Recently, the Red Nation Film Festival chose Leonard Peltier to receive its first annual Humanitarian Award for his lifelong commitment to indigenous and human rights, as well as his leadership in efforts to alleviate poverty and domestic abuse among Native peoples. As a political prisoner for nearly 34 years, Peltier has helped focus world attention on government repression of Native resistance throughout the Americas, while the United States continues to make an example of him as a consequence of seeking freedom. Unable to accept the award in person, Leonard wrote the following acceptance speech for the award:
I am very humbled to have been honored with the first-ever Red Nation Humanitarian Award. I wish the Red Nation Film Festival success in all its endeavors, as I believe your event benefits Indian people everywhere. With your continued support, I hope that I will one day have the freedom to thank you in person.
Film is a powerful medium with the potential to help change one's consciousness, which can in turn change the world. Film can transport the viewers to places and situations they might never encounter, from the mountains and jungles of Peru and Bolivia, to the prison cells of Abu Ghraib and Lewisburg, the federal penitentiary where I am held in limbo as they transform the facility into a special site for problematic prisoners. Although I have been what they call a model prisoner, I am still here because I was jumped and beaten by other inmates when I was transferred to another prison. I am here in spite of the fact that I was an ideal candidate for parole by any objective standard free of politics. But because of my beliefs, and the FBI's fears of exposure of their crimes against the people of Pine Ridge and the American Indian Movement, the federal government is determined to see to it that I die in prison. So here I sit in a 3 foot by 6 foot cell.
The fact that you are here today at a Native film festival shows how far we have come from the days when Hollywood Indians were portrayed by white actors as one-dimensional savages standing in the way of civilization. The fact that we are today not only acting in films but also directing and producing shows how far we have in the last forty years since the American Indian Movement arose from the ashes of the Termination Era and demanded political sovereignty and cultural respect.
But how far have we really come? We are still subject on the reservations to the jurisdiction of the colonial police force known as the FBI, an agency which ignores serious crimes such as sexual assault while persecuting those who would stand up for true sovereignty and human rights. On other reservations, state police play the same role, though their jurisdiction is a legacy of the discredited termination era. Last week, President Obama held what was billed as a historic summit meeting with hundreds of tribal officials in attendance, but what was really accomplished? My defense committee sent faxes to more than 500 reservation chairman asking them to speak out on my behalf on this unique occasion. A few said they would, but when the opportunity presented itself they were too polite to speak out to a president who spoke of dissolving tribes in his inauguration speech.
It is the same in movies. While we now have realistic films dealing with poverty, alcoholism, and related social problems on the rez, how many deal with the root cause—colonial oppression which extinguishes hope for the future? I ask you filmmakers to use this powerful medium to help create visions for the future and to put our many problems in an accurate context. I plead with you, if you can't get me out of prison and I am destined to die here, to make my sacrifice worth it in terms of creating a more sustainable future for our children and future generations.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,