July 14, 2024

For decades, the family has pushed for Peltier’s release. But he was previously denied parole in 2009, and attempts to petition for a presidential pardon have been rejected.

Peltier’s lawyer Kevin Sharp told US media in June that he considered this month’s parole hearing to be the activist’s “last chance” to be free.

But in the lead-up to the hearing, FBI director Christopher Wray wrote a fiery letter expressing “adamant opposition” to Peltier’s release, describing him as a “remorseless killer”.

“Peltier is a ruthless murderer who has shown an utter lack of remorse for his many crimes,” Wray wrote. “His release would strike a serious blow to the rule of law.”

With the failure of Peltier’s most recent application, the parole commission scheduled an interim hearing for 2026. The next full parole hearing will be in June 2039, by which time Peltier will be 94 years old.

Sharp said he plans to appeal this month’s decision. He maintains his client may not survive the wait.

A black-and-white photo of a young Leonard Peltier, sitting on the ground outside in a white collared shirt and black slacks.
Leonard Peltier’s family said they would like him remembered for his activism [Courtesy of Chauncey Peltier]

According to Peltier’s family, the activist contends with several serious health conditions, including kidney disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and a heart condition.

He also suffered a stroke in 1986 that left him nearly blind in one eye. And in January 2016, he was diagnosed with a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“I know he won’t make it to his next parole with the conditions he’s living under. He won’t make it that long,” said Pamela Bravo, Betty Ann’s daughter.

She remembers Peltier as her “cool uncle” who used to drive her around the Turtle Mountain Reservation in his convertible car.

Her aunt Sheila Peltier warned that, even if Peltier lived to see his next parole hearing, some of his family members might not. He has already lost his parents, a son and a few of his siblings.

“We might not even be here. I might not even be here,” Sheila, 59, said. “We’re hoping that this appeal goes through.”

She explained that, by speaking out, she aims to remind the world of the good Peltier has done — and that his life did not begin and end at the shootout at Pine Ridge.

“He also did a lot for his people,” Sheila said, citing his work with the American Indian Movement.

“AIM, they got us fishing rights, our water rights and the Child Act,” she added, referencing the Indian Child Welfare Act, which passed in 1977 as a result of sustained Indigenous advocacy.

The family of Leonard Peltier stands around a blue pickup truck in an old photo.
Leonard Peltier, left, with his wife and family before he was incarcerated in 1977 [Courtesy of Chauncey Peltier]

Chauncey, too, would like to see his father recognised for his activism — and for the hardships he faced as an Indigenous man in the US.

Peltier, for instance, was a survivor of the Indigenous boarding school system, a web of government- and church-run institutions designed to wipe out Native culture.

“He stands for what our people have been struggling with for 500 years,” Chauncey explained. “His release would start the healing of what Native people have gone through for 500 years.”

Ultimately, Chauncey said, his father is no threat, “just an old man”. He believes it’s past time for Peltier to be released. “He just wants to go home and paint and work on old cars.”

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