Leonard Peltier How Justice Miscarried Term Paper

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The stage was set for violent conflict (Incident at Oglala).

The American Indian Movement

The American Indian Movement (AIM) emerged in the 1960s during the civil rights era. It started in urban areas to protest oppression of the Indian people and to support their traditional way of life. They described themselves as "an indigenous, land-based spiritual movement, a call to Indian people to return to their sacred traditions and, at the same time, to stand firm against the tide of...European influence and dominance" (cited in Sanchez, Stuckey, and Morris, 1999).

The AIM tried to attract attention to Indian problems by demonstrating and protesting the government's refusal to honor its treaty agreements with the Indians. The government perceived the AIM activism as subversive, militant, and dangerous. A confidential FBI report written in 1974 titled, "The American Indian Movement: A Record of Violence," began: "Since 1971, the American Indian Movement (AIM) has engaged in activities which clearly indicate the organization's willingness to go beyond radical rhetoric and employ violence where desired" (cited in Sanchez, Stuckey, and Morris, 1999, p. 36). The reported supplied a list of 27 subversive events, but only a few even approached being violent.

After an AIM demonstration called "The Trail of Broken Treaties," the government agreed to form a task force and investigate Indian grievances. A report of their findings was to be sent to the President. The Task Force's report was only five paragraphs and less than one page long. It concluded, "We do not recommend any policy changes at this time" (cited in Sanchez, Stuckey, & Morris, 1999, p. 31).

Disappointed but undeterred, the AIM decided to seize the trading post at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in order to draw attention to the community and to demand restoration of treaty agreements. The Pine Ridge community had used every legal means available to get the government to address more than 150 civil rights violations by the Wilson regime. In fact, White House files revealed "numerous letters from residents detailing the violent and illegal actions of Richard Wilson and his vigilantes (called Guardians of the Oglala Nation, or GOONs)" (Sanchez, Stuckey, & Morris, 1999, p. 38). The community asked AIM to stage a protest. AIM chose to occupy Wounded Knee because of the 1890 massacre that had happened there. Their occupation lasted 71 days. Government officials labeled the protest lawlessness and warned: "...the present well-publicized activities at Wounded Knee, with their wealth of symbolism, may well appeal to many more Indians and the membership [of AIM] may increase as a result" (Sanchez, Stuckey, & Morris, 1999, p. 32). Troops and police surrounded Wounded Knee, and two Indians were killed. Finally, the AIM gave up occupation, but afterward every member of AIM was arrested and charged with something. According to AIM members, they were political prisoners, jailed for dissent -- 90% of them dismissed or acquitted of the trumped up charges (Incident at Oglala).

Afterwards, tension on the Reservation increased, as the violence escalated between the traditionalists and the Wilson administration. Wilson's supporters perpetrated most of the violence, using government funds to arm themselves. John Trudell, for example, lost his wife, three children and his mother-in-law when the GOONs set his house on fire. According to the United States Civil Rights Commission, the FBI and BIA did nothing to stop the violence and killing. The Commission called it an "undeclared war on AIM" (cited in Sanchez, Stuckey & Morris, 1999, p. 38). The government was sympathetic to the Wilson regime and unwilling to protect members of the AIM.

On the day of the incident, two FBI agents, Coler and Williams, drove onto the Reservation, looking for an Indian named Jimmy Eagle who was wanted for stealing a pair of cowboy boots. The agents were in separate cars. They had learned that Jimmy Eagle was seen driving a red pick-up truck the night before and radioed that they were following a vehicle that matched the description. They came fast into a camping area where families were staying in teepees. Witnesses who were in their tents said they heard shots. Because of all the violence they had been experiencing, the men immediately got weapons and went to see what was happening. They saw the agents exchanging fire with people[continue]

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