Part One – Walking in Three Worlds
Chapter 1 – Ghost Dancer Speaks to the Court
On September 1, 1995 after a mere two-day trial in the Federal Court, Northern District of Florida and on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence, a Native American man known as Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer was found guilty of robbing two banks. He was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison.
From trial transcripts – At sentencing Ghost Dancer delivered this speech to the court:
Your Honor, I have to state that I am not guilty. I don’t know why this man here repeatedly attacked my witnesses as being liars when the record shows there was no lies ever proved…
Since my release from prison I have spent and dedicated my life to my people. And there’s many letters that you received that can verify that fact. I don’t live for your money. I don’t care about your money. To me, my freedom and helping my people means everything to me. And for this man to sit here and call my witnesses liars hurts, because I know those people are spiritual people as well.
My past, I did my time. I think I did rough time. I was sentenced to some of the most maximum security prisons this country has… Why? Because I fought for Native American rights, Native American religions in your Federal courts in Birmingham, Alabama; Montgomery, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama. Eleventh Circuit my name is known. Why? Because somebody had to make a stand. This is what I’ve dedicated my life to, to use your laws the right way. I used [to belong] to AIM, American Indian Movement. I’m still proud of my people that fought for all the executions that took place at Pine Ridge. They had no other choice, Your Honor.
Knowledge and education was a great goal to me, to get the education I needed to help my people. Inside of those prison cells I fought for Native American religious rights. Sometimes doing 90 days with no food because they wanted to try to break that. The whole time I kept litigating, litigating and it proved a point. In a court of law, I could get justice…. You sit in the judgment of me today. That is your right. But listen to the true evidence. There is none. None whatsoever. A child could listen to the evidence that was presented here to this courtroom and understand something is desperately wrong here. Desperately wrong.
It’s my understanding in law…there has to be a burden of proof on these people to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. There isn’t no way that there is not doubts…Mr. Lonnie Cox, the FBI agent from Mississippi testified he had no evidence whatsoever. But now that’s not what this man let that man over there say to all those people inside there [Grand Jury]. Misled to get an indictment. Misled the jury like here. Always misleading them. One day he’s going to have to answer for that. And I hope God has mercy on you for what you’ve done. I don’t hate you, Mr. Knight. I feel sorry for you…
I know you have a job to do. I have a job to do. I have a job to stand up for the Spirit, listen to the God All Mighty, Great Spirit, or whatever name that people use for Him. I walk a spiritual path and where he leads me I shall go.
There’s been some victims in this incident here, and I feel sorry for those at the bank that had to go through that. But there’s more than those victims. There’s the victims of my family, my wife, my people. It’s a victim of the American public having things such as what Mr. Knight [Federal prosecutor] and Mr. Tierney [FBI Special Agent] pulled be allowed in this country. They’re supposed to symbolize to everybody justice and freedom. People who have totally disregarded their oath of office, abused and done illegal acts using authority of the government. It is sickening. It is sickening.
Just for the record, it may not mean nothing to you, it may not mean nothing to him, but this fight is not over. I will fight for truth and justice no matter where it’s at, whether it’s for myself, whether it’s for another Native American somewhere, whatever. And if they think for some reason they can just put me away just because I’m an activist who stands by the law and order – and I do go by the laws of this land and the laws of God and the laws of my Nation. Putting me away inside of a prison cell didn’t stop me before to get things done. And they can go on with their little games as they have done since the beginning of history – of taking away the leaders or those who stand up strong and thinking that you cast them out of sight, your problem is over with. But this problem is just going to be like a sore toe. Every time he turns around it’s going to be bumping him back, because I trust in Him. I cannot trust in man because man is known to deviate. I was a man of flesh. In the past I did illegal things. But not no more. I thank you for this time you have given me to say what I had to say.
On June 17 and 18, 1996, Ghost Dancer was tried in Federal Court, Northern District of Mississippi on a charge of money laundering. His crime? A little more than two weeks after the bank robberies in Florida, Ghost Dancer walked into a Mississippi casino. An imposing figure standing a good 6’ 6” inches in his boots and dressed in Native regalia replete with jewelry Ghost quickly caught the eye of the casino staff. Moving confidently toward a Haywire slot machine Ghost had just one thing on his mind – to test a theory he had worked out in his mind to beat the machine. With casino staff standing around Ghost began playing and within a couple hours, sure enough he won a $1600 jackpot. Overjoyed by his success, Ghost happily submitted his correct name and address for the IRS. The next day marked bills from one of the Florida bank robberies turned up in numerous machines in the casino. A few small bills were also found in the machine Ghost played. Casino management called the FBI and Ghost’s jackpot win turned into a twisted railroading nightmare of monumental proportions.
At sentencing, the court gave Ghost the option to plead guilty. In return his 5-year sentence would be set to run concurrent to his Florida sentence. Ghost scoffed at that offer telling the court he would not tell a lie about something he did not do.
From Trial Transcripts:
The Court: So, Mr. Johnson, basically you had an offer from the government to recommend a concurrent sentence, which the Court told you it would accept, and you refused it…you refused the plea bargain…You took up three or four days which cost the government a lot of money.
Ghost: Would the Court rather have me lie?
The Court: No, I’m not suggesting that you should lie at all.
Ghost: That is basically what it comes down to, whether a man is supposed to get up and lie to you, lie to the court and plead to something he didn’t do, or sit there and fight the case for justice. One or the other… I think history speaks for itself…I am a man that speaks the truth.
The Court: The jury believed that you were lying and I believe that you are lying…Are you telling me that you would rob a bank, but you wouldn’t lie?
Ghost: If I had robbed a bank, I would have told them…The Court has made up its opinion; that is the Court’s opinion. Everybody has opinions. I live by principles, and that is what matters to me.
The Court: I’m sure you do.
So in turn Ghost’s 5-year sentence was set to run consecutive, making his total sentence 40 years. Since the federal government does not provide an opportunity for parole, Ghost was in essence given a life sentence for crimes he did not commit.
Welcome to Ghost Dancer’s NENE CATE, his Red Road journey. Chapters to come will reveal Ghost’s whole and true story from his earliest formative years through all the trials, difficulties and triumphs during more than 40 years as a Native American activist and prisoner in the American system of justice. Anyone who claims Native heritage, honors or respects Native Peoples, their history and their struggles will want to read every chapter of “ALL FOR THE RIGHT TO PRAY.”
Sometimes following the path you are given by that small voice within has painful consequences. Follow it anyway. This is the essence of faith and THE WAY to discover your true purpose in life. The small voice is "That of God" in everyone. epd
All Thoughts, comments will be appreciated and Ghost will respond to reader’s questions. Edna Peirce Dixon, Editor