Local AIM, Red Nation members gather to demand Peltier’s release

Movement leader, now 77, should be leaving prison quarantine in the coming days

By: - February 8, 2022 5:00 am

Norman Patrick Brown talks about his experiences working alongside Leonard Peltier during the 1970s. He is demanding the federal government release his friend from prison.

Norman Patrick Brown knows what he’ll say to his friend Leonard Peltier, he says, when he sees him for the first time since 1976. 

“I’m going to tell him I never gave up on him for 46 years, that I’ve prayed for him every day. That when I was younger, I was willing to take his place,” he said. “That I love him for who he is. All my life, I defended him.”

Brown (Diné) and others gathered in front of the federal courthouse in Downtown Albuquerque calling for the release of Peltier from federal custody. They say this is the time, this is the year, when Peltier will finally be allowed to go home. 

“It’s inherent in us. It’s in us, it’s in our DNA. You know, freedom is in our DNA,” Brown said. “That’s what this whole fight is about, this whole movement, fighting for survival.”

People in Albuquerque hold signs calling for the release of Leonard Peltier from federal prison. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

Brown cited the national push by federal and state lawmakers as a sign that momentum is on their side. It’s imperative that Peltier be released due to his health, he added. Peltier, 77, is expected to be released this week from quarantine after he contracted COVID while in federal custody, Brown said.

The circumstances of his quarantine are similar to solitary confinement, he said, in that Peltier is unable to receive contact from people outside. He last spoke to Peltier a month ago but said even with the outpouring of support, his friend is unaware people from across the world are once again leading a charge calling for his clemency. 

“They have him completely locked down from everything,” Brown said. “Even his lawyer is having difficulty.” 

The fight to release Peltier is spanning generations. Monday’s demonstration saw parents, college students, babies and the elder generation that, like Brown, has been fighting since the 1970s. 

Brown joined the American Indian Movement when he was 12-years-old. Shortly after he joined the cause, he met Peltier and other leaders of AIM. A few years later in 1975,  he was on the frontlines in Oglala, South Dakota, in a shootout with federal police and tribal enforcement. 

“My sense of justice took me there. It was heartbreaking to hear the reign of terror in Pine Ridge at the time, where people were getting assassinated, killed, murdered, beaten up, because they were American Indian Movement members, sympathizers, supporters.” he said.

‘We request that Mr. Peltier be immediately released’

Peltier was convicted of shooting two FBI agents and sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences. Since then, many have argued the case against him was thin and based on faulty evidence, and that he was targeted because of his work in the movement.

The circumstances of how those two men died is widely disputed, and many accounts, including those from federal prosecutors, challenge  Peltier’s alleged involvement in their death. 

“There were a lot of bullets flying — a lot,” Brown said. 

Bobby Valdez, another elder and local leader in the Albuquerque AIM chapter, said Peltier was the fall guy. “They had to blame somebody,” he said, “so they blamed Leonard.” 

He also sees momentum in this moment and thinks it’s not if, but when Peltier will be released from jail. 

“It’s a battle that’s never going to stop. It’s never-ending,” Valdez (Laguna) said. “The law, they just kind of agree with everyone, but now they’re changing their mind. While the judges that handle this case, federal judges, are saying that ‘He can go now, we’re wrong,’ now it’s time for him to go home.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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