U.S. Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier Delivers Passionate Thanksgiving Message

Posted Nov. 29, 2017

MP3 Wampanoag elder Bert Waters reading Leonard Peltier's annual letter at the Day of Mourning Thanksgiving Day event at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus


Thanksgiving Day this year marked the 48th annual Day of Mourning on Cole’s Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Mass., where the Pilgrim myth got its start. The gathering is organized by the United American Indians of New England and featured speakers from Labrador to Puerto Rico to Guatemala. Those addressing the gathering paid tribute to American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks, who died on Oct. 29 at age 80.

Part of the yearly commemoration includes the reading of a letter from indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier, who has been incarcerated for the past 41 years. He was convicted of killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota in 1975, although no evidence links him to the crime and he has always maintained his innocence.

At last year’s event, Peltier’s letter expressed the hope that President Barack Obama would commute his sentence, especially after the prosecutor in Peltier’s case recommended he be freed. However, Obama declined to do so, and there’s no chance of a commutation under President Donald Trump. But his short letter, read this year by Wampanoag elder Bert Waters, reflects no bitterness and shows that Peltier‘s sense of humor and love for the people remain intact. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus was at the Day of Mourning gathering where she recorded and produced this segment featuring the reading of Peltier’s letter.

BERT WATERS: Greetings my friends, relatives and supporters, once again I can't tell you how much I am so honored that you would want to hear my words, or should I say, read my words.

You can’t imagine the thoughts that go through my head at times, when everything is still and quiet in the night, when I lie there staring into the dark with daydreams of how things could possibly be better. I know I’ve said this once before, in some past statement, years back, however it comes to my thoughts how the term "day of mourning" makes me think of the reverse, as in "the morning of the new day" and how one term refers to those caught up in a deep sorrow and how the other term is a promise, of a new beginning and the rising of the sun. In our traditions and culture, most tribal nations did a mourning period of one year for the deceased. However, for us in our time, we are continually losing our people, and especially our young people and our women, who continually disappear with no trace.

Our lands are constantly violated. The air, the water, the soil, all of nature is screaming against the injustice that is continually perpetrated by those who worship money. So, in essence, I want to say in the loudest voice and the most sincere voice I can possibly speak – we don’t have a day of mourning, we have generations of mourning, year after year. I don't know what I can do further from where I'm at, but in whatever way possible I want to add my scream to the scream of the earth and the scream of my people for justice.

These ecological disasters caused by the wealthy must stop. Those people who are destroying the earth must realize that they ultimately will destroy themselves also. I know that many of you have taken part in the prayers and vigils and stood strong in the face of wrongful beatings and shootings and various other forms of violence, and I commend you for your bravery. Having said that, I want to encourage you to move forward to a new day. With each new day we need to rise to the occasion and do what we can to right what is wrong (applause).

Our enemy is not any person of particular color. Our enemy is those who are ignorant of the reality that we are all intricate parts of the whole circle, the circle of life. We must arm ourselves with the knowledge it takes to bring attention to the wrongness of their thinking, the wrongness of their exploitation of our Mother Earth, and wrongness of their mistreatment of the indigenous peoples throughout our lands. I would encourage you to mourn, if that is your way, to whatever length of time that is required by your teachings. However, I sincerely encourage each and every one of you to take it upon yourself to become a warrior of one. Educate yourself. Find the knowledge it takes to survive and thrive in a good way, and to confront the ignorance of those who are destroying the natural. Confront them in such a way that they will come to know that to destroy the earth, to destroy our people, to continue to ignore the philosophy and teachings that have allowed this land to exist since the beginning of time in a beautiful natural existence, they will ultimately destroy themselves and all life.

Perhaps I've said too much. I don’t know what your agenda is today (audience laughs). Obviously, I have more time than you (audience laughs). I want to say in closing though that I love you, I love you wherever you are, I love you and I love what you want. I love that you want to make a difference, and I will pray for you always. I further want to say you are making a difference. You have made a difference. Power to the people! Power to the earth!

For more information, visit Leonard Peltier’s defense committee’s website at whoisleonardpeltier.info or or call 505.217.3612; For National Day of Mourning information visit uaine.org; .

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