Leonard Peltier Freedom Riders Reach White House After 1,500 Mile Spirit Ride

The Leonard Peltier Freedom Riders and their allies deliver a message to President Trump to free Leonard Peltier.(Photo by Frank Hopper.)

Frank Hopper

Beginning from the site of the 1862 execution of the Dakota 38, the Riders brought sacred power to influence Trump.

I’m not used to being looked at by a horse. Being Tlingit, born in Alaska and raised in Seattle, I know virtually nothing about them. So as I stood in the circle of people across from the White House on Thursday at the Leonard Peltier Freedom Riders rally, I couldn't help noticing their gazes.

The feeling wasn't at all unpleasant and was even a little exhilarating. Their eyes have a childlike quality I found endearing. I could also sense a certain wisdom that seemed to come from a lifetime of observing humans.

The five horses present had carried their riders all the way from Minnesota to Coleman, Florida, where Leonard Peltier, the 74-year-old Anishinaabe activist and American Indian Movement member is in a maximum security prison serving two consecutive life sentences for murder. From there they carried their riders to Washington, DC to bring a message and a blessing to President Trump to free that aging warrior. The entire journey was over 1,500 miles.

It all began with a dream

The police would not allow the riders to mount their horses at the rally, so they stood beside them holding their reins as the group’s spokesman, Frank Archambault, made some opening remarks.

“We come here today to pay tribute to a brother of ours who's been in prison for almost 43 years. Today we finish our journey that started on July 28. This whole thing started over a man’s dream. It was to ride across the country for another man’s dream of freedom.”

Ken FourCloud and Black Rose.(Courtesy Leonard Peltier Freedom Ride 2018 Facebook page.)

Ken FourCloud was the man with the dream. He had ridden in previous Spirit Rides with the Dakota 38 riders, who every year travel from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato, Minnesota in remembrance of the original Dakota 38. Those Dakota warriors were hanged simultaneously on a huge scaffold in Mankato in 1862 by order of President Lincoln. They had risen up and fought for their people and the government captured and made examples of them.

Both Leonard and Ken are descended from the original Dakota 38, so Ken spoke with his friend and longtime Peltier supporter Julia Fike and together they came up with the idea of holding a similar Spirit Ride for Leonard. But instead of ending in Mankato, this one would start from there and would end three months later in Washington, DC, where I now stood with the horses eyeing me and the rest of the gathering.

Words from an Ojibwe elder, and from a horse

The horses were skittish at first but settled down as the next speaker, Mary Lyons, spoke. Mary is an author, activist and Ojibwe elder from Minnesota who flew in with family members to honor the arrival of the Freedom Riders.

Mary Lyons, Bobby Belas and Wakinyan.(Courtesy Leonard Peltier Freedom Ride 2018 Facebook page.)

“I’m an elder, a great grandmother, a grandmother, a mother, a sister, an auntie, a friend. I speak all across the globe because I too was in the movement when it began. It still pains me that First Nations people, the Anishinaabe, the people of this land, are still hidden within these walls and our truth is not told. Our brother Leonard, amongst all our other relatives, during that time at Wounded Knee, sacrificed themselves knowing that we were the absent people of this land, that we would suffer. And they chose to surrender themselves, no matter what pack of lies would be bestowed on them.”

At that moment, Ken’s horse, Black Rose, called out loudly. “This is true!” her neighing seemed to say. “This is indeed true!” she said in the language of the horse people. Black Rose is a matriarch among the Freedom Rider’s horses. She is the mother of one of them, Tate Mani, which means Wind Walker, who was born during a blizzard last year.

The spiritual importance of the horse and rider

Mary Lyons continued. “Even our relatives, the four-legged, know this is true, because they too were swept from their lands to be brought onto our land and for our people to care for them as if they were our own brothers and sisters, and not a work animal. So I say thank you,” she said to Black Rose. “You see, there are visions all around us.”

I realized the horses were not dumb animals being used simply as quaint modes of transportation. The Anishinabe view them in a sacred way. Their four legs represent the four directions. Their heads represent above. Their tails represent below. So the rider sits at the center where all things are in balance and related. And as the horse and rider move forward, they create power. It is this power, created during the 1,500-mile journey from Mankato, that the Freedom Riders delivered to the orange-haired man in the White House. And when Black Rose called out, I knew that power was real.

“Our brother has suffered long enough,” Mary Lyons continued. “He's not coming out to start something that he couldn't have started in there. All he wants is peace. He wants to come home to his relatives, to his land, to this place we call freedom. But if this place we call freedom is for all, release Leonard Peltier!”

