San Jose community rallies to free Leonard Peltier
San Jose, CA – On June 26, around 35 people gathered at Willow Street Frank Bramhall Park in San Jose to honor political prisoner and American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier. The event was organized by Leonard Peltier Support Group Silicon Valley and Indian Health Center Silicon Valley on the 48th anniversary of the historic shootout at Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The rally was emceed by Donna Wallach, chair of Leonard Peltier Support Group Silicon Valley and longtime community organizer.
Julie Dominguez, Muwékma Ohlone Tribal Ambassador, commenced the event with a tribal land acknowledgment on behalf of the Muwékma Ohlone Tribe. Dominguez spoke about the Muwékma Ohlone’s relationship with the land of the South Bay area and its spiritual significance for her people. She also noted that the Muwékma Ohlone people are not merely a relic of the past, but are alive and thriving today in the San Jose. She reported that Muwékma Ohlone Tribal Chairwoman Charlene C. Nijmeh recently visited Washington D.C. to advocate for federal acknowledgment of the Muwékma Ohlone Tribe, but there is currently no path forward to achieve that demand.
California Spirit Ride Team members who recently participated in the 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon then led the crowd in an inspiring performance of the Leonard Peltier Honor Song.
The next speaker was Carol Robideau, White Earth Chippewa and Leonard Peltier's aunt. She spoke about how she was one of the legions of indigenous children forcibly separated from her family and tribe via predatory adoption practices in 1949. She did not even realize she was Leonard Peltier’s aunt until she reconnected with her family and tribe in 1994. Robideau recounted her fear that she may never be able to reunite with Peltier in-person, saying, “The horrible truth is, to me, that no matter which party has been in power over all of these years, there is no justice, no matter who is in charge.”
Brian Smith then read a statement written by Leonard Peltier in 2022. Donna Wallach reported that she was unable to contact Peltier to receive his annual statement for 2023, and that she assumes that he is most likely in lockdown in prison. In his 2022 statement, Peltier wrote about the importance of the next generation stepping up and becoming leaders. He also praised the Standing Rock movement for defending the right to clean, safe water for everyone and continuing the legacy of the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Next, Manu Tonantzin read the names of 55 of the Lakota people who were killed during the Reign of Terror on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota between 1973 and 1976, noting that there were even more people killed whose names we do not know. Local organizer and peace activist Sharat Lin then performed his “Dance of Peace” to the song Reclamation by indigenous musician Lotus Sky. Trujillo Miguel Angel Vasquez and Patricia Vasquez then recited original poetry and songs in both English and Spanish, in honor of Wounded Knee and Leonard Peltier.
Finally, David Almeida from the San Jose State University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society spoke about the national campaign to defend the Tampa 5. The Tampa 5 are five student activists in Florida who are currently facing up to ten years in prison for protesting against Governor Ron DeSantis’ attacks on diversity, equality, inclusion (DEI) and multicultural programs. Almeida spoke about the importance of uniting to free all political prisoners. He stated that SDS stands in solidarity with Leonard Peltier and the movement to free him from wrongful imprisonment, saying, “We understand that political repression of one of us is political repression of all us.” He spoke about the importance of building a national campaign to support the Tampa 5, and noted how the case may set a precedent for further escalation of political repression nationwide if we do not unite to defend the democratic right to protest. He urged attendants to sign the petition (https://peoplespetitions.org/tampa5) and support their GoFundMe (https://gofund.me/5765e559). He also informed the crowd about an upcoming rally in support of the Tampa 5 at San Jose City Hall on July 9 at 2 p.m.
After the program, the crowd gathered to write postcards to President Biden demanding Leonard Peltier’s release and letters to Leonard Peltier in prison expressing their support and solidarity. There was a strong spirit of unity and mobilization in carrying on the fight to free Leonard Peltier, stand in solidarity with indigenous communities everywhere, and resist political repression at every turn.