Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on October 9 sent a letter with 10 other House lawmakers to President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting the expedited release of and clemency for renowned American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier. The letter is available at https://bit.ly/3DsQ5KD.
Mr. Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, was arrested in connection with the murders of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in 1977 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Following a trial that was riddled with evidentiary and procedural concerns, Mr. Peltier was sentenced to two life sentences.
As the authors of today’s letter note, Mr. Peltier’s trial included issues such as “a critical alleged eyewitness later retracting her testimony and admitting that the FBI had threatened her” and revelations following a Freedom of Information Act ruling in 1980 that “the prosecution had withheld documented evidence that might have assisted Mr. Peltier’s case.”
Despite these civil rights violations, Mr. Peltier was never granted a fair retrial. Currently housed at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida, he has served more than 43 years in federal prison. Today, at 77 years old, he suffers from severe health conditions such as diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
As an Indigenous rights activist, Mr. Peltier worked to draw attention to systemic issues facing American Indian and Alaska Native communities during the 1970s, including federal treaty rights violations, discrimination, and police brutality.
Individuals and groups who have called for Mr. Peltier’s release include Amnesty International, the National Congress of American Indians, the late Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rigoberta Menchú, seven other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Rage Against the Machine, Pete Seeger, Carlos Santana, Harry Belafonte, Gloria Steinem, and Robert Redford.
A recent petition calling for his release gathered more than 275,000 signatures. Even former U.S. Attorney James H. Reynolds, who oversaw Mr. Peltier’s original conviction, has written to President Biden requesting clemency for Mr. Peltier. Last year, Chair Grijalva co-led a similar clemency request letter with then-Representative Deb Haaland, now Secretary of the Interior.
The full list of signatories includes:
- Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)
- Representative Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL)
- Representative Cori Bush (D-MO)
- Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO)
- Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA)
- Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM)
- Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)
- Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
- Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN)
- Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-NM)