Political prisoners are often forgotten because the government disappears them into the system. Leonard’s art draws attention back to his story, which is why some would rather silence him. In this bonus episode we speak with UCLA professor Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa, who explains why Leonard’s art is a powerful example of indigenous resilience, and Larry Hildes, the civil liberties attorney fighting for Leonard’s right to free speech. We also attend the second annual Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration at Los Angeles City Hall with Oglala Lakota tribal presidential candidate Chase Iron Eyes, who opens up about his arrest at Standing Rock and why he believes the United States should free Leonard to promote a conciliation with indigenous nations.
INDIGENOUS RESILIENCE (EP7/BONUS)
CHASE IRON EYES
Leonard's a hero. That's why we want him to come home because he needs to be able to transition into his next journey in his Homeland. Where you come to rest and where your bones end up are important in the next life, in the next reality. But he's a hero. He defended our true right to self determination and liberation.
This is Chase Iron Eyes, speaking to us in Los Angeles on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 13th, 2019. Chase is an attorney with the Lakota Law Project, a public relations liaison for the Oglala Lakota nation, and a spokesman for the campaign to free Leonard Peltier.
CHASE IRON EYES
The United States' apparatus is trying to present our struggle as that of a civil rights struggle. But ours is a struggle for indigenous liberation.
You’re listening to LEONARD: a new podcast series about Leonard Peltier, one of the longest-serving political prisoners in American history. I’m Rory-Owen Delaney.
And I’m Andrew Fuller. We’ve spent the last year working to share Leonard’s story with a new generation of people: who he is, how he ended up behind bars, and why we believe he deserves to go free.
In this bonus episode, we visit an exhibition of Leonard’s paintings, attend the Indigenous People’s Day celebration in Los Angeles, and interview Chase Iron Eyes, Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa, and civil rights attorney Larry Hildes.
[WILD AUDIO] DRUMMING / SINGING
We’re at Avenue 50, a small art gallery located in Highland Park, Los Angeles, where several of Leonard’s paintings are on display for the opening of “Carceral Liberation? A Native American Prison Art Show.”
[Navajo] My name is Philip Hale. I'm from the Navajo nation or Dine nation. The universal song and dance is the powwow. And I've been asked to come in sing some songs, different songs, mainly songs for the powwow to provide the music as the ambiance. Thank you for having me.
[WILD AUDIO] PHILLIP HALE DRUMMING / SINGING AT AVE 50 GALLERY
“Carceral Liberation” refers to the paradox of Indigenous people encountering—sometimes for the first time—and acquiring cultural knowledge and practices—studying and speaking their Native languages, learning beadwork, participating in healing ceremonies and powwows—while in prison.
If you recall from episode 5, the roots of the American Indian Movement trace back to Minnesota’s Stillwater State Prison, where Clyde Bellecourt and Eddie Banai organized the first-ever Indian studies program for 46 fellow inmates in 1962—before formally establishing AIM in 1968 in Minneapolis after they were released.
Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa, the curator of the show, explains it like this.
Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa
The art show was titled Carceral Liberation: a Native American prison art show. And it really had two aims.
Tria is an assistant professor at the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. Additionally, Dr. Wakpa is involved with the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. She’s taught at public, private, and tribal institutions—as well as in prisons.
Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa
One was to illuminate the injustices of incarceration in the native context, which is often overlooked. Native people and issues are often excluded from mainstream narratives in general. And that has a lot to do with settler colonialism. A lot of people don't realize this, but native peoples are actually native nations. There's over 570 federally recognized tribes within the borders of what is often referred to as the United States.
Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa
And so I wanted the critique to be clear in terms of, yes, people are doing remarkable work behind bars and we should recognize that and honor that and learn from that. And at the same time, we also need to think critically about the injustices that are occurring and the reasons that prison abolitionism is necessary. We have to understand imprisonment as structural. In other words, we can't begin to understand native imprisonment without thinking about the genocidal policies and ongoing practices that native people are subject to. One of the things that is really important to note is the ways that imprisonment is not just targeting native individuals, but people, native people who are part of their family and their community and native nations. That genocide is part of the project of settler colonialism.
Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa
And so the paintings of Leonard’s that we included in the show, I think they're just really beautiful in that they depict these strong young people: the good flower painting of the baby, who's well-nourished with a bottle and the corn, or the young boy who has the Buffalo and the Buffalo calf. And I think what as a whole these paintings convey are indigenous futurity and indigenous resilience, right? Because when we have children we can create a future. And that really counters settler colonialism in a lot of ways, because the narrative is often that indigenous people are either extinct or nearing extinction, and yet I think it's so clear from his paintings, the ways that indigenous people have persevered and will continue to do so.
Tria’s show featured four of Leonard’s paintings. So we made sure to go to the opening night party. You never know how long Leonard’s art will stay up.
Previous exhibitions of his work have been shut down. In Olympia, Washington, Leonard’s art was removed from the Labor and Industries Building where it was being displayed as part of an annual Native American heritage exhibition in the state capital in November 2015.
So Labor and Industries, they want artwork to hang in the lobby.
This is civil rights attorney Larry Hildes.
And this is a big building open to the general public. It's where people go to fill out complaints if they're not getting paid properly, if they're not getting overtime. And the paintings themselves were not particularly political, but they drew attention to Leonard's case. There was a presentation on Leonard. There was an advertisement by L & I of the fact that the paintings were going to be on display with a link to the website, to the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, et cetera. And it was at a time that Obama was getting ready to leave office. And there was a large campaign to try and get him to grant clemency for Leonard. So the timing was really important.
Two weeks into the exhibition there's a series of retired FBI agents, Ed Woods being the most prominent, who basically attacks anything involving Leonard. Anytime he applies for a transfer, anytime he tries to get medical treatment, any time he files a petition for clemency and anytime there's an exhibition or other discussion of his artwork, or him, these retired FBI agents, apparently have nothing else to do, object and try to get him silenced again. And they wrote letters to L & I, and they made phone calls to the governor's office demanding that the paintings be taken down. And even though there had been dozens and dozens of emails and letters in support of including Leonard, and even though, L & I was well aware of what the controversy was and knew it when they put the paintings up, they immediately caved and took them down in the middle of the exhibition, thus taking away his voice.
After being removed from the government building, the paintings found a new home at a local co-op in Olympia, but the damage had been done. Leonard’s voice was muted at a time when he needed it to be heard the most.
Sometimes political prisoners just get out because, you know, time has gone by, but they made clear that that's not happening with Leonard. I mean, if he had been anybody else, under the sentencing guidelines, you were to serve 17 and a half years for each murder, each supposed murder, and he would have been out 9 years ago. He's still there. So the pressure and the visibility was really important. And for people to get to see his artwork and to get to see his artistry and the expressiveness that he paints with, and to read the descriptions of the paintings and of Leonard, and who Leonard is, and what Leonard has to say and why Leonard is so important is really, really vital.
I wrote a letter, demanding they put the paintings back up for the rest of the month. They waited and responded after the month and said, ‘Well, it's too late, but he's too controversial.’ And we ended up filing suit in federal court in Tacoma. And state filed a motion to dismiss arguing that because it was a state exhibition, the state got to control the content and the message, and that these paintings and the controversy detracted from the message. Now I don't know what they thought the message of an exhibition of First Nations artists was supposed to be. It's hard to imagine you could do an exhibition that gives, you know, a full and complete picture without talking about colonialism and resistance. That would be a central theme, generally speaking. And it's the artists who get to determine what the message to their art is, not a state agency, which couldn't even articulate what it was supposed to be. Ironically, the case that says that you cannot discriminate against speech based on who the speaker is and their controversial nature is Citizens United, which is known as a horrible case. The case that says you can't restrict funding of elections, that money is speech. Well, it turns out it also says that speech is speech and can't be restricted that way. So we defeated them on that basis... and we are set to go to trial in January.
The case is currently awaiting a new trial date, but Larry hopes that the judge will permit Leonard to travel to Washington State to testify. If Larry is successful, the renewed attention to Leonard’s story could help build public support behind the latest push for clemency.