How Leonard’s example has touched me

After the rally I took the subway home and thought about what Leonard meant to me. In 1992 and 1993 I was in prison for drug offenses. I joined a Native spirituality group called the Tribal Sons and attended sweat lodge. I didn't know who Leonard was back then.

But others in our circle did. They spoke of him with respect. They said he had been in a 1975 firefight with the FBI on Native land in which two agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, as well as AIM activist and Coeur d'Alene warrior Joe Stuntz were killed. They said Leonard became the scapegoat for the FBI deaths and was doing hard time for it. To Native convicts like me, that made Leonard a hero, someone who stood up for his people and was suffering in prison for it.

Prison is hard. No one knew that more than us. That's why we stuck together. To this day I still keep in touch with my brothers in the Tribal Sons. The oppression of Native inmates continues. My friend Robbie, who only last month got married to a good woman while inside, is now sitting in the hole for the next six months on a trumped up drug possession offense lodged by a racist guard.

But Leonard’s done 43 years of hard time. And he's done it for us, for Native people everywhere, because we all suffer behind the walls of oppressive racism and colonialism.

Black Rose(Courtesy Leonard Peltier Freedom Ride Facebook page.)

A final prayer

May the power of the Leonard Peltier Freedom Riders: Ken FourCloud, Frank Archambault, Elvis Provost, Dillon Robert, Gregory Payne, Doug Kemp, Bobby Belas and several others and their horses: Black Rose, Raven, Wakinyan, Cannonball, Tate Mani, Lefty and Sasha, free us all.

Aho Mitakuye Oyasin!

Comments (11)
No. 1-8

wado freedom riders and all who support this effort to honor the past and move toward the future in peace. may your effort and commitment to #freeleonardpeltier be met with success after 43 years.


Sorry the Freedom Riders wasted their time:

Mark Potter: “Did you fire at those agents, Coler and Williams? Leonard Peltier: “I shot in their direction, yes.” CNN interview, Oct 1999. Later in the interview, Peltier admits for the first time on camera that he left his firing position near a large tree and stood over the two dead agents, moments after they were both shot in the head at point-blank range.

“…I can’t tell the system I was shooting at their police officers that were trying to arrest me. They’ll hold that against me. I’ve got to be careful about that stuff." Leonard Peltier, 1995 interview with Native journalist Richard LaCourse, admitting that he mistakenly believed the FBI agents were there to arrest him. Peltier was a wanted fugitive for the attempted murder of a police officer in Wisconsin. Agents Coler and Williams were looking for someone else when Peltier opened fire on their FBI cars.

"When all is said and done, however, a few simple but very important facts remain. The casing introduced into evidence in fact had been extracted from the Wichita AR-15. This point was not disputed." Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Feb 1986, finding of fact that a shell casing found at the murder scene was ejected from the AR-15 assault rifle carried by Leonard Peltier. Over a hundred shell casings, all matched to Peltier’s weapon, were found in the area where he was seen shooting. There were over a hundred bullet holes in the FBI cars.

“The record as a whole leaves no doubt that the jury accepted the government's theory that Peltier had personally killed the two agents, after they were seriously wounded, by shooting them at point blank range with an AR-15 rifle ....The critical evidence in support of this theory was a casing from a .223 caliber Remington cartridge recovered from the trunk of [the car of one of the murdered agents] ...The district court, agreeing with the government's theory ... sentenced Peltier to two consecutive life sentences.” United States v. Peltier, 800 F.2d 772, 772-73 (8th Cir. 1986)

“The motherf---er was begging for his life but I shot him anyway.” Sworn testimony attributed to Leonard Peltier, boasting in the Marlon Brando motor home about shooting Ronald Williams, as heard by Dennis Banks, Ka-Mook Banks, Bernie Lafferty, and (soon-to-be-murdered) Anna Mae Aquash. According to the autopsy report, Ronald Williams died with his right hand held up in front of his face; there were powder burns on his fingers.

"There is no doubt that in June 1975 Leonard Peltier put a loaded gun in my mother's mouth during one of her interrogations and that six months later, other members and leaders of the American Indian Movement carried out my mother's torture, rape and murder. Leonard knows a lot about the people involved but even today, after all these years, he refuses to cooperate in the on-going murder investigation." Denise Maloney, daughter of AIM murder victim Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (Mi'kmaq)

"... the greater probability is that you yourself fired the fatal shots... It would be unjust to treat the slaying of these F.B.I. agents, while they lay wounded and helpless, as if your actions had been part of a gun battle. Neither the state of relations between Native American militants and law enforcement...nor the exchanges of gunfire between individuals at the Jumping Bull Compound and the law enforcement agents who arrived there during the hours after Agents Coler and Williams were murdered, explains or mitigates the crimes you committed...Your release on parole would promote disrespect for the law...." Leonard Peltier’s 1999 Parole Board, commenting on his aiding and abetting conviction.

