Native American activist Dennis Banks and 27 others celebrated the end of a five-month “Walk for Justice” across the country at the Lincoln Memorial on Friday.
The leaders of 21 tribal nations demanded that President Clinton free Leonard Peltier, a former member of the American Indian Movement who they contend is innocent of killing two FBI agents in 1975 at Wounded Knee, S.D.
About 400 activists who joined the 3,800-mile walk along the way participated in a series of traditional sage-burning and pipe ceremonies near the memorial steps.
Twenty-eight completed the entire walk. It began Feb. 11 at Alcatraz Island in California in an effort to draw attention to issues ranging from treaty rights and grave desecration to nuclear waste dumping and sports team mascots.
Several thousand people participated in part of this year’s spiritual trek, including walkers from Japan, Denmark, Australia, Germany, France and Britain.
“We knew from the beginning that we would have a hard time and that the many nations of people would help us along the way,” said Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement. “What we were not prepared for was the great amount of support shown to us. Overwhelming.”
Several tribal elders wore red T-shirts reading “Free Peltier.” Others donned colorful, traditional clothing, beating drums and singing Friday as temperatures rose into the 90s. Large black, red and yellow banners read, “Respect Mother Earth” and “The Black Hills Are Not For Sale.”
Leaders said they would present a 26-page document to Congress on Monday addressing topics from religious issues and land-use disputes to fishing rights and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
It begins with a “demand” for executive clemency for Peltier. He has been in prison since April, 1977, when a federal jury in Fargo, N.D., convicted him of the shootings of the two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.
The Supreme Court has twice denied his petitions for a rehearing.
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh issued a statement opposing clemency, saying, “Peltier’s guilt has been firmly established.”