder weapon" to a real gun. This was accomplished by the recovery of a burned up AR-15 from the remains of Butler and Robideau's demolished car near Kansas City. The weapon could not be fired, which wouldn't have mattered anyway since no slugs have been recovered with which to make a match comparison. But the "method" used was to remove the bolt assembly from the ruined weapon, place it in a functional but altogether different rifle, and fire a few rounds. The dents made in the ejected brass cartridges by the extractor mechanism on the rifle bolt were then matched to similar brass supposedly collected from the open trunk of one of the dead agents' cars.
Exactly when this spent shell-casing got into the trunk is a matter of some controversy, as this major "find" was not initially reported. To the contrary, the original FBI notes point to the "theory" that the killer had stopped--in the middle of a firefight, no less-- to pick up the potentially incriminating spent ammunition before going about his other business, an idea so implausible that it was soon dropped from polite conversation. In any event, the initial lack of such "conclusive" physical evidence as the .223 casings found in the truck of the car, led inevitably to the earlier-noted coroner's confusion as to the calibre of the lethal weapon....a factor which causes a certain doubt as to whether the whole (flimsy) "brass link" was not a post hoc fabrication on the part of the Bureau.
Fifth, even were the match of the spent ammunition to a given "murder weapon" to be accepted at face value (an obviously dangerous proposition) , the weapon would be logically linked to Robideau or Butler--who had it in their possession--rather than to Peltier, who did not. The problem with such logic, however, is that both Robideau and Butler were acquitted. The FBI had to link the weapon to Peltier in order to secure any conviction at all.
This was accomplished at the trial by the introduction of a sudden new "eyewitness&- quot; at the Fargo trial--who happened to be an FBI agent--who testified he was stationed on a ridge some distance away from the killing zone on the fatal day and observed--through a rifle scope--Leonard Peltier running away from the bodies of the two agents with an AR-15 in his hands. Why, in the midst of a firefight, an FBI agent with a loaded sniper rifle would observe a running, armed individual departing the bodies of two downed agents, and not shoot the probable culprit, has never been explained. It would have been a fair shot for a marksman since the range was supposedly close enough to allow for positive identification of the escaping individual through a 7X lens.
More, it came out in court that the agent in question had never seen Peltier before allegedly observing him through the scope sight, and that--for the story to work out--the escaping individual would necessarily have had to be moving in a direction which put his side to the observer. To compound matters, it was noted that the air temperature was warm enough at the time to cause heat shimmers, thereby distorting any image gleaned through the scope. A neat trick, to positively identify a previously unknown individual in profile, when that individual is moving at a fair rate of speed, is some distance away, and one's view is obstructed by atmospheric disturbances. At least the agent did not attempt to positively identify the serial number on the weapon "Peltier" was supposedly carrying.
As the FBI documents secured under FOIA clearly state, but which the courts of the United States do not deem worthy of evidentiary consideration, Bureau tests themselves had revealed such an identification was an utter impossibility before this crucial witness took the stand. The FBI both suppressed the test results and allowed (ordered) one of its employees to commit perjury in a capital case.
But a sixth major point is also raised. Given that the ultimately critical witness was himself an FBI agent, it seems reasonable to assume the FBI was aware of his existence and the nature of his testimony prior to trying Dino Butler and Bob Robideau for the same "murders&qu- ot;. The matter cannot be had both ways. Either the FBI believed Peltier to be the "lone executioner" it made him out to be at his own trial, or else it believed the agents were killed not by one but by several people. If the Bureau believed the former, it deliberately attempted to convict two individuals it knew to be innocent. If the Bureau believed the latter, then it deliberately falsified what it knew to be the truth in order to secure Peltier's convic- tion.
The third possibility--pointed to repeatedly in this review--is that the FBI never believed any of the individuals brought to trial had killed either of the agents. In that event, the AIM people were intended to serve merely as examples, a part of the "chilling effect" which had already generated hundreds of bodies, and which was designed to quell the Indian resistance at least long enough for the U.S. to "legally" lay its hands upon one more parcel of uranium-laden Indian land. any case, regardless of who believed what, there is more than a little which is horribly wrong in the overall pattern of federal/judicial conduct relative to AIM. Peltier is symbolic of the whole.
