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Letter to Leonard Peltier

Subcomandante Marcos is a member of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)

In 1975, Leonard Peltier was convicted of the murder of two government agents after a violent confrontation on the Oglala reservation that pitted the American Indian Movement (AIM) and local Sioux against law enforcement officers. Two other AIM members were acquitted in a separate trial, but Peltier received two consecutive life sentences. The trial is the subject of the documentary film Incident at Oglala (1975). February 6, 2000, marks Peltier’s twenty-fourth year in prison. Information about his case can be found at, or by contacting the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, PO Box 583, Lawrence, KS 66044, USA. The following letter was first published on the Internet by the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico (NCDM), based in Austin, TX.


Through NCDM and Cecilia Rodriguez we extend greetings from the men, women, children, and elders of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

Cecilia has told us about the grave injustice the North American judicial system has committed against you. We understand that the powerful are punishing your spirit of rebellion and your strong fight for the rights of indigenous people in North America.

Stupid as it is, the powerful believe that through humiliation, arrogance, and isolation, they can break the dignity of those who give thoughts, feelings, life and guidance to the struggle for recognition and respect for the first inhabitants of the land, over whom the vain United States has risen. The heroic resistance that you have maintained in prison, as well as the broad movement of solidarity that your case and your cause have motivated in the United States and the world, reveal their mistake.

Knowing of your existence and history, no woman or man (if they are honest and conscious) can remain silent before such a great injustice. Nor can they remain still in front of a struggle which, like all that is born and grows from below, is necessary, possible, and true.

The Lakota, a people who have the honor and fortune to have you among their blood, have an ethic that recognizes and respects the place of all people and things, respects the relations that mother earth has with herself and other living things that live and die within her and outside of her. An ethic that recognizes generosity as a measure of human worth, the walk of our ancestors and our dead along the paths of today and tomorrow, women and men as part of the universe that have the power of free will to choose paths and seasons, the search for harmony and the struggle against that which breaks and disorders it. All of this, and more that escapes because we are so far away, has a lot to teach the “western” culture which steers, in North America and in the rest of the world, against humanity and against nature.

Probably the determined resistance of Leonard Peltier is incomprehensible to the powerful in North America, and the world. To never give up, to resist, the powerful call this “foolishness.”

But the foolish are in every corner of the world, and in all of them, resistance flourishes in the fertile ground of the most ancient history.

In sum, what the powerful fail to understand is not only Peltier’s resistance, but also the entire world, and so they intend to mold the planet into the coffin the system represents, with wars, jails, and police officers.

Probably, the powerful in North America think that in jailing and torturing Leonard Peltier, they are jailing and torturing one man.

And so they don’t understand how a prisoner can continue to be free, while in prison.

And they don’t understand how, being imprisoned, he speaks with so many, and so many listen.

And they don’t understand how, in trying to kill him, he has more life.

And they don’t understand how one man, alone, is able to resist so much, to represent so much, to be so large.

“Why?” the powerful ask themselves and the answer never reaches their ears: Because Leonard Peltier is a people, the Lakota, and it is impossible to keep a people imprisoned.

Because Leonard Peltier speaks through the Lakota men and women who are, in themselves and in their nature, the best of mother earth.

Because the strength that this man and this people have does not come from modern weapons, rather it comes from their history, their roots, their dead.

Because the Lakota know that no one is more alive than the dead.

Because the Lakota, and many other North American Indian people, know that resisting without surrender not only defends their lives and their liberty, but also their history and the nature that gives them origin, home, and destiny.

Because the great ones always seem so small to those who can not see the history that each one keeps inside.

Because the racism that now governs can only imagine the other and the different in jail or in the trashcan, where two Lakota natives were found last month, murdered, in the community of Pine Ridge. This is justice in North America: those who fight for their people are in jail, those who despise and murder walk unpunished.

What is Leonard Peltier accused of?

Not of a crime he didn’t commit. No. He is accused of being other, of being different, of being proud to be other and different.

But for the powerful, Leonard Peltier’s most serious “crime” is that he seeks to rescue in the past, in his culture, in his roots, the history of his people, the Lakota. And for the powerful, this is a crime, because knowing oneself with history impedes one from being tossed around by this absurd machine that is the system.

If Leonard Peltier is guilty, than we are all guilty because we seek out history, and on its shoulders we fight to have a place in the world, a place of dignity and respect, a place for ourselves exactly as we are, which is also very much as we were.

If the Indian people of the North and Indian people of Mexico, as well as the indigenous people of the entire continent, know that we have our own place (being who we are, not pretending to be another skin color, another tongue, another culture), what is left is that other colors that populate the entire world know it. And what is left is for the powerful to know it. So that they know it, and learn the lesson so well that they won’t forget, many more paths and bridges are needed that are walked from below.

On these paths and bridges, you, Leonard Peltier, have a special place, the best, next to us who are like you.

Salud, Leonard Peltier, receive a hug from one who admires and respects you, and who hopes that one day you will call him “brother.”

Vale, and health to you, and I hope that injustice disappears tomorrow, with yesterday as a weapon and today as a road.

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, October 1999

Volume 51, Issue 08 (January)
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