Leonard Peltier Trial (1977)

Did Leonard Peltier, at close range with his AR-15, execute two FBI agents who had entered the Pine Ridge Reservation? Peltier's prominent supporters, including author Peter Matthiessen (who wrote a book on the Peltier case entitled In the Spirit of Crazy Horse) and Hollywood director and film star Robert Redford (who filmed a documentary about the case entitled Incident at Oglala), suggested in their accounts that Peltier was the innocent victim of unscrupulous government law enforcement agents and prosecutors. On the other hand, the federal law enforcement community and--most importantly--a federal jury in Fargo believed that Peltier committed first-degree murder on that June day in South Dakota. Peltier's defenders, both inside and outside the American Indian Movement, consider him to be America's foremost political prisoner. To many others, however, Peltier is nothing more than a brutal killer who deserves to spend the rest of his days in a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. What really happened on June 26, 1975? Did Peltier get a fair trial? Is it time to free Leonard Peltier?

Background

The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in Minnesota in 1968 by Eddie Benton Banai, George Mitchell, Dennis Banks, and Clyde Bellecourt. The organization promoted traditional Native American culture and sought to instill pride in the Native American community. AIM's targets included both the federal government, with whom it had a long list of grievances (especially focused on its record of many broken treaties--including the 1868 Ft. Laramie treaty, which resulted in the loss of nearly all of their land in the sacred Black Hills region of South Dakota) and assimilationist or "progressive" Indians, who they believed undermined native traditions and solidarity.


In February 1973, AIM instigated a seventy-one day takeover of the site of a famous 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The massacre, described vividly in the bestselling book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, resulted in the deaths--at the hands of the United States Calvary--of several hundred Sioux women and children. In response to the AIM protest, the United States sent troops and tanks. The standoff ended with two deaths and a series of trials of AIM leaders....