OGLALA, S.D. - It was 26 years ago that one Oglala and two FBI agents were killed in what some people call a war situation. One man continues to serve time for the FBI deaths.
More than 60 people gathered at the Jumping Bull Ranch near here June 26 to pray and promise never to let the events of 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation be forgotten.
The gathering of friends and supporters of Leonard Peltier, serving two life sentences in the deaths of the agents, showed no anger or frustration over the fact Peltier was not granted clemency by former President Bill Clinton. The Peltier Defense Committee and many other people across the nation submitted letters and phone calls and prayers to encourage Clinton to release Peltier from prison. The vigil, prayers and hope of his release remains alive among his avid supporters.
"I came here in 1974 and was involved in the occupation. I experienced all the pain and suffering the people felt. The American Indian Movement to us ... it's in our hearts, it's our philosophy," said Lamone Bear Runner.
He issued a warning to the crowd, including some young and some veterans of AIM, to be very careful over the next four years.
"The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can have jurisdiction over reservations, be aware. The new attorney general is viewed as anti-Indian. When your sovereignty is threatened be careful."
Bear Runner referred to the June 25 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Nevada vs. Fallon Paiute-Shoshone, that allows states to have certain jurisdictional powers over tribal members within reservation boundaries.
The warning from Bear Runner is ironic because 26 years ago, Joe Killsright Stuntz and FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams were killed in a firefight with AIM members at the Jumping Bull Camp south of Oglala. The overall conflict started because elders asked AIM members to offer security against what was then referred to as terrorism on the reservation. Movement members claimed that GOON squads directed by then-tribal president, the late Dick Wilson, terrorized the reservation and "murdered AIM members and others."
"It's hard to believe that it has been 26 years since the shoot out," said Jean Day, Peltier Defense Committee member and a 1975 occupant of Jumping Bull Camp.
"While driving here and walking over, it reminded me that this was our home, here. We were happy here," she said.
Day said she met with Peltier recently and that he was doing OK, even after the clemency disappointment. "He has a lot of good heart and spirit. We need to remember Joseph Stuntz who was killed near here. People have forgotten about Joe's children. We need to embrace his children and bring them home and teach them about Joe.
"We must never forget what happened here 26 years ago. It could happen to you," Day said.
Fedelia Cross, Oglala, said she was interested in making sure a dream of Peltier's came to reality. She said a school to be named the Leonard Peltier Freedom School was to be built on a site on the Jumping Bull grounds. The school is to be an immersion school and teach the language and how to live off the earth. High technology would also be part of the curriculum, she said.
"In the near future we will have a ground breaking. (Peltier) has designed it to look natural in the setting. It will be a challenge, but we will do it for him. When he gets out (of prison) and we don't (build the school) we will be in trouble," Cross said.