"For me it’s something very heroic that he’s done. He’s putting himself at risk, seriously at risk. I will say this: that this brother is a very strong brother. He is not a cold-blooded murderer. He is not a bad person, he’s very kind, generous and sincere." Leonard Peltier, 1991 Darrin Wood interview, describing the man who executed Ronald Williams and Jack Coler.

“I never thought my commitment would mean sacrificing like this, but I was willing to do so nonetheless. And really, if necessary, I’d do it all over again, because it was the right thing to do.” Message from inmate Peltier, 2/6/2010. Sorry the Freedom Riders wasted their time:

Parole may be granted when the offender's "...release would not depreciate the seriousness of the offense." DOJ policy statement on parole. In his petition for clemency to President Obama, Peltier says he ran in the direction of "women and children" after, as he also claims in his book, waking up to the sound of gunfire in his tent a quarter mile from the murder scene. Peltier had hoped the president was unaware that the 8th Circuit established that the gunfire actually started when Peltier emerged from his Suburban van and opened fire on the FBI agents. Peltier's worst enemy has always been the truth!

Rev Khan
Rev Khan

I was very disappointed in Pres. Obama for now using his pardon power to free brother Leonard. I had written to him on many occasions but never received a reply. (and the only time he came to the Navajo Nation was when he was campaigning....) The Racist in Chief will not respond either...our strength will be with the Native American women and other strong women of color who are going to DC to represent the people...ALL the people!

Rev Khan
Rev Khan

@cindiLu osiyo!

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

What gets me about the Leonard Peltier case is the opposition to giving him a fair trial. Like the Steven Avery case, Leonard Peltier never received a fair trial, so the verdict will always be in doubt. If he was pardoned, his innocence would always be in doubt. And yet, if his constitutional right to a fair trial was observed, the government's case against him would not be enough for a guilty verdict...


My gggg grandfather was a tracker/guide for the army years ago. The Cherokee's in return took his wife, daughters, sons and other relatives 14 or so in total kidnapped them and then subsequently slaughtered them. There is still a national memorial market about that event out east.

I think our nation's early history is vile and heartbreaking. I have a deep rooted love for Native Americans in our country. We wouldn't be the nation we are if it wasn't for early Indian leaders teaching our founding fathers about democracy and strength in unity. I wish more emphasis was put on Native American history in our country. Most all cities, counties, rivers etc.. are named after Indian names for them.

The rifle means different things to different people. I'm going to get one and I know what it means to me.

Ghost Horse
Ghost Horse

Google for New York Times 2014 article Who Killed Anna Mae.

Leonard was paranoid Anna Mae Pictou Aquash would take his bragging statement that he executed both FBI agents to the FBI. Leonard obviously set up Anna Mae, she was kidnapped, raped, murdered by Graham & Looking Horse of AIM, they were convicted of this with help from Ka Mook Banks, ex-wife of Dennis Banks. KaMook was there when Peltier bragged about executing the FBI agents.

A shame so much money is made off Peltier, that money should go to family of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, they are Serving a Life Sentence of Missing Their Mother.

Anna Mae is Murdered & Missing Indigenous Woman.

The Dakota Uprising during the U.S. Civil War was a tragic incident caused by corrupt U.S. Indian Agents & Govt neglect to duty.

The war council by Little Bird was also a bad idea.

But, many white settlers were actually unharmed since they had always been good to Dakota.

Sadly the flow of this movement saw some killings of non-combatants. U.S. troops arrived and placed many natives into confinement. One detention center suffered a disease outbreak killing many Dakota before any trials.

303 warriors were convicted by military tribunal. Lincoln pardoned 265, but the remaining admitted to capital crimes, including a White mentally deficient who "lived as an Indian".

Hard to type more on this small phone. Please be careful, Freedom is Knowledge. Are you Free to Think? Or Controlled by Propaganda? Dont be Bitter, raise healthy positive youth for the next generations. Learn the mistakes of the history, so they arent Repeated. Peace


Only those personally involved in this tale will ever know what really took place. Our government agencies have the history of lies and false confessions and instigation and power with money to buy the scenario of their choice. All this taking place at a time of great corruption in government with abusive brutality by agents of the government and lack of interest for the truth by the general public.