Ohiopyle family to host Native American Freedom Riders
Erin Fiore thought it would be nice to snap a photograph of her two children -- Josephine, 7, and Rad, 4 -- at an encampment of Native American Freedom Riders when they were in Florida this fall.
“I remembered going to a Native American pow-wow at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds as a child, and I wanted my kids to have that experience. Since we home-school, I thought it could be a learning experience,” she said.
The Ohiopyle woman had no idea the encounter in St. Augustine would be the start of a memorable learning experience that will culminate Saturday when the Fiores host Freedom Riders at their home for a rest stop en route to Washington, D.C.
The Freedom Riders, a group of six Native Americans and four horses in a transport vehicle, are scheduled to spend the night and then continue to Washington, where they hope to deliver a petition to President Trump on Thursday seeking clemency for Native American activist Leonard Peltier.
Peltier, 74, is serving two life sentences for the 1977 slaying of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Indiana Reservation in South Dakota.
His case has become a cause célèbre in Native American circles with Amnesty International leading the drive to free the man whose appeals ran out years ago. The agency questions whether Peltier received a fair trial and has collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition seeking his release.
In July, the Freedom Riders hoped to focus attention on Peltier’s case and the plight of Native Americans when they set out on horseback from Mankato, Minn., to Coleman, Fla., where Peltier is held in a federal prison.
The Fiores met the Freedom Riders in Florida, where Erin’s husband, Dax, was working as strength coach for the Detroit Tigers.
Instead of leaving after a quick photo, the Fiores spent the day at the Native American encampment, where Josephine obsessed over the horses in the caravan and heard stories of Native American life from the Freedom Riders. The family went back again the following day.
“I didn’t ever expect to have this experience. I went to take a picture of my kids in front of a teepee. We became very good friends, and they asked for my support. I love my children to be around someone who is doing something important that matters. We can read any book about Native Americans, but here we had the opportunity to interact with them,” she said.
“They were so kind to Josephine. They put her picture on their Facebook site and said she is a future Freedom Rider,” Fiore said.
The family began following the progress of the group, learned of their Washington trip and that their home was close to the route they were taking. That’s when Fiore hatched her plan to host them in return for their kindness to her children.
“It has been a great learning experience,” Fiore said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for what happened to Native Americans. Their suicide (rate) is high. They have no resources, no hope.
“Leonard Peltier is the symbol of all that is wrong. If he was freed and Trump could do that, it would be the biggest gift that he could give to Native Americans.”