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 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.
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.