Posted By: Larry Wartels
April 29, 2009
The continuing struggles for justice for Leonard Peltier and John Graham
A stirring mural of John Graham was painted two years ago on the wall of Wildfire Bakery. It has now vanished with his freedom. But we are very grateful to Wildfire for allowing the talented muralist Alex Caverly to paint it in the first place.
Who are Leonard Peltier and John Graham? Peltier is a Lakota Sioux from North Dakota; Graham is a Tutchone First Nation from the Yukon. Both were extradited from British Columbia on false and hearsay “evidence,” Peltier in 1975 and Graham in 2007. The well-established-as-innocent Peltier is now 32 years into two life sentences for murdering federal agents. Graham is awaiting trial in South Dakota on May 12, 2009, for being an accessory to the murder of Anna Mae Aquash of Nova Scotia. (South Dakota is also where Peltier was falsely convicted.) Terrence LaLiberte, Queen’s Counsel, Graham’s Canadian lawyer, said: “In Canada, I’d drive a truck through the holes in this case.” Dr. Jennifer Wade, retired UBC English professor and cofounder of Amnesty International B.C., emphatically asserts Graham’s innocence.
The real reason for these persecutions? Many feel it is because Graham and Peltier worked with Anna Mae Aquash and the American Indian Movement to stop coal and uranium mining in the U.S. midwest and Saskatchewan, standing up to huge conglomerates, who wanted these courageous resisters out of the way. To find out more, watch Robert Redford’s Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story, which is free online at freepeltiernow.org, and the short John Graham documentary, Burdened by Murder: A Fight for Justice, can be seen at grahamdefense.org, also for free.
In any other country, we would hear about the injustices of such people in our media. But people and organizations around the world—including the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and the European Parliament—have demanded justice and freedom for Graham and Peltier. And many people in Canada are trying to prevent a repeat of the travesty trial that put Peltier in prison in the first place.
There is also a letter-writing campaign for both, which urges U.S. President Obama to grant executive clemency to Peltier by the 2010 Olympics, and urges minister of indian affairs Chuck Strahl to use his authority to ensure that Graham’s trial is fair. The letter-writing campaign links can be found at grahamdefense.org/update.htm and freepeltiernow.org/legal/clemency.htm, if you feel like helping free Leonard Peltier and ensuring justice for John Graham.
As a closing thought, let us consider the words of Eugene Debs (1855-1926), an American labour and political leader, and, under the banner of the Socialist Party of America, a candidate for U.S. President. Debs was arrested under the Espionage Act of 1917, however, for making a speech on June 16, 1918 opposing World War I. He was then convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, and disenfranchised for life—even though American president Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in 1921. (While in prison, Debs received over 900,000 votes for president in 1920—the highest ever for a socialist candidate.) But at his sentencing hearing in 1919, Debs said these words, which resonate today:
“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the Earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Larry Wartels is a local activist who believes freedom has no politics. He also volunteers for criticalresistance.org, a prison-abolition organization founded by Angela Davis. E-mail freeusall1[at]gmail.com for more information.