As the program supervisor of the Navajo Nation Corrections Project, and longtime friend of Leonard Peltier, Lenny Foster, (Dine’) was sent to Paris recently by the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (ILPDC), to accept the Frantz Fanon award on behalf of Leonard Peltier. The award ceremony took place at the Salon Anti Colonial of Paris, a week-long multicultural event addressing racism and exclusion that also exhibited Leonard Peltier‘s paintings.
The Frantz Fanon Award is given annually to “Revolutionary Thinkers for their Service to Mankind.”
In addition to Foster’s presence, a letter to the Foundation written by Peltier acknowledged Fanon. “Frantz Fanon’s writings and life were inspirational for many of my own generation, as we fought to regain our connections to our cultures and spirituality.”
In an interview with ICTMN, Foster shared his feelings about Peltier receiving the award and talked about the struggles Peltier has faced while being incarcerated.
At what stage is the clemency process for Peltier?
A campaign has been initiated to making contact with prominent leaders in the United States and all over the world to start the clemency process. It involves letters of support, meetings with officials and organizations, like the Frantz Fanon Foundation.
This recognition is important, because we are seeking help. We also asked for a meeting with President Obama, to discuss in person. People can participate by calling the President. The Indian Rights Movement continues to stand for Leonard as a revered elder who is inspirational for the Indian world. He is 71 years old, and has spent 40 years in jail. It is time for him to return to North Dakota with his family.
What has helped him during all this time?
His strong beliefs, as a Sundancer, a Pipe carrier, an artist, and as a mentor for young Native Americans in prison. He started to paint in his youth, and continued in jail. Some of his paintings have been bought by collectors or officials, like the Bolivian President Evo Morales.
What are his incarceration conditions today?
It is a harsh environment, where medical care is lacking, medicines are not available, and Leonard’s health is deteriorating.
In terms of bringing Native ceremony to the prison system, have you had any resistance?
Wardens and chaplains are misinformed, and misinterpret our ceremonies. The sweat lodge is a cleansing ceremony, but the officials viewed it as a place where we congregate to escape, or engage in conversations, or conduct actions with no spiritual content.
We should be allowed to use sage and cedar. But the prison officials, at times, deny us the use of sage, because they do not know about it, and they view us as a security threat; so it makes it difficult. Though wardens may have security reasons to deny some rituals, plotting to escape during our ceremonies has never happened anywhere.
However, I have visited 96 facilities, and conducted sweat lodges; so it has been rewarding. We continue to work on enforcing our religious rights. We have turned to the United Nations in Geneva, to present our concerns in the international arena.
It is improving and the Navajo Nation is in a process for a reentry program from the jail to the community; but there is room for more input, and participation from tribal people throughout the country. I have a full time employment with the Navajo reservation, but we have no training program yet, just individuals committed to learn, participate, provide expertise, or spiritual leaders visiting. So tribal leaders should recognize the need for services in the penitentiaries.
[Native inmates] look forward to participating ceremonies, talking circles, pipe ceremonies, or meet with leaders. Once a week for a few hours, we congregate as a community inside the penitentiary and during the talking circles, we address personal feelings, problems of incarceration, so that they can open up; because it is important to maintain sanity in a place that breaks their spirit.
What did you address during the award ceremony in Paris?
I shared Leonard’s beliefs, his thanks for the Frantz Fanon Award, an important recognition acknowledging him as a political prisoner, a leader revered like Geronimo. We have to continue to learn about our ceremonial practices, the songs, to fight for the preservation of our cultural beliefs, our language, our land, clean air and water, and inform ourselves about human rights. Leonard’s release would make a brighter future; the executive clemency would pave the road to reconciliation between the Natives and the institutions, and give the young generation the incentive to live as productive citizens, mindful of laws. So we pray for Leonard and our brothers to go home, and live as productive human beings.