Bobby Castillo of the American Indian Movement [ Autonomous Confederation] speaks with Norman Arelleno and Julian Chou, Diatribe [magazine] (1992):
"I dont think you can build for a better future by teaching lies and distortions. Every one of our societies have done something wrong. What's wrong with facing the wrongs that we've done? You look at the wrongs and you correct it. Build a future. But I think we've got to look at those things."
The history of our resistance started in October 12, 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. You have to remember what Christopher Columbus did. I think that we have to look at the true facts of history and how many, many countries are celebrating the genocide that Christopher Columbus brought. It is written in his journals that "These people are so naive they are willing to give us anything off their backs." He also writes in his journals about the tribute systems that were set up. Every 90 days, we had to give him a certain amount of gold. If we didn't give him a certain amount of gold from the age of 16 on up, they would cut off the hands of the Indian peoples, the Tainos. If they tried to run away, they would send the dogs after them. They would chop off their legs. He immediately seized the Taino people in chains and sent them back to Spain to work as slaves. This is what started 500 years ago for us.
And then we look at the whole history, not only at what the Spaniards did. These people were called conquistadores, which translates from Spanish to "conquerors"-not as discoverors, not as a blending of cultures, but to conquer, to colonize these people. Then you look at all the colonial governments-because it was Columbus who really let the word of gold start spreading throughout Europe so that the Dutch, the British, the French and even the Germans became a mass European invasion on the indigenous lands of North, Central and South America. They came and started setting their flags and claimed it for their queens and kings without ever asking us.
But the worst of these systems was the United States government, which has the worst features of colonialism of any government: it incorporated the land and not the people. The United States government and those colonists had no right to claim independence from England, because it didn't belong to England in the first place. They never asked our permission, the indigenous people. They always considered us "heathens" and "savages" in those treaties, the way they were written.
During the formation of the United States, the period between 1865 and 1890, there were 64 official Indian Wars declared against the indigenous people in the United States. In that 25 year period, 400 Congressional medals of honor were passed out. 20 alone were passed out for the massacre at Wounded Knee where 360 unarmed men, women and children were massacred. So they glorified the genocide. They glorfied the killing of indigenous people.
After those purchases of land-and going "from sea to shining sea," "move westward young man" and all those terms they used to put in their press and sing in their songs-they would set a flag. They would build a fortification. They would fill it with soldiers, then they would eliminate the indigenous population. They would herd us into reservations. And they would take the women, kill the men, and send the babies off to boarding schools, or use them as slaves.
This whole system-after about 1890-all of a sudden, the government had us where they wanted us. Geronimo had surrendered; he had been put in prison. Sitting Bull was dead. All these things had happened. The United States government had instituted a policy against us where they violated all 371 treaties that they signed with us and they forced us to live under conditions which created the highest unemployment rate per capita in the United States; the highest suicide rate, which was ten to one; the highest poverty and alcohol rate in North America. They created such dismal conditions for the indigenous people in America where they were guaranteed that we would not exist for another 500 years.
The majority of the male population ended up drunk or in prison. But it was in prison where a number of these men and women were meeting and saying, "Enough is enough. We cannot take it anymore." So in the late-sixties, Dennis Banks, Russell Means, Clyde Bellecourt, they all got together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and they formed the American Indian Movement. It was declared that we would not suffer these kind of conditions anymore. We would challenge the United States government and renew the resistance that had stopped for a period of about 84 years since 1890. So AIM started building, not really from an armed resistance movement, but a spiritual movement, where we had to regain our spiritual balance and find out how to sing our songs and learn our prayers and relearn our language and stop this "English only" campaign that the United States government has instituted.
In 1973, one third of the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred to the Lakota people, was going to be sold to be exploited for the gold and uranium mineral resources there. So AIM, led by Dennis Banks and Russell Means, was there. They challenged the United States government, and there was a standoff against the U.S. military forces. After 71 days, there was an agreed surrender. Of course, everybody was arrested, and in a period from that day on, until June 26, 1975, over 75 AIM members were murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation alone. Since then, over 300 of us have been murdered. Almost everybody associated with AIM, active members, have been imprisoned for their actions--they are all political prisoners.
We have gone through many, many changes in the American Indian Movement since then. One of the gravest things that we've suffered was on June 26, 1975, which led to the deaths of two FBI agents and the death of Joe Stuntz. The U.S. government found out that AIM was there to protect the elders against those 65 murders that occured on the Pine Ridge reservation. They also found out that Leonard Peltier was on the reservation. Leonard Peltier had become one of the major targets of the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the FBI. They fabricated a story that a pair of cowbow boots were stolen by Jimmy Eagle, who owned a red pickup truck. And they said they were following the red pickup truck onto the land. When they went on the land, they went in there blazing in their typical cowbow fashion, blazing with their six-shooters. After 60 people dying and living under fear and intimidation, the American Indian Movement responded the only way they could respond. It was their sovereign land in the first place and they returned fire. Any nation that is invaded has the right to return fire. The Lakota Nation at Pine Ridge is a sovereign nation according to the treaties of the United States. Article Six of the Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. Yet this government has never abided by any of those.
So exercising our sovereignty, we defended ourselves. The two FBI agents radioed in for help before they died. And over 300 troops immediately surrounded the area. Fortunately, Leonard Peltier was able to evade the net that was set up by the FBI and the National Guard and other policce agencies. There were arrest warrants immediately issued for Bob Robideau, Dino Butler, Jimmy Eagle, Leonard Peltier, but they were all able to escape.
Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were first apprehended and were taken to court. Leonard Peltier had escaped to Canada, knowing that he could not receive any fair justice in the U.S. judicial system. Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, during their trial, were able to prove that not one of the murders at the Pine Ridge reservation were ever investigated. And even today, still not one of those murders have gone investigated, including that of Anna Mae Aquash. They had chopped her hands off to identify her. Normally when you identify someone, you just take a piecce of paper and you put the ink on the finger and take the finger prints. But they chopped the hands off of Anna Mae Aquash and sent them back to Washington, D.C. for "positive identification."
Even though Bob Robideau and Dino Butler were able to prove that all these atrocities and conditions existed on the reservation, the government didn't think it was going to be very much, because they were relying on their best weapon-racism. All-white jury. Two Indians killed two white cops. This they figured was enough. There's no way two Indians could get away with killing white cops with a white jury. But these white people on the jury, they listened with their hearts and their minds. They listened to all the evidence and found the defendants not guilty by reason of self-defense. This was a major, major victory for Indian people.
But the FBI was mad. They wanted to get somebody for it. Somebody had to pay, and the only person left was Leonard Peltier. But he was in Canada. So they took a young, mentally-disturbed woman who had just been released from an institution-Myrtle Poor-bear. They threatened to kill her. They showed her pictures of Anna Mae Aquash's hands, just the hands. They told her: "What had happened to Anna Mae, worse will happen to you. If you don't sign this affidavit agreeing that you witnessed Leonard Peltier kill those FBI agents, we'll run you through a meat-grinder. We've taken your daughter, Marty, and you'll never see your daughter again." And Indian people know this: when the FBI tells us this, when the United States government-yellow hair, calvalry people, cowboys-when they make these threats against Indian peoples, it's usually carried out with no justice for us. Poor-bear took the threats very seriously. And being a mother and scared for her and her daughter's lives, she signed those affidavits. These affidavits were used to get Leonard Peltier extradited back to the United States.
When Leonard Peltier went to trial, he was not allowed to call any witnesses on his behalf. All documents which proved him innocent were hidden. The FBI 302 Form, a report done during an initial investigation, was a ballistics report of all shell casings found a the scene of the crime. In this report, none of the shell casings found at the scene matched Leonard Peltier's weapon proving that Leonard did not shoot those two FBI agents, or that he even fired at them. They hid this FBI 302 Form from the defense to make sure that Leonard wasn't going to get a fair trial. So the government prosecutor, Lynn Crooks, knew that the weapon that he kept pointing to the jury and the shell casing that he kept pointing to the jury was a lie. He knowingly lied to the jury to convict an innocent man because of his involvement in political activities.
Then, they went so far as to inflame the jury's minds by taking them from the hotel rooms to the courthouse and running SWAT teams with M-16s and jumpsuits through the hotel, and saying, "Hurry! You've got to come on. Let's move, let's move. Hold it, hold it there." And with their radios like "any minute, man, right around the corner, these savages and redskins are going to open fire." But, of course, they don't use the terms "savages" and "redskins" anymore. Now they say "guerrillas," "terrorists," "subversives," "communists," "socialists." They use these kinds of terms that work very good on white people against people of color. And then they would get them down in the bus with the windows blacked out, and they would drive them around in circles. While the jury was wondering, "Oh my God! Where are we at?!?" and creating the atmosphere that any minute the arrows were going to come shooting through the covered wagon like they used to show in those old John Wayne movies.
The created this kind of atmosphere for the jury. Leonard Peltier was found guilty and given two consecutive life sentences for the murder, or for the killing I should say, of those two FBI agents. In 1990, in December, we filed a Writ of Habeus Corpus to the 8th Circut Court of Appeals. In that Writ of Habeus Corpus, we raised three issues: the denial of due process, which means that you should have all evidence pertaining to your case; government misconduct, by knowingly lying to the jury, knowingly lying about the weapons and shell casings; the creation of fear and intimidation-"We'll run you through a meat grinder if you don't sign these papers" and the whole thing they did with the bus and the jury.
So we raised these three points, hoping we could get Leonard Peltier a fair trial with all the evidence that had been disclosed through the Freedom of Information Act that proved his innocence. But what happened was that appellant courts sent it back down to the lower court that originally heard his case, for them to determine whether they had acted improperly or not. So, we were going to go to court on July 29, 1991, but just days before that hearing, the U.S. Magistrate handling the case, Karen Kline, she decided that we could not raise the issue of government misconducct and we could also not raise the issue of the creation of fear and intimidation. For one, it is illegal for a lower court to overturn an upper court's decision on what she was going to hear in the arguments. But she did it anyway. She postponed it to October 1991 and moved it from Fargo, North Dakota, to Bismark, North Dakota, because she'd seen that our whole mechanism-hundreds of people showing support, all the media-was waiting there. So they figured they could diffuse this media attention and the support by moving it further away.
The hearing was to be held on October 2, 1991. But just days before the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Karen Kline decided to take it even further. She decided that we could not produce any evidence; we could not call any witnesses; we could not have Leonard Peltier present at his own hearing to determine whether he could get a new trial, whether he would be free, or whether he would continue to be in prison. So we have appealed those actions.
If we don't get Leonard a new hearing, and if he is not given his freedom, it is a strong possibility that he will serve his entire natural life incarcerated for a crime that he did not commit.
Diatribe is published by the People of Color News Collective at UC Berkeley. They can be reached at 700 Eshleman Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.
For more information on Leonard Peltier's case, or to send donations for his legal defense, contact the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, PO Box 583, Lawrence, KS 66044.
First Nations Page