People forget about political prisoners. Part of what the government does is it takes prominent leaders and it disappears them into the system. You don't hear about them, you don't hear from them, their voices are not present in the debate, in the demand. And they become invisible. And unless you work hard to draw attention back to them, people forget, people didn't know he was still in, people didn't know who he was in the first place. So it's really important to do things like this exhibition, to make public statements, so that Leonard’s name is out there, his cause is out there, and people act to help get him out.
Leonard’s art constitutes free speech, and each exhibition is an opportunity to expose the public to the truth about what happened on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on June 26, 1975. That’s why events like Tria’s show are so important.
Leta Wise Spirit
In our way of life, our Lakota way of life, you know, we're powerful. We're strong.
This is Leta Wise Spirit, speaking at the Carceral Liberation art show. Wise Spirit is a former alcoholic who was rehabilitated after rediscovering her Lakota roots, traditions and spirituality in South Dakota state prison.
Leta Wise Spirit
Through that time in there, I'm not saying that because I went to prison, I got better, you know, but in spite of being in prison, I'm a better person. So why I became an alcoholic is because when we're growing up on the reservation, if you were ever raised on a reservation, you're hushed when you're molested, when you're abused. You don't talk about that. You don't tell people because you're going to get somebody in trouble. My mom was the abusive one, and it goes back to the boarding school. What she did to me wasn't an excuse, but I can understand her bitterness. I can understand her pain today.
The first Indian boarding school was established on the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington state in 1860. The goal of the Yakima school, and all subsequent schools, was to teach the, quote, “Savages” the importance of the American way of life and assimilate them into mainstream society. By teaching the importance of Christianity, private property, and material wealth, Indians would be civilized.
In 1879 the Carlisle Indian School, the first off-reservation boarding school, was established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania by Colonel Richard Henry Pratt based on his motto: “Kill the Indian, save the man.”
Tria Blu Wakpa
Pratt actually took the methods that he used at Fort Marion, Florida for assimilating native warriors who were in prison, and applied those methods to the Carlisle industrial Institute.
Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa again.
Because of that there are these inextricable linkages for native people between schools and prisons.
Leonard Peltier was sent to an Indian Boarding School after his grandfather died and his grandmother sought financial assistance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to care for him and his sister Betty Anne.
Leonard wrote about the experience in his book PRISON WRITINGS, as read by Peter Coyote.
One day in the fall of 1953, a big black government car came and took us kids away to the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota. I remember Grandma weeping in the doorway as she watched them take us off. We had no suitcases, just bundles. First thing after we got there, they cut off our long hair, stripped us naked, then doused us with powdered DDT. I thought I was going to die. That place, I can tell you, was very, very strict. It was more like a reformatory than a school. You were whacked on the butt with a yardstick for the smallest infraction, even if you so much as looked someone in the eye. That was considered insubordination, trying to relate to another person as a human being.
I consider my years at Wahpeton my first imprisonment, and it was for the same crime as all the others: being an Indian. We had to speak English. We were beaten if we were caught speaking our own language. Still, we did. We’d sneak behind the buildings, the way kids today sneak out to smoke behind the school, and we’d talk Indian to each other. I guess that’s where I first became a “hardened criminal,” as the FBI calls me. And you could say that the first infraction in my criminal career was speaking my own language. There’s an act of violence for you!
Leta Wise Spirit again.
Leta Wise Spirit
When I met Tria, we were at a wellness conference. And at that time we were talking about suicide, and that impacted our family because my oldest son lived in the streets of New York City because he was homosexual. And on the reservation, those kids are looked down on. They're made fun of, they're bullied and whatnot. So when he turned 18, he went to New York and lived on the streets until he was 24. And when I got out of prison, he came back to me. He had AIDS. So we talked about his death. You know, if he died of AIDS, he didn't want this, he didn't want that, but he committed suicide because he was so hurt by other things in life, you know, like the rejection of family, by family members and stuff.