We are ultimately presented here not with true considerations of justice and injustice, questions of whether "the process works" or doesn't work, or can even be made to work. Reality has long since transcended such notions, the concept of "the process" does not even begin to address the reality of what is happening in Indian country. We are confronted with the fact of the U.S. waging a clandestine war on colonial subjects within the United States itself, no more, no less.
Every generation seemingly has its legal "cause celebre". As illustration, the cases of the Haymarket martyrs and of Sacco and Vanizetti come immediately to mind. In time, it seems probable that the case of Leonard Peltier will be acknowledged to have joined the ranks of such historical examples, indicative of the nature of the warfare waged between the oppressor and the oppressed.
It is, perhaps, a sign of the times--and the sad state of American radicalism--how little is generally known among his contemporaries of the issues he represents, the facts underlying his incarceration.
This is all the more tragic (or stupid) in that as the American left flounders to reconstitute its voice in the face of a rising domestic fascism, increasing probabilities of both conventional and thermonuclear war, and the wanton proliferation of environmental holocaust, it manages to miss (or arrogantly ignore) the one group which holds both the pragmatic and moral postures to provide both an example and a cutting edge. The transformation of America has long since ceased being a nice idea, assuming instead the status of an imperative. Such a transformation can only occur from within, the result of an American revolution, the consequence of--finally--the establishment of a viable American oppositional movement. It seems almost laughingly fundamental that any movement in America which does not include the Native American, the first American first and foremost, is rather lacking in American-ness. A non-American oppositional movement, one which fails to include those who are indigenous to this continent is bound to fail...as "American movements" have with an almost cyclical repetition during the past century.
The place for the American Indian and for the American Indian Movement in particular, is at the very center of what Marshall Goodman once called "the movement toward a new America", not forced, (as Russell Means noted at the outset of this review) to the periphery and beyond. It is, after all, the American Indian who holds the tools of international practice: (treaty rights, mineral resources, land tenure, water rights and all the rest) which alone can lift the conceptions of an American revolution out of the netherworld of radical chic playtime and place them within a serious agenda.
AIM has withstood an almost surreal degree of armed repression during the past decade. Today, it is in some ways stronger than ever before, more capable of dealing with the actualities of confronting U.S. power than any other group in the country. As an organization, it has paid hard dues, and has earned its position of leadership. There is a whole range of important lessons to be learned from its carriage by a host of radicals who all too recently folded up as the first whiff of teargas, sight of riot police batons, or the prospect of a less than tranquil professional career.
The reading of these books by and about contemporary American Indian issues is no longer a "luxury" to be indulged in by the more scholarly, progressive, or sentimental American leftists. Instead, such reading represents the tentative beginning of redressing a drastic deficiency in the knowledge required to formulate an adequate American radical vision. The 3 books reviewed here, and the Brand book about Anna Mae Aquash, are therefore not so much recommended as insisted upon. People seriously concerned with positive change will take seriously such insistence (something I've never extended before).
Serious people will also couple the information gained to concrete lines of action. It should be evident that there are any number of likely points of focus for time and energy within the realm of Indian issues. Leonard Peltier would seem to be one of the more pressing and logical for widespread and concerted effort. The United States government has seen fit to convert him into a symbol of the futility of resistance and the repression of his movement. Achieving his freedom--which, by any standards, is well deserved--can thus be construed only as a solid symbol of liberation.
[pg note: So, that was 11 years ago. What happened: AIM kind of broke up, into a small group of surviving vets' families. Of the books reviewed above, the 4 by small presses sank without a trace. Government-funded lawsuits suppressed the one that might have been a best- seller at the time. The Indian Gaming laws were passed. Some people on some reservations got rather rich from casinos. Traditional resistance such as David Sohappy's salmon fishing, the Dann sisters opposing nuclear testing on Shoshone land, the complex issues involved in the Akwesasne (reserve), Oka and other Canadian reservations, James Bay II in Canada--these have moved along with little public knowledge and no mass movement of support. Through the years a comparatively small group has continued to support Peltier, and to organize actions to seek his release (that happen about once a year).
And he remains in prison, a symbol, as this anonymous writer said "of the futility of resistance and the repression of his movement." He is known by name to most Indian people, known as a political prisoner, but today's youth do not know this history.]
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Last updated: Sunday, July 09, 1995 - 10:43:08 AM