Peltier subject of documentary
OCTOBER 16, 2000
The case of imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier
is the subject of a new documentary which premieres
on the A&E cable network on October 17.
The one-hour program, part of the network's "American
Justice" series, couldn't come at a more opportune
time. The effort to have the Clinton administration
grant Peltier clemency has stepped
up in recent months, particularly with Peltier's
More importantly, the year 2000 marks the
25th anniversary of the shootout at the Jumping
Bull Ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation in
South Dakota. And like then, the events surrounding
the shootout, which resulted in the deaths of
two FBI agents and one member of the American
Indian Movement (AIM), are still debated.
But does the program offer anything new or revealing? For
those in Indian Country who are already familiar
with the Peltier case, even remotely, the documentary won't
shed much light on the ongoing controversy.
However, for those who haven't studied the Peltier
case and for those in the younger generation,
the program will give them a quick and reliable
overview of the
As expected, Dennis Banks of AIM, along with others who
were present on the reservation during the FBI's
undeclared war on Indian activism, are critical
of the government's actions. As for Peltier himself,
in an interview from prison,
he repeats his assertion that he indeed shot back at the group of
law enforcement officers, but didn't kill the agents
Not surprisingly, the FBI representatives refute
Peltier's claims and discount
any suggestion of a conspiracy against him or
AIM. "The sad theory that we would sacrifice
the lives of two agents is just kind of, beyond absurd,"
says David Price, an FBI agent.
Peggy Coler, wife of killed agent Jack Coler, also
appears on the program and is critical of AIM members'
description of the shootout as self-defense.
"These guys were killed at point
blank range and yet they try to say its self defense,"
says Coler. "There's no way."
The descriptions of an anti-AIM atmosphere and assertions of
self-defense are what helped set Peltier's two co-defendants
free. The comparison of the trial of Peltier to the one for
Dino Butler and Bob Robideau is probably the program's
strongest point, because it raises the question many
have considered since Peltier's conviction.
What if Peltier had not fled to Canada and instead testified
along with Butler and Robideau?
As viewers soon find out, Peltier's trial was very
different, which tipped the scales in favor of
The program does explore some of the allegations
of wrongdoing and holes in the government's case.
Unfortunately, less than 15 minutes are dedicated
to these issues, making it not quite as investigative
as some would like.
The program also mentions the current Internet debates
over Peltier, with supporters waged
in a battle with an anti-Peltier site run by
an FBI agent.
American Justice; Murder on a Reservation
airs Tuesday, October 17, at 9PM Eastern Standard
Time. It repeats on
Wednesday, October 18, at 1:00 AM and
Saturday , October 21, at 5:00 PM.
American Justice, on A&E TV -
Free Leonard Peltier -
The Leonard Peltier File, FBI -
The No Parole Peltier Association -
recalls Oglala shootout (The Talking Circle 06/26)
'Brutal slaying' at Oglala (The Talking Circle 06/26)
seeks Peltier clemency (The Talking Circle 05/17)
Promises to Prevent Peltier Pardon (The Talking Circle 04/21)
supporters respond (The Talking Circle 04/21)