Leta Wise Spirit
Because of this beautiful lady, you know, I got out of my comfort zone. I said here’s this little small town girl from South Dakota coming to LA. I said, “Oh My God LA!” And I was all excited and then I got scared. Then I missed my flight. They always say Lakotas go by Indian time. Indian time means we’re always late. Well, I told Tria, ‘Yeah, and I was a whole day late.’
Leta Wise Spirit
Chase was a big inspiration for me. The past three years. I always follow him on Facebook because he spoke a lot about native issues. And one of the biggest things for me was the historical trauma. And that's what we talk about because it's in our DNA as native people what our ancestors went through, and we have to live through that today still.
But we're okay in spite of it. It makes us stronger people. Otherwise I wouldn't be here.
After the break we hear from Chase Iron Eyes who recently declared his candidacy for tribal president of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
[DJ FREE LEONARD BREAK]
CHASE IRON EYES
[LAKOTA]... I'm very happy to be in the Homeland of the Tongva people. My name is Chase Iron Eyes. I'm a citizen of the Oglala Lakota nation. I live on the Pine Ridge Reservation. And I'm here in LA to support Indigenous Peoples Day and to support that reawakening, that recognition of what Columbus represents and coming to grips with who we are as colonizers and oppressors and those who are at the receiving end of those energies.
We’re interviewing Chase outside the Little Tokyo mall in downtown Los Angeles. He’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a black army jacket, and dark sunglasses. He was only in LA for a couple days as part of a west coast speaking tour. So we met him when—and where—we could track him down.
CHASE IRON EYES
I've been trying to think of clever ways to free Leonard Peltier because he deserves clemency. It’s unfortunate that Ron Williams and Jack Coler had to die. I don't know how their descendants feel about Leonard, but Leonard is forgiving of those federal agents who also killed a hundred people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Literally a civil war happened in this continent and in our country in what is now called America. And we didn't have, we've never had any redress for all those murders. My Uncle Jimmy got stomped to death. That's why I say that I'm intimately familiar with the context of Leonard Peltier, and he is a political prisoner. And with the right government, I think the United States will take ownership and free Leonard Peltier. He deserves freedom.
Why don't you speak a little bit about your experience at Standing Rock?
CHASE IRON EYES
Yeah, well, that was, those are going to be some of the best times of my life. Those are once in a generation kind of experiences that happened at Standing Rock truly, but we might have to recreate those spaces very soon here, because I think we're all waking up to the fact that we share a common cause and there is an enemy and we have to name it. And it includes greed; it includes consumption culture. And we need to call it out every chance we get, and we need to recognize and re-spiritualize our experience here while we're on this earth. We're not here for very long, we're not promised yesterday. We're not promised tomorrow. All we really know is right now, and we have to appreciate that worldview, and we've got to continue to build and continue to find common ground because that apparatus is causing the endless war machine, genocide and ignorance and apathy upon the people. They're committing a crime. They're telling a lie and it's sad to see it. I can only tolerate the city for so long. You know what I'm saying? But some people don't ever leave here. You know, they don't ever get to experience cosmological reality. If I can see the stars, if I can go to the river, if I can go to the streams and find the sources of the water, climb to the, to the nearest mountaintops and have to live where I become myself, you know, that's how we describe that experience, is part of becoming yourself over your long journey of life. A lot of people don't get to have that experience. And so as an indigenous person, I've been trying to code switch. I ran for the United States Congress. I became an attorney. I try to get on the mainstream media as much as I can, because I want to learn how we can create common cause.
Just as Leonard Peltier was identified as a key leader of the Jumping Bull camp on June 26, 1975, Chase Iron Eyes was identified as a key leader of the Standing Rock movement.
Iron Eyes himself almost ended up behind bars back in 2017 for participating in the fight for Indigenous sovereignty on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
[WILD AUDIO OF PROTEST]
This ain't nobody's land, this is Treaty land!
Yes, this is our land.
This is treaty land, they got nothing to do with it. They need to get the hell out of here.
This audio was pulled from a Facebook live post by “We are the Media” recorded on February 1st, 2017 at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest.
