‘Last chance’: Activist Leonard Peltier’s family reflects on prison life | Indigenous Rights News

His family has been fighting for his release for decades, but he was denied parole in 2009 and his request for a presidential clemency was also rejected.

Pelletier’s lawyer, Kevin Sharp, told US media in June that he believed this month’s parole hearing would be the activist’s “last chance” at freedom.

But ahead of the hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke out against the letter He expressed his “firm opposition” to Pelletier’s release and described him as a “remorseless killer.”

“Peltier is a cold-blooded killer who has shown zero remorse for his numerous crimes,” Wray wrote. “His release would deal a serious blow to the rule of law.”

Because Pelletier’s latest application was denied, the parole board has scheduled a tentative hearing for 2026. The next full parole hearing is scheduled for June 2039, by which time Pelletier will be 94 years old.

Sharp said he plans to appeal this month’s sentence, which he argues his client may not survive while awaiting the ruling.

Leonard Pelletier’s family said they want to remember him for his work as an activist. [Courtesy of Chauncey Peltier]

Pelletier’s family said the activist has several serious health problems, including kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

He suffered a stroke in 1986 that left him nearly blind in one eye, and in January 2016 he was diagnosed with a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“We know the situation he’s in right now he’s not going to live until his next parole date. He’s not going to live that long,” said Pamela Bravo, Betty Ann’s daughter.

She remembers Pelletier as a “cool uncle” who showed her around Turtle Mountain Preserve in a convertible.

His aunt, Sheila Pelletier, warned that even if Pelletier survives until his next parole hearing, some of his family members may not — he’s already lost both parents, a son and several siblings.

“We might not be here. I might not be here,” said Sheila, 59. “I hope this appeal goes through.”

She explained that by speaking out, her goal is to remind the world of the good Pelletier accomplished and that his life didn’t begin and end with the Pine Ridge shootout.

“He also did a lot for his tribe,” Sheila said, citing his work with the American Indian Movement.

“Because of AIM, we got our fishing rights, our water rights and our children’s laws,” she added, referring to the Indian Child Welfare Act, which was passed in 1977 as a result of sustained First Nations support.

An old photograph shows Leonard Pelletier's family standing around his blue pickup truck.
Left: Leonard Peltier with his wife and family before his incarceration in 1977. [Courtesy of Chauncey Peltier]

Chauncey also wants his father’s work as an activist and the hardships he experienced as a Native American to be recognized.

Pelletier, for example, was a survivor of the Native American Residential School system, a network of government- and church-run institutions designed to erase Native American culture.

“He represents 500 years of struggle for our Indigenous people,” Chauncey explained, “and his release will mark the beginning of healing for the suffering that Indigenous people have experienced for 500 years.”

Ultimately, Chauncey said his father isn’t a threat, he’s “just an old guy.” He thinks it’s past time for Pelletier to be released. “He just wants to go home and paint and fix his old cars.”


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