Radical Seattle Remembers
y Jeff Stevens
September 12, 1944: Leonard Peltier Was Here
Much has been written, in this newspaper and elsewhere, concerning the ongoing injustice of the case of Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist, key member of the American Indian Movement and, since April 1977, American political prisoner. Peltier, lest we forget, was convicted that year of the murder of two FBI Agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Many reputable individuals and groups, including Amnesty International, consider Peltier (born on the date in focus here in Grand Forks, North Dakota) to be innocent. For Seattle-area sympathizers with Peltier's cause, it's worth noting that Peltier's activist work prior to his imprisonment included a brief stint in Seattle, during which he participated in an activist campaign that resulted in the creation of Daybreak Star Cultural Center, the local Native American institution.
The campaign began on March 8, 1970, when roughly 100 members and supporters of United Indian People's Council took direct action to reclaim Fort Lawton, a 1,100-acre US military base located in Magnolia which had recently been declared surplus by the US Army. UIPC's goal was the creation of a cultural center and social services provider for all Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples, with a focus on the First Nations of the Puget Sound region. Along with Peltier, other key participants in the action included Bob Satiacum, a Puyallup tribal leader and native treaty fishing rights advocate, and Bernie Whitebear of the Colville Confederated Tribe. After several months of government resistance and UIPC persistence, UPIC's wishes were granted in November 1971, and the resulting institution, Daybreak Star, opened at long last on May 13, 1977--barely a month, uncannily enough, after Peltier's conviction.
Today, despite numerous lawsuits filed on his behalf over the years, Peltier remains incarcerated at the US penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.