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"Free Leonard Peltier," Says SD Republican
Oct 30, 2013
I like pastor and Republican legislator Steve Hickey. Religiously, he's tolerably orthodox. Politically, he's a regular heretic.
Rep. Hickey's long-standing desire to outlaw payday loans and his newfound opposition to the death penalty cause his free-market, tough-on-crime Republican friends heartburn. Now he's saying we should celebrate the South Dakota quasquicentennial by calling on President Obama to release Leonard Peltier from federal prison.
A North Dakota jury convicted Peltier of murdering FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler in a shootout (prosecutors said it was an execution) at American Indian Movement headquarters at Oglala in 1975. Two other AIM members at the shootout were tried and acquitted by an Iowa jury. Peltier has said he fired at the agents, but debate has raged since the incident over whether Peltier really killed the agents. (And yes, both whites incensed by the murder of law enforcement agents on South Dakota soil and Indians who suffered at the hands of federal agents do rage on this question.)
Rep. Hickey says the killing of agents Williams and Coler took place in the context of something close to civil war, with tribal chairman Dick Wilson's GOON squads terrorizing and killing his own people... and federal agents helping. Hickey looks at this ugly history and says pardoning Peltier is less about disproving Peltier's guilt (about which he sees reasonable doubt) and more about acknowledging our own: "[T]he government," says Hickey, "is 'equally responsible' for the death of its own agents."
It's one thing to say, "Peltier didn't do it." It's quite another to say, 'Even if he did, you and I helped pull the trigger." One Native commenter on my blog says that statement would provoke more white‒Indian hostility rather than the reconciliation Hickey wants to promote. Peltier's cause draws attention from numerous international figures and celebrities, but not from South Dakotans outside the reservation. Governor Bill Janklow and Senator Tom Daschle both urged President Bill Clinton not to pardon Peltier. Getting South Dakotans to accept some responsibility for the killing of agents Williams and Coler would be a hard sell.
Rep. Hickey isn't afraid of the hard sell. I'd like to see him bring a resolution to the floor of the South Dakota House calling for Presidential clemency for Leonard Peltier. While some of his Republican colleagues (and a few Democrats, I'm sure) would accuse Hickey of heresy and worse, a free-Peltier resolution could promote an instructive conversation about the ugly history of race relations in South Dakota, as well as a gauge of our willingness to own all of our history, not just the parts that make for happy 125th annivesary events.
But my Native commenter reminds me that we should not discuss freeing Leonard Peltier as a gesture toward conversation or some other goal. Freeing Leonard Peltier should be first and foremost about justice. And if Hickey is right about Peltier, then the heretic is not the man calling for justice; the heretics are those who do not seek the justice our nation promises.
- The FBI Minneapolis Division documents its case against Peltier.
- The Wisconsin-based Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee counters the FBI's version of the case.
- The son of an FBI agent calls Peltier a selfish career criminal.
- Amnesty International calls for Peltier's release.
Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.