Leonard Peltier looms large. The 73-year-old Native American activist has been in federal prison since 1977, when he was convicted—many believe wrongly so—of murdering two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier has maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, and legitimate questions have been raised about the fairness of his trial. But despite several fervent campaigns for clemency (Clinton, Bush, and Obama denied those appeals), he remains in prison.
For activists who would like to see him freed, Peltier represents something bigger than himself: a history of systemic injustice and abuse against indigenous peoples. He may be one individual confined to a prison cell, but socially and politically his significance extends far beyond the walls of the Central Florida penitentiary where he’s serving out his sentence.
The activist’s influence is reflected in the sheer size of Rigo 23’s sculpture of Peltier. Its massive arms, feet, and head are prominent, peaceful, heavy. The brown skin is textured and uneven, roughly hewn out of California redwoods that are as imposing and spiritual in their current state as they once were in a forest. Although it depicts Peltier seated, his legs bent in front of him, the sculpture stands tall at 11 feet high.