The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in Minnesota in 1968 to help the people of Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. AIM gained nationwide attention in its occupation of the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
In 1977, AIM member Leonard Peltier was convicted and sentenced to 2 consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first degree murder in the shooting of two FBI agents during a 1975 conflict on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Barring appeals or parole, his release date is 2040. AIM Chairman John Trudell was eloquent in Peltier's defense. After accusing the FBI of framing Peltier, Trudell was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court.
Peltier’s case is now widely seen as equivalent to the case against Nelson Mandela. Amnesty International placed his case in the Unfair Trials category. The site of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee explains more about this tragic situation.
His case was made in Peter Matthiessen's bestselling In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. Peltier is the author of Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance. Peltier' story is recounted in the film Thunderheart starring Val Kilmer.
Peltier's painting below depicts the loss of Tuscarora land to the New York Power Authority. The Tuscarora are one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as discussed in the article Tuscarora: People of the Hemp. To purchase a print of “Another Broken Treaty” and other artwork by Peltier, visit his sites at leonardpeltierart.com and whoisleonardpeltier.info.
Peltier's site points out:
Leonard’s paintings reflect the strength and commitment in his heart for the struggle of his People to retain a natural way of life in the face of great adversity. But painting means so much more to Leonard.
"Painting is a way to examine the world in ways denied me by the United States justice system, a way to travel beyond the walls and bars of the penitentiary. Through my paints I can be with my People—in touch with my culture, tradition, and spirit. I can watch little children in regalia, dancing and smiling; see my elders in prayer; behold the intense glow in a warrior's eye. As I work the canvas, I am a free man."
In 1986, Leonard suffered a stroke and lost about eighty percent of his sight in his left eye. Art professionals marvel at the number and quality of the paintings Leonard produces in light of this disability.
"My eye problems have slowed me down considerably, but I am still very inspired. Sharing my art makes my heart feel good. It's a way, too, of letting people know that I have not been conquered by the oppressor even though I have spent so many years in these iron lodges. It's a way to say thank you for all the people's support. It's a way of letting them know that their prayers are strong."
Leonard donates his paintings to help support efforts to win his freedom. He has given numerous paintings as gifts and donated paintings to needy organizations to help them raise funds for their causes. Leonard has said, “I like doing things like this, just knowing I have made people happy and giving some enjoyment is some of the things I cherish out of life, because I am real…”
Leonard is truly a remarkable Man, Artist, Writer, and Humanitarian.
A young Peltier is shown in Part 2 and Part 3 of The Spirit of Crazy Horse showing the volatile times captured in the quasi-fictional film Thunderheart when the American Indian Movement strove to help the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota in the 1970s.