National Museum of the American Indian
PO Box 23473
Washington, DC 20026
Dear Mr. Gover,
Congratulations on the fifth anniversary of the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum showcases a masterful display of Indian culture and artistry and has become a wonderful addition to the Smithsonian. It has come to my attention, however, that the museum bookstore sells a book that falsifies Indian history by depicting a murderer as an Indian hero. Peter Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse glorifies convicted killer Leonard Peltier and places him on a pedestal alongside the brave and noble Chief Crazy Horse. My account of what happened, American Indian Mafia, takes issue with this attempt to portray Peltier’s cowardice and evil as Indian heroism and virtue. I cite several Native Americans who honor the truth and who contributed to setting the historical record straight. Award-winning Native journalist Tim Giago wrote that American Indian Mafia “takes apart” In the Spirit of Crazy Horse “and exposes it for the fraud that it is. It is refreshing to finally hear the other side of the story.” Paul DeMain, editor of News from Indian Country, says that my book helps expose Peltier’s foggy alibis and false cry for human rights.
Mr. Gover, I was the FBI Agent in Charge when, on June 26, 1975, Peltier gunned down two of my Agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. After the men were injured and disarmed, Peltier executed both of them with his assault rifle. We know this because of the evidence presented at his trial and because Peltier later boasted about shooting 28-year-old Ron Williams in the face at point-blank range as he sat pleading for his life and trying to save Jack Coler, his injured partner. Peltier’s recent parole board concluded that he is undeserving of parole based on his behavior behind bars. I read a statement to Peltier at his July 28 hearing; and I can assure you that he remains defiant, manipulative, and utterly unrepentant.
Despite losing all his appeals, Peltier and his lawyers have fooled many people into believing that he was framed for the murders. Rather than accept responsibility for his crimes, Peltier exploits his Indian ancestry by sponsoring a fraudulent defense fund under the shelter of a tax-exempt organization. Over the last 30 years, Peltier has collected millions of dollars abusing the charitable instincts of people who care about genuine Indian suffering and hardship. Donors have no idea that this money is doled out to Peltier’s friends and supporters. Proceeds from the sale of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse also go directly to Peltier’s not-for-profit corporation, with no accountability.
Mr. Gover, the National Museum of the American Indian is a cultural gem that has enlightened and educated millions of visitors, but having Matthiessen’s book on display in your bookstore is a conspicuous blot on an otherwise fine collection of Indian literature. It is bad enough to invoke the spirit of Crazy Horse in defense of a murderer, but it is even worse to profit from this charade under the guise of authentic Indian history.
I am not in favor of censorship, but I believe you owe it to your patrons to present “both sides of the story.” Please consider making my historical account available in your bookstore so that people will have access to a fact-based rebuttal to Peltier’s lies. I hope you will take the occasion of the museum’s gala celebration to allow me, as well as the Indian witnesses in American Indian Mafia, the opportunity to counter Peter Matthiessen’s unconscionable depiction of Leonard Peltier as an Indian hero.
Joseph H. Trimbach