The Ten Meaningful Books Challenge: Day Ten

Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance by Leonard Peltier U.S. Prisoner #89673-132

I had heard the story of Leonard Peltier, an American Indian incarcerated for the murder of two FBI agents. I had seen the documentary by Robert Redford, Incident at Oglala, that chronicled that story. I had seen the fictionalized version of the story in the movie, Thunderheart. A little more than a year ago, I read Leonard Peltier’s own words.

From the opening words of the author’s foreward …

Innocence is the weakest defense. Innocence has a single voice that can only say over and over again, “I didn’t do it.” Guilt has a thousand voices, all of them lies.

What follows in these pages, then, is my own personal testament as best I can set it down under the circumstances. Scattered among those journal entries, soul thoughts, political musings, and personal recollections are nuggets of reflection in the form of poems, but I don’t really think of them as poems; they’re arrows of meaning, and hopefully of healing, from my heart to yours. I hope they hit their mark.

I can tell you from a man who has spent much of his life in a stone-and-steel hole, that I am both immensely grateful for, and utterly amazed at, such attention from an outside world that more often than not forgets those of us within these walls. To those of us locked away in here, there’s nothing more important than being remembered.

To the closing words of the book …

So to you my friend, before I leave this lesser reality for that greater one, I say, Washté! It’s good! Thank you for hearing my words. I wish your spirit peace and happiness and fulfillment on its continued journey. Perhaps we’ll meet one day, you and I, on the Great Red Road. I pray that we do. Mitakuye Oyasin!

I cried.

I cried because, even from what little I’ve read, it seems obvious to me that he is unjustly imprisoned. I cried because his is one of the great voices of the American Indian Movement that has been unheard by the vast majority of Americans. I cried because there are so many years of my life that I have been unaware of my own heritage.

Leonard Peltier is not only one of the great voices of the American Indian Movement, he is a gifted and moving spiritual writer. I am struck by how much of his writings sound like the writing of the imprisoned apostle Paul, the imprisoned Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, and like the writings of other imprisoned revolutionaries – Jacobo Timerman (as Peppino mentioned yesterday), as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Alexander Solzenhitzen,

I leave you with these words of Leonard Peltier

Kill us but the spirit doesn’t die. It’s reborn in the next Indian child and the next. So let us bless our children just as their very existence blesses us.

The law I look to for justice for my people is not the white man’s law, the unnatural law, the man-given law. The law my people and I look to is the law of the Great Spirit, which never ceases to work and whose workings are invariably implacable and just. And by that law there will be freedom for my grandchildren and your grandchildren to live in peace and harmony with all other decent human beings of this world. The light I am seeing will ignite, and together we will be able to watch it grow until there is justice for all people everywhere.

We of this generation won’t even be here when the world becomes theirs. Let those of us who muddled our own times so badly come to terms with each other, now and here. Must we pass this hatred and injustice and wickedness on even to future innocent generations? Must we make them guilty, too? Can’t we resolve this thing between us now, and finally end it? I am praying that we can. My life is an instrument for that purpose.

… and this song: Hanging on the Cross, by John Trudell (another of the great voices of the American Indian Movement and a contemporary of Leonard Peltier