Guinotte Wise

Indigenous Peoples Day and Leonard Peltier

I’m white bread, not a speck, probably, of native blood. Maybe one of those DNA outfits could hook me up with a smidgin of Sioux or something a century ago.  I guess everyone’s related, you go back far enough. I do know my people were fur trappers from French Belgium who settled on the Missouri River, The Little Blue, the Marais Des Cygne. Moody fuckers. Some others were from Ohio. Little Dixie in Missouri. And some (seven) fought in the American Revolution. Revolutionaries. Real ones. So that’s in my nucleotides, simmering to some small degree. But guess who was here before them. And beginning to look at the new batch of interlopers as not very damned trustworthy.

Indigenous Peoples Day was started in Berkeley in 1992 to coincide with the 500th year celebration of Columbus’ arrival and subsequent enslavement of those very same Indigenous Peoples. Screw Columbus, I say, but hey look at what they gave you; a day of your own. So will that make up for every treaty ever drawn up by the Fed and broken (all of them)? No? Man, what soreheads. We’re making nice here, you guys.

If they wanted to make a pro-indigenous statement (which they, being the Fed, don’t) they would release Leonard Peltier from Federal prison in Florida on Indigenous Peoples Day. Or, at the very least, parole him. Like tomorrow. He’s been eligible for parole since 1993. All he has to do is admit to killing the FBI agents. Which the nonadmissable evidence shows he clearly did not, so why would he do that? His “trial” was rigged. Read about it. It’s in the dictionary under travesty. It’s a rather long entry and it includes all those broken treaties.

We go about our lives and largely forget this man sitting in various prison cells (now in Coleman in Florida) for the past thirty years. Back in March, 2020, (remember 2020?) the entire prison went into Covid-19 lockdown (where that word “lockdown” has a tad more meaning than it does in your home, or mine) and Peltier reminded us, in a Counterpunch article, to look out for the people in the Native Nations because “if you know our history in these sorts of pandemics, Native people are the last to get help. and I have babies (grandchildren) out there.”  

Peltier suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and a heart condition, and he’s 77; all of which puts him squarely into the covid high risk path. He’s also an A.I.M. leader which trajects him into the government heavy-rolling war machine headlights. This machinery included the bizarre and now fully discredited FBI program COINTELPRO. His “trial” was justice on the order of the trial of The Chicago 7; the Netflix movie of that name is worth watching. It’s riveting and instructive. It shows to what lengths the gov will go to guarantee a victory. Spoiler: the massive effort fell somewhat short, as some of us who were alive and open-mouthed recall. But the whole world was watching.

In the case of The Chicago 7, the prosecution tripped on its own arrogance and mendacity too many times. The film’s all-star cast included a great turn by Frank Langella whose role was a patently biased judge, a criminally insane ferret on speed who cited the defense lead, William Kunstler, for contempt about thirty times. Kunstler was a civil rights activist who defended A.I.M. leaders in the Pine Ridge situation, and was instrumental in getting two of them acquitted. Then the dark forces rolled in some more ordnance, prevented any earlier evidence from being heard, and went after Peltier like a jacklighted coyote. ‘Due’ and ‘Process’ were not even distant relatives in that deal.

Any president of either party of the last thirty years worth his Hugo Boss suit and Hermes red tie should have pardoned Leonard Peltier. And that, as they say, is that. (You’re up, Joe)

Custer Died For Your Sins is a book written in 1969*, an Indian Manifesto by Vine DeLoria, Jr. that should be required reading in every U.S. history course beginning with middle school. In it he says, (hidden in the Colville termination bill) “(Indians) would be judged too incompetent to handle their own money, but competent enough to vote to sell their reservation. Is it any wonder that Indians distrust white men?”

His observations have an edge to them. Well, he’s Indian. And tired of whites “helping the downtrodden” while claiming some Indian ancestry themselves. Sick of the government’s total lack of integrity in over 400 treaties (all broken) with American tribes that would make any Indian work his jaw muscles if a white just said, “Hey, I feel ya, man.” Or, “Hello.”

The point? Read the book. Do something. Request the informative AIM Interpretive Center brochure, American Indian Movement, Past, Present and Future. You can donate online. It’s nonprofit.

Chief Joseph, Nez Perce, said, “If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow.” If you believe that, give it a shot. It works for Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, everyone. If you’re sick and tired of the status quo, it’s a start. Beats hollering in the streets and burning shit. Read the book, the brochure, maybe give five bucks (more if you can in these weird times) and contact your congressperson. Tell them Peltier needs to be out of jail. Alive. It would give Indigenous Peoples Day some actual meaning.

*Updated foreword in 1987

Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Six more books since. A 5-time Pushcart nominee, his fiction, essays, and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Southern Humanities Review, Rattle, and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. (Covid changed some of the circumstances) Some work is at