I have received this short piece by poet and friend Lance Henson, and being a long time supporter of the struggle to free Leonard Peltier, I am honored to post it.
I write this story on this Wednesday morning after hearing that Leonard Peltier, Ojibwa nation, the longest held political prisoner in America, has tested positive for COVID. This was reported by Kevin Sharpe, Peltier’s attorney. Last Tuesday, the American social critic Chris Hedges interviewed Sharpe on RT, the Russian television station regarding Leonard Peltier’s situation. The Peltier case and
his imprisonment for over 40 years are proof positive that the American justice system is flawed in almost catastrophic dimensions. Leonard Peltier may be in his last days,one can only hope and pray that he survives. He is currently held at the Coleman correctional prison in Sumterville, Florida. It is unimaginable what he have suffered. I write in haste and offer a story inside the larger story of his history of victimization and point to the clear reason that so many persons such as Desmond Tutu, Pope John, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and others have plead and petitioned the Supreme Court and three presidents of the United States to commute his sentence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and its antiquated Cointelpro surveillance program have been instrumental in protesting and blocking, even intimidating Presidents into rejecting pleas for Peltier’s release.
In 1991, I met with American writer Peter Matthiessen.We had met a year before as I had invited him to speak in Olean, New York, where I was doing a 15 week poetry residency. Peter was on a nationwide speaking tour. He accepted the invitation and a friendship ensued. I complimented him on the character Louis Moon, the Cheyenne mercenary in his epic novel “At Play in the Fields of the Lord”. In 1982 Matthiessen had written “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”, Penguin Publishers, New York, which detailed the 30-day standoff between the American army, the South Dakota National Guard, the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation against entrenched American Indian Movement warriors and supporters and the firefight in 1973 at Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, between the American Indian Movement and two F.B.I agents. The FBI agents were killed by A.I.M. in a firefight.
Four A.I.M. warriors were indicted for the murders, only Leonard Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two life terms. As far as Matthiessen’s book, 50,000 copies were ordered destroyed by the American government at the behest of the F.B.I. which claimed that portions of the book threatened national security. Matthiessen then photo copied the book and sold copies at his lectures, the proceeds going to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.
Peter was lecturing at the State University of New York in Albany one year later. I went to the lecture and when he finished I went to greet him and he invited me to join him and author William Kennedy. His novel about the Albany alcoholic scene “Ironweed” was a major success and had been made into a film. Eventually Kennedy left and Peter and I were alone. He told me that he had just returned from South Dakota where, deep into the Lakota reservation, after being blindfolded, he had been invited to meet someone in a vacant house. When the blindfold was removed, seated in a chair, he was facing a large, long haired native man, with a mask on his face, who identified himself as Mr. X. He said he was the shooter and described how he walked up to the agents after the firefight and summarily shot them both on the head. In 1992, Penguin re-published “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”; it became a national best seller. Peltier is innocent.