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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.

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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.



10:01 pm - Thu, October 31 2013
Sue Claytonj said:
I live in West Australia, am of Native American Ancestry and I TOTALLY AGREE with Mr Hickey in regard to calling for Clemency for Leonard Peltier. Leonard has been in prison for almost 40 years, is not receiving proper medical aid and is in need of family right now. He is known world wide as America's Mandela and Nelson Mandela is supportive of his release. Amnesty Int. have declared Leonard a Political Prisoner. I'm sure there is something called "the 30yr Law" in the US and that has passed. The FBI are a very crooked agency and needed a scapegoat for their own crimes. That entire incident was planned by the FBI and Goon Squad. Why would FBI be looking for someone who was suspected of stealing a pair of cowboy boots????? FBI were looking for partners in their money making scheme to do with uranium. ALL the details of the case need to be re-read by a reputable lawyer and judge.
02:49 pm - Fri, November 1 2013
dave tunge said:
Freeing Leonard Peltier should be first and foremost about justice.

Exactly.......that is why a pardon should not be an option. Let our system work as it was intended. If there is, or was, any doubt of guilt the appeal process is the tool our justice system intended...........considering a pardon because of sympathy or racial overtones is not.
03:48 pm - Fri, November 1 2013
larry kurtz said:
Read the Amnesty article, Dave: Fallujah on the rez or maybe Somalians weren't supposed to fire on a Blackhawk helicopter landing in Mogadishu.

Sign a petition for executive clemency here:
05:32 am - Mon, November 4 2013
Luke Rockwell said:
At least a fair trial. Cointelpro?
08:18 am - Mon, November 4 2013
Ed said:
If you or I are convicted of the crime we do the time. So should others.

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