Top Native Dems call on Biden to grant Leonard Peltier clemency
Native American Caucus pushes freedom for Turtle Mountain citizen through DNC resolution.
WASHINGTON — On the same day that major tribal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act were signed into law by President Joe Biden, the Native American Caucus of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) demanded that the leader of the free world take action on another issue that many Indigenous people support: clemency for Leonard Peltier.
In a statement released March 16, Clara Pratte, chair of the Native caucus, along with Rion Ramirez, vice chair, and Ruth Anna Buffalo, secretary and treasurer, said that Peltier, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, should be immediately released from federal prison.
The DNC’s Native caucus has been meeting as part of the political party’s winter gathering. Their focus to date has been on elections and strategy and broader Indigenous inclusion the party’s platform. Caucus member Debbie Nez Manuel is also credited by leaders with getting land acknowledgements recognized as part of the regular process of DNC meetings.
Peltier’s freedom is said to be the Native Democrats’ next major goal. Caucus leaders called his 46-year imprisonment “one of the great miscarriages of justice in modern history.”
To date, the Biden White House has been wary of addressing the topic of clemency for Peltier. In January, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki would not say whether Biden would consider the issue.
“I don’t have anything to predict for you on that front,” Psaki said in response to a question posed to her during a White House press briefing.
Pratte told Indigenous Wire on Wednesday that Democratic Natives plan to ramp up pressure on the White House, saying that the caucus “will be pushing to move” clemency for Peltier “through DNC resolution.”
Peltier, 77, is incarcerated at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida. He was a member of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and was convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of two FBI agents in a June 1975 shooting on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
His imprisonment has long been questioned by some people Indian Country. He’s been eligible for parole since 1993, and President Barack Obama, at the tail end of his presidency, denied his request for clemency in 2017.
Peltier reportedly suffers from diabetes and a lethal abdominal aortic aneurysm and has recently contracted COVID-19.
“He has remained imprisoned despite the admission by James Reynolds, the United States Attorney whose office handled the prosecution and appeal of his case, that his prosecution was unjust, and prosecutors were unable to prove that he had committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation,” the Native Democrats wrote in their statement.
They said that Peltier’s continued incarceration is but one symbol of the decades-old racial injustice towards Indigenous people in the American criminal justice system.
“According to Bureau of Justice statistics, Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate that is 38 percent higher than the national average,” they stated. “In 19 states, Native Americans are more likely to be imprisoned than any other race and ethnicity.”
As a result of such dire statistics, Native Americans’ faith in the criminal justice system is generally poor, they continued, saying that the caucus has “an ethical and moral duty to recognize these long-standing injustices and to work to address underlying issues that contribute to these harrowing statistics.”
They made the case that petitions for Peltier’s release are “widespread and urgent,” adding that “Amnesty International and other internationally respected champions of human rights, such as the late Nelson Mandela, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the Rev. Jesse Jackson [and] seven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates” have all been among those who support of the release of Peltier.
“As the Native American Caucus of the Democratic National Committee, we join the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators and the National Congress of American Indians in urging President Biden to immediately grant Mr. Peltier clemency and release,” they wrote. “It is a matter of justice and compassion. It is time for our relative and elder, Mr. Peltier, to live out his final days among his people.”
No immediate comment from the White House was available.
Indigenous Wire is a Native-owned, reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.