Downtown Olympia mural honors Native American activist Leonard Peltier

This mural near the artesian well in downtown Olympia is based on “Stalking,” a painting by Leonard Peltier.
This mural near the artesian well in downtown Olympia is based on “Stalking,” a painting by Leonard Peltier. Staff photographer

As Olympia celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples Day this week, a local artist unveiled a tribute to a Native American activist who some say was wrongly convicted of murder.

A mural based on an original painting called “Stalking” by Leonard Peltier now adorns a wall near the artesian well in downtown Olympia. The colorful piece features a pink lion slinking through the grass.

Peltier, 71, has drawn international attention with his case. In 1977, he was convicted of killing two FBI agents in a shootout two years earlier at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and he received two life sentences. He is incarcerated at the federal penitentiary in Coleman, Florida.

Human rights organizations including Amnesty International have called for Peltier’s release, citing concerns about insufficient evidence and the fairness of his prosecution.

Olympia artist Ira Coyne got the idea for the mural after Peltier’s oldest son, Chauncey Peltier, was featured on a local weekly radio show called “Make No Bones About It” on KAOS-89.3 FM. The show is hosted by Brian Frisina, also known as Raven Redbone, and focuses on Native American issues.

After that show, Coyne said he went online to find artwork by Leonard Peltier — whom he had always known as a humanitarian — and was “blown away.”

“I had no idea he was such a talented artist,” Coyne said of Peltier, adding that the pink lion painting “just really drew me in.”

Coyne eventually connected with Chauncey Peltier, and the two spent last weekend prepping a wall on the south side of the Cryptatropa Bar on Fourth Avenue East. The mural faces a parking lot where the public can access the historic artesian well.

The mural is intended to make the artesian well a better place, but also to educate the public, Coyne said. A plaque next to the mural encourages people to call the White House and demand clemency for Peltier. It also lists websites with more information.

“A lot of people don’t know who Leonard is because he’s been locked up for so long,” said Coyne, who donated the paint and his time for the mural. “I put the information there so people could educate themselves about it and learn who he is.”

Chauncey Peltier told The Olympian that the painting “just turned out beautiful.” The Oregon resident said that support for his father has always been strong in the Olympia area, particularly at The Evergreen State College.

Peltier said his family will continue to pursue clemency, although they fear that Leonard Peltier may not live long enough to see it, especially if clemency isn’t granted before President Obama leaves office.

“My father has been wrongly convicted of those charges, and 40 years of injustice is way too long,” he said. “This is pretty emotional for the family.”