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By Harvey Arden; compiled and edited by George Bowe Blitch,
HYT Publishing, 2004

Initially, I considered this a curious title for a book about American Indian Movement (AIM) leader and North America's most prominent aboriginal political prisoner, now in his  29th year as "a houseguest in Hell"  in Leavenworth Penitentiary, for, in Peltier's own words, "the crime of being an Indian".  But it becomes readily clear that Arden is not presenting a book "about" Leonard Peltier or one that details the case for his innocence.

Arden, a former journalist with National Geographic, whose long-time activism in support of Leonard Peltier led to his work as editor of Peltier's  Prison Writings: My Life is my Sun Dance (St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 2000), describes Have You Thought of Leonard Peltier Lately? as "the artifacts of an ongoing struggle for one man's freedom and for the self respect of us all".

While this "living memoir" focuses on the quest for Peltier's freedom, Arden sees this as "a key to freedom for tens of thousands of others in our runaway American 'prison industrial complex'". He links his involvement with indigenous issues to his Jewish roots-- the Jewish Holocaust and the  500 year Holocaust "against American Indian Peoples" involved in both cases the struggle "to survive as a people".  "[M]y liberation", he explains, "is bound up with theirs...and with Leonard's".

This is very much a companion piece to Prison Writings with contributions by Peltier (including a number of his paintings), memorial pieces and messages about and by key aboriginal leaders and Elders whose lives and struggles have intertwined with his, a review of the circumstances leading to the deaths of two FBI agents on Pine Ridge in 1975 and the subsequent FBI COINTELPRO operation framing Peltier for the murders and an often passionate account of the intervening years since his conviction.    This includes a segment on the hopes, first raised by, and then brutally dashed by Bill Clinton in 2000 around presidential clemency for Peltier.  Clinton "has the spine of a chocolate éclair", says Arden, proving it by succumbing to FBI pressure and "intimidation, pure and simple", releasing "that string of sleazy felons" and leaving Peltier imprisoned.

Have You Thought of Leonard Peltier Lately? touches upon Peltier's flight to Canada and deportation to the U.S. in 1976 based on perjured testimony cooked up by the FBI and the failure of  the Federal Justice Department to investigate.  However, this book's pastiche covering the intervening years doesn't dwell on the work by aboriginal activists and Peltier supporters here to uncover and publicize the disgraceful role of the Canadian state in dismissing the evidence of Peltiers' innocence and FBI malfeasance during the deportation hearings.

For Canadian readers of Arden's book, an added dimension to the "artifacts" of this struggle can be found in paying tribute to the continuing work of the Leonard Peltier Defence Committee Canada (LPDCC) and the coalition it continues to build under the leadership of the indefatigable First Nations activists Anne and Frank Dreaver.  Despite the disappointment of Clinton's clemency denial, LPDC Canada has moved on to develop new strategies.  I'm most familiar with the work Anne Dreaver has carried on to nurture a solidarity relationship within the labour movement, but the coalition brings together many activists from other sectors.

Front and centre is a planned political lobby that will pressure the Federal Government to look at the 30-year record of injustice in Peltier's case and extend an olive branch  to aboriginal people by issuing a diplomatic and humanitarian appeal to the U.S. to release Leonard Peltier now.  This record covers both countries, notes Anne Dreaver, "and in the United States includes government admissions that there is no evidence against Leonard to warrant his conviction".

Moving the Federal Government in this direction will be no easy task, because "there is an impossible conflict of interest and bias in the Department of Justice, since they also represent the United States government...and have from the beginning".   Success  for the 2005 Freedom Campaign will depend greatly on mobilizing the coalition LPDCC has worked to build.  It is encouraging that the Ontario Federation of Labour has joined with the LPDCC to launch the campaign at a widely publicized "Benefit for Freedom" on March 4, 2005 in Toronto.

From Leavenworth, Leonard Peltier ends his moving Forward to Arden's book with this challenge: "I'm still here. Now what are we going to do about it?".  The LPDCC deserves the active support of all of us as it mobilizes its response.

For further information on this book see the companion website

Evert Hoogers
CUPW National Union Representative

This review was originally written for "Briarpatch," and will run simultaneously. (March 2005 issue)

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