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

Inside the Standing Rock Protest

Killing the Black Snake

sub.Media (2017)

Film Review

The following short documentary focuses on some of the direct action tactics protestors engaged in to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Approximately 20,000 indigenous Americans from hundreds of tribes and their supporters occupied contested land near the Standing Rock reservation in during 2016-17 in their efforts to block DAPL construction. Although the US government claims the land the DAPL runs through, the1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie cedes it to the Lakota Nation.

Referring to themselves as “water protectors,” specific tactics Standing Rock protestors employed to halt pipeline construction included locking themselves down to heavy construction equipment, dismantling and sabotaging equipment and confronting construction workers to run them off their land.

When protestors were confronted by a highly militarized police force, they were forced to change tactics, with more focus on property damage and setting fire to vehicles of intruders.

Individuals the filmmakers refer to as “peace police,” played a much bigger role in undermining the protests than uniformed police in riot gear. In addition to police and government undercover agents that are common to all resistance movements, the water protectors had to deal with interference from paid tribal leaders (who draw a salary from the US government and have little connection with traditional tribal governance) and with non-indigenous non-profit organization such as Greenpeace and Forest Ethics. Both organizations are notorious for advancing their own campaigns by cutting secret deals with fossil fuel companies. Such agreements typically include a requirement for the non-profit groups to coopt and limit direct action by more militant activists.

My favorite scene is the one in which Chevron officials try to make a deal with Lakota activists to enter their land in return for a peace offering of bottled water and tobacco.

Genocide American Style

Red Cry

Lakota Solidarity Project (2013)

Film Review

 Red Cry is about past and present genocide of the Lakota nation.

The first third of the film concerns the ugly history of legalized genocide of Native American peoples. Some of the highlights include

• Columbus’s slaughter of 8 million Arouac in Hispaniola
• The 1823 Supreme Court ruling that the “divine right of discovery” took precedence over the land rights of indigenous peoples.
•  The mass slaughter of 1.5 million buffalo by the US army and settlers between 1871 and 1910 with the deliberate intent of destroying the primary Sioux source of food.
• The 1871 Indian Appropriation Act which invalidated the right of Native American tribes to be recognized as sovereign nations and invalidated all prior treaties.
• The criminalization of Native American culture, starting from the 1880s, and forced attendance of Native Americans at “Indian” boarding schools.
• The conscious federal desecration of sacred sites on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the ravaging of native lands with more than 3,000 uranium mines, leading to radioactive contamination of the air, water and food chain.
• The forced sterilization of Native American women by the Indian Health Service in the sixties and seventies.
• The 1973 appointment and arming (by the US government) of half-breed goon squads to terrorize and assassinate tribal elders.

The remainder of the film consists of interviews with tribal leaders describing present day genocidal conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where life expectancy is 44 years for men and 52 years for women (in contrast to 76 years for men and 81 years for women in the general population).

Pine Ridge is plagued with miscarriages, birth defects and the highest cancer rate in the country due to radium, lead, mercury and arsenic contamination of the land and water by the mining industry.

Rape is four times the national average, with only one-third of the perpetrators facing prosecution.

Youth suicide is 1 ½ times the national average.

Eight out of ten families are affected by alcoholism.

One-third of the homes on the reservation lack running water and 40% have no electricity. Eighty percent of families live below the poverty line.

Traditional Lakota governance is matriarchal. For more than a century the US government has deliberately undermined matriarchal rule by only appointing men to positions of tribal authority.