Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014): Leonard Peltier and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse


by Colin Penter

April 7th, 2014  The Stringer Independent News

‘Whatever the nature and degree of his participation at Oglala, the ruthless persecution of Leonard Peltier had less to do with his own actions than with underlying issues of history, racism, and economics, in particular Indian sovereignty claims and growing opposition to massive energy development on treaty lands and dwindling reservations.’

Peter Matthiessen

Author, writer, environmentalist and political activist Peter Matthiessen has died, aged 86, after a short illness. Pieces written is his memory are herehere, here, here and here.

Matthiessen is best known for his fiction work, his writings on the natural world and his writing and activism on environmental causes.

In_the_Spirit_of_Crazy_Horse_book_cover-195x300However, it is his non-fiction books that I value the most. These include  In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which chronicles the story of Native Indian political activist Leonard Peltier and the FBI and US Government’s war on the American Indian Movement and his book about the legendary farm worker, union organizer and activist  Ceser Chavez.

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse is one of the finest examples of a book that exposed historical and political injustice and gave force to a political campaign that continues to this day.

In  In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Matthiessen documents the massive number of crimes committed against Native American people and the genocidal nature of the US authorities in their destruction of Native cultures and people. He documents a long string of historical injustices, ranging from mass slaughter to the takeover and reapportionment of sacred or Native lands, including  the forced appropriation of Indian lands for mining  use.

The key figure in Matthiessen’s book is Leonard Peltier, who has spent 37 years in American prisons for the alleged murder of 2 FBI agents on the the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve in South Dakota in 1975.

Peltier, an Ojibwa-Lakota from Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, was one of the three young Indians  involved in a shoot-out with the FBI at Oglala on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in June 1975, which resulted in the death of 3 men, including 2 FBI agents and an Indian. Pelteir and 3 others were later charged with the murder of the two FBI agents.

Peltier and two of the young Indian men indicted were members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) a group fiercely opposed to the sale of Reservation land and mining rights to non-Indian interests.

Mathiessen shows how the fire fight was the result of a planned military assault on the Reservation by FBI agents and local Police, working in conjunction with an Indian para-military group (The GOONS), who were linked to Indian tribal figures keen to sell Indian land to white corporate interests wanting to exploit its mineral wealth.

Those same Indian leaders, with the support of Federal authorities, had armed the GOONS (Guardians of the Oglala Nation), who had been terrorizing Indians on the reservation who opposed the sell off. In the 2 years leading up to the shoot out, the GOONS reign of terror had resulted in between 200-300 deaths.

Matthiessen’s book documents how Peltier’s conviction and subsequent life imprisonment were based on Government fraud and misconduct  and highly disputed evidence.

Matthiessen’s book was so controversial its publication was delayed for decades due to legal challenges by the US authorities and the FBI, which cost Matthiessen and his publisher $2 million in legal fees.

In 1969 Matthiessen also wrote a book length profile of Ceser Chavez the legendary union organizer for farm workers in the US. The book was titled Escape if You Can: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution.

Matthiesson continued to write about Chavez, quoting him in this  profile article:

When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belongs to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us be men.”

Book Review: Washington Football Team Remains Clueless When it Comes to Its Name

Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins

By Thomas G. Smith
Beacon Press | 277 pp | $20.48
ISBN 9780807000748

Levi Rickert, Native News Network

Reading “Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins” allows the American Indian reader a fast clue as to why the ownership of the football team, located in the nation’s capital city, has remained clueless as to why the vast majority of American Indians oppose its name.

Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins

Washington “Paleskins”


I know there have been surveys done that proclaim the opposite. And, I know the media have a way of finding someone’s uncle Indian Joe, who is eager to get on television to declare he thinks it is an honor when non-Indians use Indians as mascots.

I honestly don’t believe the surveys and feel sorry for uncle Indian Joe from the Does-Not-Get-It Tribe. I know a survey can be commissioned to deliver desired results for the entity commissioning the survey. The tobacco companies did it all the time when they were attempting to prove second-hand smoke does not injure the non-smoker.

