The events that led to Peltier’s conviction began in the early 1970s when tensions broke out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota between the then tribal chairman Dick Wilson, who was pro-assimilation, and the traditionalists. Wilson was accused of giving economic benefits to the assimilationists and leaving the others in poverty. The growing conflict prompted the traditionalists to band together with the American Indian Movement (AIM), a civil rights group committed to uniting all Native Peoples.
As the situation worsened the traditionalists asked AIM to return to the reservation. Leonard Peltier was one that answered the call. He and 12 others set up a camp on the Jumping Bull ranch at Pine Ridge.
Four people were indicted for the deaths of the FBI agents. The charges against one were dropped and 2 were found innocent on the grounds of self-defense. Peltier escaped to Canada where he was apprehended in February, 1976. The FBI presented a Canadian court with an affidavit from a woman named Myrtle Poor Bear who claimed she was Peltier’s girl friend and that she had witnessed him shooting the agents. But Poor Bear had never met Peltier, nor had she been present at the time of the shooting – a fact later confirmed by the US Prosecutor and by her subsequent declaration that she had given false testimony.