Na­tive rid­ers rest in Polk

♦ Group rid­ing in sup­port of free­dom for Leonard Peltier takes part in Rome Pow Wow, stops in Aragon for weekend

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­stan­dard­jour­

The end of the day’s trail greeted rid­ers who have crossed half of the coun­try to get to Polk County, with the peace and hospi­tal­ity of Aragon just a stop on their jour­ney to pro­mote a cause of free­dom for one man they believe was un­justly con­victed sev­eral decades ago.

A pair of brothers, along with fam­ily and friends started their jour­ney in Min­nesota on July 28 and stopped in the Aragon area for the weekend to rest and take part in the an­nual Run­ning Wa­ter Pow Wow/ Chero­kee Home­com­ing be­fore they con­tinue on­ward to Cole­man, Fla., and a rally in sup­port of Leonard Peltier.

Frank Runs Be­fore Them, whose Lakota name is Wici Tok Ab Iyanke, said he and his brother Ken Four­cloud along with a group in sup­port have crossed seven states to get here in more than a month on horse­back in a trip that has been more than eight years in the mak­ing.

Their goals is to raise aware­ness to the un­fair treat­ment they feel Peltier re­ceived at the hands of the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment dur­ing his 1970s con­vic­tion for mur­der, and to also bring to peo­ple the con­tin­ued mis­treat­ment they and oth­ers re­ceive in the Dako­tas.

As their cross-coun­try trip has gone on, Frank Runs Be­fore Them said the group known as the Leonard Peltier Free­dom Rid­ers have re­ceived noth­ing bust hospi­tal­ity and good will at each stop.

“The hospi­tal­ity and open hearts and arms are ap­pre­ci­ated,” he said. “Those shar­ing their prop­erty and food have been out­stand­ing.”

They only ride a cer­tain num­ber of miles per day since they left the plains and came south­east­ward, mainly based on the safety of the horses as they trot along high­ways and over un­cer­tain ter­rain.

“It’s been an in­trigu­ing jour­ney,” Runs Be­fore Them said. “The land­scape and weather are a lot dif­fer­ent from what we’re used to in the Dako­tas.”

He added it was the fur­thest he’d ever been south in the United States in his life.

The great­est hope of all

is that the trip can bring aware­ness to a long pat­tern on un­fair treat­ment of Na­tive Amer­i­cans that con­tin­ues to this day. He said the weekend Pow Wow in Rome with the Chero­kee was a way for his Lakota na­tion and the Chero­kee na­tion to share their ex­pe­ri­ences and pro­mote greater un­der­stand­ing be­tween ev­ery­one of the plight of na­tive peo­ples who still face per­se­cu­tion.

“It’s an honor to be in Chero­kee coun­try and to be in­vited to share in their Pow Wow to the ride,” Runs Be­fore Them said. “It makes us feel wel­come.”

He said the racism and prej­u­dice still felt in his home state of South Dakota is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from his treat­ment else­where in the coun­try, and their trip has mainly gone off with­out a prob­lem.

“It is up­lift­ing to know there are still de­cent peo­ple in the world,” he said.

Their stay in Polk County was hosted by Sheila Roar­ing River, who lives in the Aragon area and shared her space with the group as they rested and fed their horses from long days on the road.

All of this in sup­port of a man whose case has long been a ral­ly­ing cry for Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivists as an ex­am­ple of con­tin­ued un­fair treat­ment of tribes and peo­ple across the coun­try.

Peltier, now age 73, was con­victed and sen­tenced to two con­sec­u­tive life sen­tences on first de­gree mur­der for the shoot­ing death of two Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion agents dur­ing a 1975 con­flict on the Pine Ridge In­dian Reser­va­tion.

He’d pre­vi­ously been a cham­pion of Na­tive Amer­i­can rights and joined in the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment be­fore he be­came in­volved in the con­flict be­tween fac­tions on the Lakota reser­va­tion in South Dakota. Dur­ing the fight be­tween fac­tions, the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment and Lakota tribes peo­ple took over the town of Wounded Knee in a 71 day siege with fed­eral forces.

Peltier hadn’t taken part in most of the siege at the time, and was in a Mil­wau­kee, Wisc., jail charged with at­tempted mur­der in­stead. It wasn’t un­til the end of April took part in a sin­gle protest out­side of a Mil­wau­kee fed­eral build­ing be­fore he headed to with sup­plies, but didn’t ar­rive be­fore the siege ended. Two years later, Peltier was back on Pine Ridge as the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ued to de­volve be­tween the fac­tions.

He was con­victed for killing the FBI agents in 1975, and had been on the run for at­tempted mur­der of an off­duty Mil­wau­kee po­lice of­fi­cer, a case for which he was later ac­quit­ted

The two agents that Peltier was sen­tenced for killing were Jack Coler and Ronald Wil­liams, who were on the Pine Ridge Reser­va­tion two years later look­ing for a man who was be­lieved to be in­volved in the armed rob­bery of ranch

hands in the area. The pair of agents and later a third agent who came to help were un­der heavy fire dur­ing a traf­fic stop, and Coler and Wil­liams were killed in the shootout as they sought to de­fend them­selves.

Peltier’s in­volve­ment re­mains un­der sus­pi­cion. How­ever it is noted that he fled from the reser­va­tion and was later stopped by Ore­gon State Pa­trol, where he got into a shootout with a trooper and fled, and that one of the agent’s re­volver used in the pre­vi­ous gun­fight was found in an RV Peltier was said to be driv­ing.

He ended up in Canada and on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugi­tives list be­fore he was later ex­tra­dited back to the United States more than year later. Af­ter his 1977 con­vic­tion in a trial where the jury saw dif­fer­ent ev­i­dence than was pre­sented in pre­vi­ous court pro­ceed­ings against other mem­bers of the Amer­i­can In­dian Move­ment found to be in­volved, Peltier es­caped and was on the run for around six months be­fore be­ing re­cap­tured.

He since tried to ap­peal his con­vic­tion sev­eral times, and re­ceived help from many or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als that among the no­table sup­port­ers saw for­mer U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ram­sey Clark at­tempt to his de­fense.

Peltier con­tin­ues to serve out sen­tences in a Flor­ida fed­eral pen­i­ten­tiary, where the group have set their sights to end up when their ride comes to a close.

The Leonard Peltier Free­dom Ride is set to con­clude on Sept. 22 in Cole­man.

/ Kevin Myrick

A group of Lakota rid­ers are mak­ing their way from Min­nesota to Cole­man, Fla. in sup­port of the cause of Leonard Peltier. They stopped in Polk County for a weekend rest dur­ing the Run­ning Wa­ter Pow Wow and Chero­kee Home­com­ing.

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