Leonard Peltier: Political Prisoner

Incident at Olgala: The Leonard Peltier Story

Michael Apted (1992)

Film Review

This documentary, narrated by Robert Redford, describes the framing of American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Leonard Peltier for the murder of two FBI agents. Essentially a political prisoner, Peltier is currently serving two consecutive life sentences.

The charges arose out of a June 1975 firefight in Jumping Bull on the Pine Ridge reservation in North Dakota. The film portrays quite vividly the regime of terror gripping Pine Ridge between 1973-75. It was overseen by corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) appointee Dick Wilson, with the support of BIA police. In 1973 Lakota elders, who were the primary targets of Wilson and his “goon squads” approached the national American Indian Movement (AIM) leadership for support.

By mid-1975, the reservation was in a state of virtual war, with more than 60 unsolved murders and frequent firefights like the one that occurred in Jumping Bull.

Based on this background, Pelter’s co-defendants Daryl Butler and Bib Ribideau won acquittal on their first degree murder charges. Given the two FBI agents were in civilian dress, unknown to the defendants and drew their guns on them, the jury found Butler and Ribideau were merely defending themselves in firing their weapons.

Peltier, who had to be extradited from Canada, was assigned a different judge. By the time of his trial in 1997, the FBI had clearly doctored the ballistics evidence and browbeat and intimidated two eyewitnesses into changing their statements.

Peltier’s arrest and trial occurred during a period when the FBI  see The FBI’s War on Black People) was hoping to kill off both AIM and the Black Panther Party by decimating their leadership – through covert assassination and arresting as many as possible on phony charges.

The film can’t be embedded for copyright reason but can be seen free at Incident at Olgala

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