Archambault talks plans to head north for clemency demonstration
SUMTER COUNTY, Florida — The group of Lakota who set off in late July from Mankato, Minnesota to the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida in support of presidential clemency for American Indian Movement member Leonard Peltier reached their destination Sept. 22.
“With the people, I thought we’d have more resistance and a lot of negativity towards the group but it turned out that there are still a lot of good people in the world, and they opened up their homes and their places to come an eat and everything,” group spokesperson Frank Archambault said on ‘Mvskoke Radio.’
According to the group’s Facebook page, a demonstration for Peltier is set for Nov. 1 in Washington, D.C., and Archambault said his central team of six is looking to head up there to join in.
“For the second leg is where we are going to take our concerns and our love with the horse medicine to Washington, D.C., to where the decision is going to be made for Mr. Peltier’s fate,” he said.
The Freedom Riders set off on horseback to demonstrate on behalf of Peltier who some say was wrongly convicted for the 1975 shooting of two FBI agents while they were on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota during an investigation.
There has been credible and official criticism of the way the case was handled through many proceedings and freedom efforts since his conviction, which resulted in two consecutive life sentences.
Archambault said support for Peltier is mixed among Native Americans.
“You know we have people who don’t really know the full story of Leonard Peltier or they’ve been given false information or they just don’t really care as to what’s going on with him,” he said.
He commented on the level of support from whites however.
“Really gave us hope that we can come together as human beings, not having anything to do with race so the support was very phenomenal and a big shout out to all the people who supported us in any way, even if it was just a prayer,” Archambault said.
He said the demonstration, which featured the group riding in relays accompanied by a horse trailer, is about more than one man.
“Leonard Peltier represents so much more history and injustice that we faced as indigenous people,” Archambault said. “So when I speak at powwows and different things like that, I always try to remind people of who they are.”
Archambault also discussed the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations near their home and said his involvement in the freedom ride was largely due to the support he received from the group’s leader during the NO DAPL movement.
“We were there for nine months with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and so just the journey for me has taken kind of a 360 turn into trying to stand up for the better of the people,” he said.
Archambault said the trouble he is used to back home is a contrast to his experiences on the ride.
“Well it was very surprising to me because in the Dakotas there is still a lot of racism against Native Americans, so I was on guard all the time when we left South Dakota but it turned out to be something totally different,” he said.
He said they were also surprised by the respect they received from officials when they arrived at the Coleman facility.
“So we were respectful and stayed on our part of the highway. They stayed on their side and drove by in their vehicles every once in awhile to come and take a peak at us but other than that, there was no bother to any of us,” Archambault said.
Archambault said past demonstrations have resulted in Peltier being put in solitary confinement due to the behavior of protesters, so the freedom riders were mindful about their conduct and distance from the prison.
“What we did is kept to our part of the bargain and stayed to the opposite side of the highway there so they didn’t bring any extra forces out to maintain things,” he said.
Archambault said they have not spoken to Peltier directly but he has been able to correspond through his attorneys and family, and is planning to do paintings of the group.
“He wrote some stuff on a piece of paper and had it posted on Facebook through his attorneys; just giving us a quick message about how grateful he is and how proud he is of us for doing this for him,” Archambault said.
He said the group is working on logistics, such as a larger horse trailer with more horses and dealing with colder weather, but hopes to ride on Pennsylvania Avenue and make contact with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
They are also looking to attract more Lakota people to the cause.
“Because there’s four of us from the seven council fires of the Lakota people,” he said. “Now I’m trying to send out a message to get the other three bands of Lakota to come and join us.”
The group has a GoFundMe page for anyone looking to contribute.