Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: For background on the Bear Lincoln case, see our hypertext feature in an earlier issue. The most recent update on the case appeared last month.]

Ceremonies Mark Anniversary of Round Valley Killings

by Mark Heimann

Three hours of songs and drumming

Approximately 130 people gathered at the Mendocino County jail in Ukiah on Saturday to show solidarity with Bear Lincoln, a Wailaki man from Round Valley whose incarceration serves as a reminder of this Nation's continuing war on Native peoples.

Besides demonstrating support for Lincoln, Saturday's events also honored the end of the traditional year's mourning for Leonard Peters, the Native man fatally shot last April 14th. Lincoln is charged with Peters' murder and the death of a Mendocino County deputy.

The gathering at the county jail on the sunny and warm afternoon was an equal mix of white and brown faces. Children and toddlers played on a thin strip of grass surrounded by a sea of blacktop. With the low bunkers of the jail complex topped by razor wire forming the backdrop, a pair of deputies in olive-green jumpsuits, pants tucked into paratrooper's boots, patrolled the perimeter of the compound, giving the scene a Third World air.

The crowd was upbeat, even festive, in spite of the bleak surroundings.

Family and friends of Lincoln lined up to be led four at a time into the windowless jail for a visit. Lincoln's attorney and paralegal took an eagle feather in for Lincoln to hold while the anthem of the American Indian Movement was sung in his honor outside. After three hours of songs and drumming, the crowd of supporters began to drift away, only to reconvene later that night.

Individuals stepped forward to place candles and flowers on the spot where Peters' body lay for hours

That evening in Round Valley, about 35 people gathered at the end of Henderson Lane, at the bottom of the hill where the shootings took place a year ago, minus a day.

Groups of people walking and on horseback converged on the spot. The surrounding fields were a riot of purple and white with the blooms of vetch and lupin. As the light faded, the colors seemed to glow.

By 8:00 pm, over 100 people were assembled, holding candles and sprays of flowers, sage, and cedar, and awaiting the arrival of Fred Coyote Peters, a man much respected for his advocacy on behalf of Native peoples and his knowledge of the old songs and ceremonies. Peters is the older brother of Leonard Peters.

As the shadows darkened, Ron Lincoln, a member of the Round Valley Tribal Council, led the group in a prayer for healing of the mind, body, and spirit. "The traditional one-year's mourning is coming to a close," said Lincoln, "and it is time to lay aside dissention and honor those who have fallen."

Coyote stepped to the middle of the circle to say he was glad to see so many children there. "Our children have been growing up killing each other," said Coyote. "It has been a long time since we have gathered this way. It is one of the reasons we've had the trouble we've had. We have to start doing the ceremonies the right way."

Coyote also said that the old ones [elders] have taught the people how to live, and that it's up to the adults to teach the children. He spoke of unity between the races, thanking and welcoming the non-Indians for coming. "It is not that there are good white people here and good brown people here. We are all human beings as part of the same extended family. Today we put aside our differences and become a community."

Teenagers, relatives of Leonard Peters, held a drum between them in a circle and led the group in traditional songs. Candles were lit and the group started up the hill, following a staff topped by six eagle feathers, carried alternatively by Leonard Peters' uncle and two of his sons, Roger and David. Four times the procession stopped on the march up the hill to pray to the four directions.

As the mourners began to fill the small intersection of two dirt roads where Peters and Deputy Davis fell, individuals stepped forward to place candles and flowers on the spot where Peters' body lay for hours after he was gunned down. The place where Davis fell was also treated with reverence. Candles and offerings of flowers and tobacco marking the spot.

Unity and healing were again the theme as family and friends spoke of Leonard's life. Though only a few of the older people know the Native tounge, the songs offered were universially understood, their message of mourning and pain clearly felt. The staff, stripped of all but one eagle feather was tied to a tree next to where Leonard fell, and the crowd filed down the hill, the year's mourning behind them, the pain and joy of life ahead.

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Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (

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