[WILD AUDIO OF ARREST]
These are our brothers and sisters right there getting taken out to jail. Our brothers and sisters will be spending the night in Morton County police department tonight.
CHASE IRON EYES:
We were arrested at Last Child's Camp. What happened there needed to be done, you know, we received the instructions to do that through supernatural pathways, through ceremonies. I did two Facebook live feeds, was eventually charged with inciting a riot and criminal trespass. And we argued, I argued that it was our original and inherent right to be there and our treaty right to be there. But anyhow I didn't really deserve the credit or the blame for Last Child's Camp, but I was targeted because I was a known name. But it caused this long struggle. And the whole cause of my legal defense was to try to expose what was really going on and who the real terrorists are. During Standing Rock, they cast me as a terrorist, as an indigenous religiously driven jihadist. They characterized my daughter as that and kept tabs on her. Trained killers. Mercenaries. They were present at Standing Rock too, I know, but that’s just the feds. They infiltrate everything, everything, and they own it, all the information transmission, all that stuff. So you gotta, you know, walk carefully, you got to walk without fear, but you gotta be like, like, like a stepping razor, you know, you gotta be able to get to know the law. And I did know the law. I knew about the National Defense Authorization Act or the Patriot Act, that you couldn't incite people to unlawful behavior and so forth.
CHASE IRON EYES
So I was very cognizant of all that when I was doing my live feeds, which is why I know it's unjust. They targeted me, but thankfully I'm free of that now. But part of our job is to recognize that Leonard Peltier is defending those rights, inalienable rights, rights to clean air, rights to water, rights to self determination, rights to be free from illegal searches and seizures, rights to free speech, rights to peaceably assemble, or rights to challenge unjust politicians and change our legal systems, such that we can free political prisoners like Leonard Peltier and lock up people like Kelcey Warren or people like North Dakota public utility commissioners, or whoever knew about 11 million gallons spilling in our territories and not reporting it. You know what I mean? Like we're completely out of whack and imbalanced, but I believe in us, and that's why I continue to push hard.
After the interview we walked to the Indigenous Day Celebration. Los Angeles is home to the largest urban Native American population in the country, and the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds, spilled out across the steps of LA City Hall into Grand Park.
Iron Eyes went looking for a friend, and we moved into position to record the event. A nice woman next to us wanted to know what we were doing so we asked if we could interview her.
My name is Narissa. I'm from the Mandaya tribe. A tribe in the Southern part of the Philippines in the town of Caraga. I moved here over three years ago, and now I live in Long Beach, but in my heart I'm still that Mandaya girl from Caraga. I am so proud to be here, because I want to be part of the history. This is the second year of the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration of LA, which is a huge effort to correct the history of the United States. And that's just perfect. It's a very great proceeding for the world to copy.
[TONGVA WELCOME SONG]
Tongva Chief Anthony Morales
[Indigenous] Welcome to Yagna, which is one of our major ancestral villages, which is Los Angeles. And I stand here just to acknowledge that philosophy, the doctrine of discovery that they were the first ones here, so, therefore, they get to claim all this land, but they didn't discover us. We were the ones already here. Our people were here. So how could they say that they were the first ones? How could they say they were the founders? Well, that's history now that we slowly but surely are correcting. And this right here is the beginning of that correction. So again, it's an honor to be in front of all of you. Congratulations. This is your day!
Ladies and gentlemen, standing here, if you stop for just a moment, you can feel the spirits...
This is Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation and the first Native American on the LA city council.
Who endured unspeakable violence, profound suffering, and the erasure of tribal indigenous cultures due to colonization and the Spanish mission system. Those spirits are with us now and forever, beckoning us to speak that truth, to tell the stories and reclaim our rightful place in the American and world community. It is from this somber and spiritual place that we begin our evening together. But also remember that we are making considerable progress. We did remove Columbus Day from the City County administrative code two years ago, replacing it with Indigenous People's Day. And just for punctuation, we also removed the statue of Columbus, which was located just up the hill from here, which served to insult and mock Native America since the 1970s. Well, that statue is down. It is behind locked doors. And like all of you, I can hardly wait to see when we create something truly respectful of Native American culture to replace that statue.
