Leonard Peltier AIM ‘Walk to Justice’ from MN to D.C. Started With a Dream [AIM Arrives in D.C.]

Minneapolis, MN – Over the past two years, leaders within the American Indian Movement (AIM) organized a 1,103-mile walk from “the heart of AIM” in Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. “to seek elder Leonard Peltier’s release,” according to the main organizer Rachel Thunder. The walk’s primary purpose was to raise awareness about the case of Leonard Peltier, who they say was wrongfully convicted in 1977 of killing two FBI agents in a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Leonard Peltier, who turned 78 on September 12, is known around the world as a political prisoner. Peltier has received worldwide support for his case including from Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. He was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, however the U.S. government has repeatedly refused to grant him parole.

The day before the start of the walk, directors and leaders with AIM, along with those in solidarity, rallied on August 31, 2022, to hold ceremony, sing songs, and speak not only on Peltier’s case, but on the many injustices Indigenous communities face on turtle island. AIM chapters from across the nation and Canada were represented including Rachel Thunder of Indiana and Kentucky, Suzanne Smoke of Southern Ontario, Ray Bacasegua Valdez of Northern Nevada, and Lisa Bellinger who is the national co-director of AIM along with Frank Paro.

The last of Leonard’s children, Kathy Peltier, was also present. She spoke about the one time she was able to see her father and he was able to see her. She was about two years old and attended his trial.

Indiana and Kentucky AIM Director Rachel Thunder says that the inspiration to start the 1,103-mile journey started with a dream, where she was transported to Peltier’s prison cell.

“You know, we didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to walk for Leonard Peltier.’ There were dreams that were coming to us. The dreams that were coming to me, I would be in Leonard’s prison cell with him, locked up with him. Doing that time with him. And he’d be sitting there on his bed with his face in his hands. And he wouldn’t say anything. But in each of these dreams, I would say, ‘Your people are coming to get you, that aim is coming to get you. Your people haven’t forgotten about you. Don’t worry. We’re coming.’”

Rachel Thunder, AIM Director Indiana and Kentucky

A three-year period of political violence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation began in 1973 with the Wounded Knee occupation. The FBI supplied a group known as the Guardians of The Oglala Nation, created by then-elected tribal chairman Richard Wilson, with intelligence on AIM members and looked away as the group committed crimes.

The “GOON squad” took part in large-scale militarization, harassment, and intimidation of Native American activists with support from the FBI-backed tribal government.

In 1975, traditionalists at Pine Ridge asked AIM leaders to send members to protect against further GOON squad attacks. Among the members who responded was Leonard Peltier.

John Trudell, who served as the chairman of AIM during most of the 1970s, spoke on Leonard Peltier via Portland Oregon Public Access:

“They are not going to let him out; that has never been their intention. The government had an operative, not an informant or a snitch. An operative is someone they put amongst you to direct activities. I think there was a government operative amongst that level of AIM leadership who wasn’t necessarily a part of the AIM leadership, but had access to the AIM leadership.”

Trudell continued, “And the way that it appears to me is that I think that this operative manipulated both sides against each other on the firefight thing, as part of a larger plan. But the plan went wrong and the agents got killed.”

The U.S. Department of Justice suppressed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that would indicate Peltier’s innocence, including ballistic evidence in the 1975 shootout at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The U.S. suppressed that evidence, in part, to extradite him from Canada. In 1994 an international effort to obtain Peltier’s release was launched, but the FBI issued a memorandum outline to counter that campaign.

Peltier was denied parole on August 31, 2009. His next available parole hearing is in 2024, when he will be 79 years old. He has been in prison since 1977.

AIM Arrives In D.C.

Washington, D.C. – On Sunday, November 13, 2022 the AIM ‘Walk for Justice’ walkers concluded a 1,103-mile walk to seek political prisoner Leonard Peltier’s release that started in Minneapolis, MN on September 1, 2022.

Nearly 2,000 supporters walked the last mile of the walk for Peltier, marching in solidarity from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. The AIM song could be heard throughout the rally, along with prayer, drumming, and chanting “Free Peltier!”

Madonna Thunder Hawk, a speaker at the event, described how the journey towards obtaining justice for Leonard has been “A long haul” ever since forging a bond with him “back in the day” during the Wounded Knee era.

Madonna Thunder Hawk

Jean Roach, survivor of the 1975 incident at Oglala that left two FBI agents dead, expressed her support for Leonard getting executive clemency, and expresses her frustration with the continuation of genocide, and all of the deceit and lies.

“It’s been 47 years and we’re really tired of the genocide, and this is a continuation of genocide which started at first contact. And until they make this right with all their deceit and lies they need to just tell the truth is all we’re asking. And just be treated as a human being, we’re just asking for justice, no more than that.”

Jean Roach, survivor of the 1975 incident at Oglala
Jean Roach

Former U.S Attorney James Reynold also expressed his support to release Peltier.

“I felt it was my duty as a former United States attorney to see that justice was done for Leonard, because at this point, enough was enough. And so I wrote a letter to President Obama joining with Leonard in asking for his clemency and the commutation of his sentence. I did that because I thought it was my duty. As for justice, cause justice in this case, is compassion for Leonard.”

Former U.S Attorney James Reynold
James Reynold

AIM has been asking for Peltier’s release since his conviction in 1977, and the walk according to AIM director Rachel Thunder says:

“was the continuation and promise that we fight for our people. As AIM we are not going to stop asking for freedom and justice of our elder until this system of oppression rights wrongs from the past. We demand justice for Leonard Peltier and justice for our people, the original people of Turtle Island.”

Rachel Thunder, AIM Director Indiana and Kentucky

Other AIM directors such as Suzanne Smoke, and Lisa Bellinger gave Unicorn Riot their thoughts on the future of the movement.

“We will continue our prayers and continue awareness around the world and we will demand justice for Leonard. Also we will answer the request for support from the many many other young native men who reached out during this prayer seeking support for their unjust incarceration.”

Suzanne Smoke, AIM GGC and AIM Southern Ontario President

“We will continue our work across turtle island in many areas for our people and continue the prayers and efforts/campaign for the release of our elder Leonard Peltier ✊🏽🦬🦅🐎

Lisa Bellinger, National Co-Director of AIM

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