I know the vast majority of American Indians I know find the term “redskins” akin to the “N” word. Even the Merriam-Webster defines the word as offensive.

I must disclose the book is not about the name of the team per se. The author devotes less than a full page to the fact American Indians took the use of the name to court in the early 1990s.

“Showdown” discusses how the National Football League was behind Major League Baseball in integration of African Americans into its ranks. The book is about how the Washington football team was the last team to have an African American on its roster.

The book’s central figure is the Washington football team’s owner, George Preston Marshall, who was a brazen racist.

“Blinded by racism,” author Thomas G. Smith writes,

“Marshall refused to tap into the pool of African-American talent,” despite the franchise’s shortcomings on the field. ”

Smith suggests that to keep in good favor with his mainly white, Southern fan base and not hurt his profit margin, Marshall refused to draft black players from 1946 through 1961, making his team the only team in the professional league to have an all white team. During this time, the team had a dismal record of 69 wins, 116 losses and 8 ties and went through eight coaches.

However, Marshall’s racist hiring policy would be challenged by President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall.

In 1961, the same year the Kennedy administration came into power, Marshall purchased a 30 year lease for a newly built 54,000 seat stadium, writes Smith. The landlord was the federal government. When President Kennedy issued an executive order creating the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, Secretary Udall, after consulting Interior Department attorneys and decided to move against the Washington “Paleskins”, as he referred to the NFL franchise.

Citing a no-discrimination provision in the stadium lease, Udall gave Marshall an ultimatum, integrate the team or lose the stadium.

“Showdown” does a good job of describing how the team relented and became integrated. However, Marshall – even after his death in 1969 – stipulated in his will that the Redskins Foundation with funds from his estate was not to direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”

Unfortunately, the team, through a couple of different owners since Marshall, remains clueless as to the use of the word it uses for its name – much to the gross disrespect of American Indians across the nation.

Chippewa author’s book sheds light on a dark subject

The Round House
 By Monica Brown, Tulalip News writer
The Round House By Louise Erdich
Reviewed by Monica Brown



The Round House is set in the year 1988 on an Indian reservation in North Dakota. The reservation is seen in an unfiltered light; a tangle of Indian housing, tribal police and questions of where their jurisdiction lies, the local gas station, the catholic church and stories of the old days. In the midst are 13 year-old Joe, Joe’s father Bazil, a tribal court judge and his mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist.

The story is told through the eyes of Joe who is now grown and is remembering back to 1988. Joe brings us back to the memory of when his mother was attacked and brutally raped and how the act was so infiltrating that it threatened to rip his world apart.

While his mother retreats into darkness and shuts the world out, Bazil begins reading old court files in hopes of gleaming something useful.  Joe becomes restless and sets out for information with his friends; Cappy, Angus and Zack. The boys become immersed in a world that deals heavily with the boundaries of law, spirituality and the bonds between families and friends.

As Joe goes about in his nonchalant way seeking the truth, he questions his father and challenges him on being not just a good husband to Geraldine, but a good judge. Bazil explains to Joe and reminds him of the laws that are in place which will make this an extremely difficult case if the attacker is even found.

“…this one is the one I’d abolish right this minute if I had the power of a movie shaman. Oliphant V. Suquamish…took from us the right to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on our land.” Says Bazil to Joe in order to reason why it doesn’t just matter if they find who did it, what matters is where it happened.

Once you know something so inhumane, it is as Joe says “a poison in you”. In other places around the world where justice can be handed out, this sort of crime still leaves a gap in the lives of all it touches but to not be able to seek justice can leave a wound which may never heal.

Even though the story is heavy with dialogue and lacks quotations it is still an impressive and deliberate account. Louise Erdrich paints very clearly the internal and external struggle which resides with every indigenous person whether the seek it out or try to ignore it. The book is loosely based on actual events and reveals actual laws that are in place today. The Round House was published in October of 2012 and was selected as the winner in the fiction category for the 2012 National Book Award.

Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, wrote this story to bring to light “the tangles of laws that hinder prosecution of rape cases on many reservations”. With The Violence against Women Act being rewritten and the Idle No More movement spreading across the globe this book could not have been released at a more appropriate time.