I'm not going to talk to you about any tyrants. Talk to you about any messages about Columbus or anybody else that comes in that era. I want to talk to you about a new beginning.
This is Ernie Stevens, Jr., the Chairman and national spokesperson for the National Indian Gaming Association.
This wampum belt brings a message, a message that is not violent, but when the first people came over from over the shores, they came onto our land. And we were curious about that because they looked a little bit different. They dressed a little bit different. Some didn’t even have hair on their heads. So we sat down and we welcomed these people and we taught them our ways. And we worked with them. We worked with them through this two row wampum.
Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of Native Americans. Before European contact, strings of wampum were used for storytelling, ceremonial gifts, and recording important treaties and historical events.
The two row wampum is a living treaty to live together in peace, respect for one another and to discuss solutions for any issues that come before them. So at this time, I just want to ask my friend, I didn't introduce him, but in case you don't know who he is, he's AC Green. He's one of the greatest NBA basketball players.
AC carries the two row wampum today because it's Indian country. It's our message today. And we hand this message off to the city of Los Angeles, this replica is a movement to connect history, to bring back the two row wampum agreement. We must give this message a new life. Stand firm with respect. Stand firm against violence, racism, bullying, and live for a solid form of communication with one another. That's our life. And that's what this thing is about. And before I make this presentation, I want to tell you, it's a whole new world and a big, giant step forward that started right here in Los Angeles, California. Congratulations to all of you.
Mitch O’Ferrel thanked Chairman Stevens, and the procession crossed from City Hall to Grand Park for the passing of the wampum belt by Lakers legend, “Iron Man” AC Green. The purpose of the ceremony was to promote mutual respect and peace among all cultures.
It was a moment that we couldn’t help but connect back to Leonard, whose story is yet another example of the historical trauma experienced by the original inhabitants of Turtle Island at the hands of colonists.
Here’s Chase again.
CHASE IRON EYES
I feel that this country in order to promote a truth-telling and a conciliation with indigenous nations symbolically needs to free Leonard Peltier. Because if he dies in prison, then it's going to be a curse on our country, and I don't know how we are going to rehabilitate from that. Because he is a symbol, he's like Nelson Mandela to us. He had a right to defend women and children from terrorizers, terrorizers who were federal officials and who were infusing money in dividing the Lakota people and causing us to commit internally a genocide against each other and to massacre each other, to commit unspeakable violences against each other. You know, we've never been redressed for that tragedy that befell us at the hands of COINTELPRO.
This podcast is produced, written, and edited on Tongva land by Rory-Owen Delaney, James Kaelan, and Andrew Fuller.
Kevin McKiernan serves as our consulting producer.
Thanks to Maya Meinert, Emily Deutsch, and Blessing Yen for helping support us while we do what, we hope, is important work.
Thanks to Bobby Halvorson for the original music we’re using throughout this series.
Thanks to DJ Free Leonard for his track “Freedom” featuring Ras Kass.
And thanks to Mike Casentini at the Network Studios for his engineering assistance, and to Peter Lauridsen and Sycamore Sound for their audio mixing.
Thanks to Paulette Dauteuil for her tireless work leading the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.
Thanks to Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa for her research. Thanks to Larry Hildes for taking up Leonard’s case. And thanks to Chase Iron Eyes for his eloquence and resolve fighting to free Leonard.
And a big thanks to you, our listeners. This week we surpassed 10,000 downloads. As an indie podcast with a next-to-nothing marketing budget, every time you share an episode on Instagram or text it to a friend, it makes a huge difference—not just to us, but to Leonard. We’ve been sharing our progress and he’s pumped for Season 2.
Sign Off: To get involved and help Leonard, sign the new clemency petition at freeleonardpeltier.com. For more information, go to whoisleonardpeltier.info or find us on social media. @leonard_pod on Twitter and Instagram, or facebook.com/leonardpodcast.
This podcast is a production of Man Bites Dog Films LLC. Free Leonard Peltier!