As part of a major clemency push by supporters in the final days of President Barack Obama’s presidency, a 9-foot-tall statue of American Indian Leonard Peltier will be installed at American University Museum to raise awareness for Peltier’s plight and the pardon request. Peltier, convicted and sentenced in 1977 in the shooting of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, has maintained his innocence in the 41 years he’s been imprisoned, and his conviction has been contested by leading human rights organizations in the United States and beyond.
The statue, by California-based artist Rigo 23, will be placed outside the museum overlooking Massachusetts Avenue. It will be on display for an unspecified amount of time. A public dedication and unveiling of the statue will take place at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 at the museum. The ceremony will be attended by the statue’s artist, Rigo 23; Oglala Sioux Vice Chairman Tom Poor Bear; Piscataway Chief Billy Red Wing Tayac; and former Angola 3 political prisoner Robert King, among others.
The Peltier statue is comprised of redwood, foam, epoxy, and paint, and is supported on an internal steel structure. It is designed to be mobile and dissembled in parts for easy transport and exhibition. The project is funded by Peltier supporters and community members, as well as the organization American Indian Movement West.
Supporters believe that Peltier was wrongfully convicted. Peltier has been designated a political prisoner by Amnesty International. Over 50 Members of Congress and others—including Judge Gerald Heaney (8th Circuit Court of Appeals) who sat as a member of the court in two of Peltier’s appeals—have all called for his immediate release. Appellate courts have repeatedly acknowledged evidence of government misconduct in the Peltier case—including knowingly presenting false statements to a Canadian court to extradite Peltier to the U.S., and forcing witnesses to lie at trial.
More about public events in Washington, D.C. surrounding the clemency campaign for Leonard Peltier, called “Human Rights Week 2016,” can be found at: http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/ or http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/home/events/2016-human-rights-week/
Images from the statue’s journey from California to Washington, D.C., including a stop at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, can be found here: www.instagram.com/peltierstatue/
Rigo 23 is a long-time activist for and collaborator with native communities. This project follows an earlier work from 2011 honoring Peltier, titled The Tate Wikikuwa Museum: North America 2024 and exhibited at Syracuse University Art Gallery. The three-decade long career artist has created work of this size and scale on multiple continents, including San Jose State University’s Victory Stand, a living statue dedicated to Olympian John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power Salute, which is activated regularly by student activists on campus and in the community.