Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 29, 2000 - Issue 15

In Her Grandfather's Footsteps
Teen-ager Embraces Famous Family Ties
by Tom Meagher, Journal-World Reporter
photo by Earl Richardson,
The granddaughter of long-incarcerated American Indian icon Leonard Peltier has become an activist in her own right.

Alex Peltier, 16, granddaughter of Leonard Peltier, recently spent two weeks in Nicaragua inspecting working conditions and human rights activism. Peltier is pictured with a painting of her imprisoned grandfather.

An incoming junior at Free State High School, 16-year-old Alex Peltier spent two weeks this summer in Central America as a part of a trip planned by the Washington, D.C.-based group Witness for Peace.

"I went to Nicaragua with a delegation of 24 teens and four adults," she said. "We went there to see what we can do here in America (for the people there)."

Staying with families and meeting farmers in the countryside around the capital of Managua, the group explored conditions facing the nation's downtrodden.

"There was a lot of trash there and no garbage men," Peltier said. "There were kids who couldn't go to school and kids who worked to pay for school. In one part, they had 20-foot holes they had to climb down into to go to the bathroom."

Peltier learned about the trip through one of her grandfather's attorneys.

In 1977, Leonard Peltier was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in a standoff at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Many of his supporters contend he was not guilty of the shooting and should be freed from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. Fierce opposition from the FBI, however, has helped keep him imprisoned.

Alex, the daughter of Leonard Peltier's daughter, has lived in Lawrence off and on for the past seven years. She speaks quietly about growing up in the shadow of her grandfather's imprisonment.

"I was pretty aware of it when I was a kid. I first met him when I was seven. Me and my brothers went in (to the prison) and he was laughing, but you could tell he was sad," she said. "It's hard when there are prison guards there watching you."

Peltier hopes to attend college and start a career as a film actress after she finishes high school.

She said many of her peers fail to recognize her famous name.

"There are some teens from my classes that used to come and help (in the defense committee's office), but a lot of teens don't even know who he is," Peltier said. "It hurts when people say he's not innocent, and that upsets me."

Last October, she traveled to Washington, D.C., for a rally urging the president to free her grandfather. This October, she will go back with others from the Nicaraguan delegation to inform congressmen of the conditions there.

"If you walk down the street, you always see army people with machine guns," she said. "The family we were staying with said don't wear any jewelry because there are gangs out with knives and guns."

Mainly, she hopes the U.S. government will recognize not only her grandfather's innocence, but also the mistreatment of Nicaraguans.

"We talked to some people that work in sweatshops," she said. "They lived in warehouses, and when hurricanes came, the government moved them, promising their own house and land. Now they live in tiny houses made of metal bars and bags for walls with tin roofs."



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