‘It is disappointing’: Daughter of Leonard Peltier reacts to parole decision

For the Peltier family it has always been ‘a fight against time’

Kathy Peltier

Photo taken as 35 Indigenous leaders and allies were arrested outside the White House as they join hundreds of Tribal leaders and supporters in urging President Joe Biden to grant clemency to imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier on his 79th birthday on Tuesday September,12, 2023 in Washington. Photo: Joy Asico/Associated press. Images for NDN Collective and Amnesty International USA.

As a child, Kathy Peltier knew more about her father from the media and the people around her, than she knew him directly.

Kathy Peltier, 48, was born about five months after the shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 that sent her father, Leonard Peltier to prison.

Peltier didn’t get to grow up with her dad in her life.

“I wasn’t born yet when the shootout took place,” said Kathy. “I was born in November 1975 so, I didn’t ever know my father outside of prison.”

Leonard Peltier was denied parole in a hearing that took place in Florida on June 10.

APTN spoke with Kathy after her father was denied parole on July 2.

“This denial is not a shock but it is disappointing, again,” she said.

Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences after being convicted of the killing of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams at the Jumping Bull Ranch in South Dakota.

Peltier was the only one out of three American Indian Movement, or AIM, members charged in the murders of the two agents who was not acquitted of the charges.

Two other AIM members who were present, Robert Robideau and Dino Butler, were both acquitted following a trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Peltier was tried in Fargo, North Dakota and found guilty of both murders.

Kathy never spent a holiday, or even regular family time with her dad. She remembers always having to share time to get to know him.

“We had to fight time to see our dad because the time he had for visitors was taken up with lawyers and spiritual leaders that needed to see him.”

According to Kathy, her dad only got 48 hours total visit per month and “once that was up, it was done. His phone calls were on a limit of 15 minutes.”

“That’s not enough time to get to know the potential father he could have been to us. When he was at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas, that was the most I saw him,” said Peltier.

Once they moved Peltier to Coleman 1 in Florida it became more complicated for most family to go visit. Kathy lives in California.

Growing up as Leonard Peltier’s daughter

Peltier’s family has had to move off their reservation to try to escape the stigma of the events.

“I had a lot of bullying that happened to me as a kid,” she said. “I grew up on a Navajo reservation where my peers would say things like, ‘your dad is a killer.’ I was bullied. The bullies made me feel like I was nothing,” said Peltier.

“My mom took me off the reservation. Growing up, I was a kid, I didn’t know the truth, but bullies’ words stayed with me. It was really hard but I just dealt with it.”

The biggest shock Kathy Peltier had when it comes to hoping and praying that her father would be freed was when former president Bill Clinton was in office.

“Clinton said he would free him but because of his own scandal, he then changed and said he couldn’t do it,” she said. “It was devastating news to me at that time. When he left office, and the next president was being inaugurated, it was so disappointing.

“It has been disappointing all this time.”

For her, at this point, the denial was expected.

“I know who Leonard Peltier is, as in, political prisoner held unjustly imprisoned for the last 48 years. I know he’s my dad, but I don’t have that connection with him, that’s sad to say but it’s the reality of this situation,” she said.

“That’s what happens when someone has been in prison for so long and not in your life. He’s not an everyday dad.”

She has never been able to see her father at home or been able to call him.

“The last time I got to see him was right before COVID, 2019. After COVID they made the rules for visitors stricter and I got denied visitation since then,” she said. “He’s almost 80, he is not a threat, he is using a walker and sometimes a wheelchair, why is he is maximum security?”

“How people treat each other and treat us has been imprinted in my mind though.”


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