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Remembering Peltier and Wounded Knee at El Buen Amigo

Ghost Dance

The feature work in the current exhibit at El Buen Amigo, a painting/print by American Indian activist and artist and allegedly political prisoner Leonard Peltier, is upstaged by an accompanying series of photos by an unnamed photographer or photographers of scenes mostly related to the 1970s Wounded Knee uprising on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservaion, in which Peltier took part.

Peltier’s artwork depicts a shaman Indian figure emerging from a wooded backdrop in face paint and fox head headdress and feathers, rendered in a traditionalist representational style. The photos convey in straightforward documentarian fashion—but without pretensions to any self-conscious artistic category such as even the term documentarian could seem to imply—the desperate attitude of the Indian insurgents in a backs-to-the-wall stand against a long history—beyond the recollective capability of the White Man, but not of the Indians—of mismanagement of Indian affairs by Indians and non-Indians alike under the federal government’s protective aegis.

One of the photos shows a hole-in-the-ground trench warfare provision behind a makeshift defensive wall. Other views are of reservation scenes related and unrelated to the uprising. Plenty of display of weaponry, from rifles to a machete. Several views of the iconic white church and adjacent cemetery on an otherwise barren low hill. Several depictions of totally peaceful scenes, for example, an old woman and young girl in a domestic setting, likely grandmother and granddaughter. One of Peltier painting. One of Peltier and other Indians greeting visitor supporters of the rebellion. A woman with an Afro hairdo, seen from the side and back, so you don’t see her face. Angela Davis?

Lots of ancient rez vehicles—the only clearly non-rez vehicle is a military tank—and a shop or restaurant window bearing the hand-lettered legend “Dept. of Indian Bureau of White Affairs.”

Peltier was tried and convicted and is currently serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of two FBI agents in an incident on the Pine Ridge Reservation two years after the Wounded Knee standoff. Numerous inconsistencies and apparent irregularities about trial evidence offered or withheld have prompted organizations such as Amnesty International to call for Peltier’s immediate release from incarceration on the basis that his trial was unfair and simple evidence of his innocence, some of which was withheld from the trial. He remains in prison, however. The conviction on the murder counts has survived several appeals, and his parole applications over the years have all been denied.

The Leonard Peltier exhibit continues through May 30.

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