Saturday, February 6, 2016
INGLEWOOD - In a day-long event, members of the Southern California chapter of the American Indian Movement, along with other members of the Native community and social justice activists, called for clemency for AIM activist Leonard Peltier, imprisoned since 1977 on trumped-up charges. The day featured speeches from well-known figures from the movement in defense of indigenous rights, musical and poetic performances, drums, and prayer.
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The day began with a prayer and blessing by Danny Blackgoat, a Diné elder from the Big Mountain area, which is on the Arizona side of the Navajo Nation and where the community has long resisted the mining companies seeking to deport them. During his speech, he revealed that in the course of his visit, the items he had brought to sell to help fundraise for the struggle in Dinetah had been stolen. When MC Gray Wolf found out about the theft, he encouraged the drummers to lead a rug song and for attendees to make donations to the elder's recovery fund, which we did.
The next speaker was Lawrence Reyes of the Puerto Rican Alliance, who spoke briefly about the case of Oscar Lopez Rivera and read a statement of solidarity Boricuan political prisoner to Leonard Peltier.
Link to video of Lawrence Reyes's comments: Lawrence Reyes of Alianza Puertorriqueña reads statement of solidarity from PP Oscar López Rivera
Reyes was followed by George Funmaker, who spoke about the farce of considering indigenous identity based on blood quantum alone. He talked about how his mother and father were from two different tribes, as was the case with his wife. This renders his children ineligible for tribal enrollment despite being fully indigenous. This was America, he said, and rather than saluting the flag, we should burn it, which earned the cheers of the crowd.
The Bay Area-based rapper Red Star then read a chapter from Leonard Peltier's book Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance. He was followed by Los Angeles-based poet Matt Sedillo, who recited his poem "Here is a Nation".
The next performer was a conga-playing poet named Julio Rodriguez. One of his poems was punctuated with the phrase, "And that's fucked up!" which evoked the laughter of the crowd.
Link to clip of Julio Rodriguez's poetry: "Conga Poet" Julio Rodriguez
Shannon Rivers spoke next. He spoke about how "Arizona" is actually an O'odham word, mean "place of many small streams," and about how many tribes are separated by the colonizer-imposed political border between US and Mexico. He then introduced the AIM song, telling the story of how the song was inspired, composed, performed, and then gifted to the American Indian Movement. The drummers then began drumming, and the entire crowd huddled around the drum. Many put their arms in the air as they sang. Some people were moved to tears. It was perhaps the most emotionally-impactful moment of the evening.
At about this point, Marcus Lopez took over as master of ceremonies, and introduced the Fontana-based performer and activist, who performer his number "Spar like a Jaguar."
Link to video of Gullit's performance: Gullit performing "Spar like a Jaguar" at Free Leonard Peltier event
Lopez then introduced a young Los Angeles-based activist named Stephanie, who spoke about the struggle to defend Oak Flat, a sacred site known as the "Apache Stronghold," which has been defensively occupied to protect it from the mining company Rio Tinto for more than a year now. She had been to the encampment several times--in fact, every time the opportunity had presented itself--and had made some strong connections with the people there. She urged us to visit, as well as to compel our elected representatives to vote in favor of a bill to protect the site.
Kwazi Nkrumah then took the stage to proclaim the support of the Martin Luther King Coalition for the freedom of Leonard Peltier.
He was followed by a performance by Los Angeles group Inner City Dwellers, who were followed by another poet whose name I didn't catch. A crowd favorite was the performance put on by Kill the Bullfighter, a hard rock group out of Boyle Heights.
Link to video clip of Kill the Bullfighter: Kill the Bullfighter at International Day of Solidarity with Leonard Peltier
Red Star then took the stage again, this time to perform his music with Anthony Sul. They performed several classics, but also shared a new track from the forthcoming "Herbin' Natives" album. The set was followed by a performance from TIWAES, and subsequently by Luv the Messenger. The last to take the stage was Aztlan Underground, whose indigenous music was the perfect way to end the performances.
After the performances, the remaining attendees formed a circle and heard once again from Danny Blackgoat, who talked about the history of his family's struggle against displacement, their recruiting of volunteers from all over to support the effort, about the trials of fatherhood, all while sharing humorous anecdotes from his life and experience. He closed the gathering with a prayer.
All throughout the event, the call to action was repeated to free Leonard Peltier, to lobby, write, and pressure the Obama administration to grant clemency to the freedom fighter.
Original: International Day of Solidarity with Leonard Peltier