In the aftermath of the Parole Board Commission's announcement that Leonard Peltier would not be granted parole, supporters of Peltier have been focusing their energy on President Barack Obama in the hopes of attaining a presidential pardon.
This documentary, directed by Michael Apted (Thunder Heart) and executive produced by Robert Redford, describes in detail the events leading to Peltier's imprisonment:
September 12 was Peltier's 65th birthday, and vigils were held around the world. Also, Ben Carnes and Robert Fife concluded an eight-day fast for his release, while Peltier's sister, Betty Peltier-Solano, had chained herself to a fence in Washington, D.C.
Here in Los Angeles, a vigil and rally took place at Nahui Ohlin in Echo Park (see: www.myspace.com/nahuiohlin and www.facebook.com/nahuiohlin). There was drumming and singing, and messages could be sent to Peltier vis-a-vis his family.
Two of the event organizers, Corine Fairbanks of the American Indian Movement in Santa Barbara and Lorin Morgan-Richards, who hosts the monthly Bringing the Circle Together film series (www.bringingthecircletogether.com), answered a few questions.
Corine Fairbanks: Ben Carnes and Robert Fife ended an eight-day fast demanding the pardon and clemency of Leonard Peltier since he was denied parole. Leonard's sister chained herself to the fence in Washington D.C. to demand his release and to draw attention to what is currently going on since the focus seems to be on health care reform and other issues of importance but not to the degree of Leonard Peltier to Native America.
RP: I understand that there was a turnout of about 40 people here today?
Corine Fairbanks: Yes. This has been going on across the nation for the past few days. There's even been vigils in Canada, there's been vigils in Virginia, in D.C., in Minnesota, Pennsylvania. So we are part of a collective effort.
Lorin Morgan-Richards : This is all grassroots. Everyone's voice counts. The time is now because Barack Obama, our president, had said it's not the president that actually makes the change, it's going to be our pressure upon the president on that will make the change. So the time is now. The next parole hearing is, I believe, in 15 years, and he's going to be about 79 , I think, at that time. That's much too long
RP: I noticed that the week that he was denied parole was the same week that the lady who tried to shoot President Ford was released [Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme] and very near the time that the person who masterminded the bombing of the airplane in Lockerbie Scotland [Abdel Baset al-Megrahi] was let go.
Corine Fairbanks: Absolutely. I think what's also important to focus on is what Leonard Peltier's done while incarcerated. He's been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize at least five times, he's been acknowledged by world leaders globally. . .
RP: ...including Nelson Mandela...
Corine Fairbanks: Yes, absolutely, Rigoberta Menchu, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Amnesty International. There's just many groups internationally that have seen his good work. So to release “Squeaky” as opposed to Leonard Peltier is not just a slap in the face, it's an ass-kick in the rear, it's a horrible travesty.
RP: The announcement of the denial was disgusting. [Peltier was told by the Parole Board Commission that “[your] release on parole would depreciate the seriousness of your offenses and would promote disrespect for the law.“]
Corine Fairbanks: Yes, it was more than symbolic, it was a literal kick in the ass—again. I could use other words to describe it [laughs].
RP: There probably aren't adequate words in English to describe it.
Corine Fairbanks: Yes. So this is a really small, humble effort compared to what we see other people sacrificing: Ben Carnes and Robert Fife literally going eight days without eating. Their families sacrificed a great deal for that, so this was the least we could do.
After the event, Hahui Ohlin co-founder Kari was interviewed as well.
RP: Could you describe how this store came about?
Kari: Sure. We started started selling t-shirts at different political events 10 years ago. My husband is the artist for most of the t-shirt designs. People would ask us: “Do you guys have a location? Do you guys have a store?” So we were like, “Maybe that's a good idea.” We wanted to open a shop in a neighborhood or community that needed a that kind of place to shop or get knowledge. So that's why we decided to come and open a store here in Echo Park, especially after all the gentrification that's going on.
Again, we want our people to know that there's a place they can come. We do moon circles, we do events, we do open mic poetry, we have a lot of artists come in here to do a lot of positive and progressive poems for our people.
Next month, October 2nd, is going to be our six-year anniversary. It's been tough [during] the last two years. We have barely been making the rent.
RP: There was a nice place a few doors down, Cafe Mariposa, that had artwork and film showing, but they didn't last too long.
Kari: They didn't last too long, unfortunately, and we need more places like this open. We need our people to support us. That's the only way that we're going to be able to give to the community and to receive from the community. We have a lot of supporters here in the neighborhood, and we also have people from [inaudible] and Ventura.
A lot of our shirt have images, but those images are sending a message because they have Native American images, most of them are very political. Some people can't handle the truth...
Kari went on to describe a series of incidents caused by a display in front of their store: a mannequin wearing a t-shirt with an outline of the United States and the caption ” This border is illegal” (pictured below).
Kari expressed gratification that several young people in the community have become interested in the content at the store.
When this shirt was displayed out in front of Nahui Ohlin, some people got upset. The back side of the shirt is below.