Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a Mi’kmaq Indian from Canada, was brutally murdered in 1975. Her murder can only be described as a conspiracy and a cover-up by the American Indian Movement.
One man, Arlo Looking Cloud, an Oglala Lakota, and a member of AIM, is serving life in prison for her murder while his accomplice, the man he accused of pulling the trigger, John “Boy” Graham, a native of the Yukon in Canada, is awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial.
Looking Cloud and Graham, in the parlance of the Mafia, were foot soldiers. They did not make the decisions of life and death but they were merely the tools that carried out the orders of their superiors. After 32 years have passed, who gave the order to kill Ms. Aquash? Who are these conspirators? What did they know and when did they know it?
Anna Mae was murdered on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Her body was discovered on February 24, 1976. The higher ups in AIM immediately placed the blame on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then set their propaganda machine in motion to shift the focus of the investigation away from themselves. AIM spokesman, John Trudell, said, “My overall view of this thing, I think that agents in the government were behind it. I mean this very seriously, that the government is the main force behind the killing of Annie Mae and the direct link representing the government would be the agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The mainstream media made heroes of the occupiers of Wounded Knee. They became legends in their own minds. Even today there is still talk among the Lakota people of Pine Ridge that some terrible things took place within the AIM camp at Wounded Knee. There is a strong suspicion among some Pine Ridge residents that there are other bodies buried in secret graves at Wounded Knee including the body of an African American man named Perry Ray Robinson who apparently entered the camp at Wounded Knee in 1973 and has not be seen or heard from since.
The FBI does not come away with totally clean hands in its dealings with Native Americans. Too often its agents entered Indian reservations with little or no knowledge of the Native culture, traditions or customs and oftentimes increased tensions between differing factions unnecessarily, if not deliberately.
A power struggle between the Bellecourt brothers, Vernon and Clyde, and AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks, was boiling over within AIM. Some of the leadership suspected Aquash of being an FBI informant. She was held captive by members of AIM in the Denver home of Troy Lynn Yellowwood for a short time and then in February of 1975 she was tied up, placed in the trunk of a car owned by Theda Clark and transported to the reservation where, it is alleged, several members of AIM, including their attorney Bruce Ellison and a former correspondent for the Rapid City Journal, Candy Hamilton, observed her as a captive at the home of Bill Means shortly before she was taken to a lonely rode near the village of Wanblee and executed. Looking Cloud, Graham and Theda Clark were with her when she died. Clark is now in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
At an AIM conference held in Farmington, N.M. in 1975, Leonard Peltier was assigned the task of confronting Aquash and accusing her of being an FBI informant, according to an interview by Peter Matthiessen. Peltier was later convicted of the murder of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams near Oglala. He has maintained his innocence, but in her testimony at the Looking Cloud trial Ka-Mook Banks, the wife of Dennis Banks, and an AIM insider, said she was present when Peltier acknowledged killing the FBI agents by pointing his finger like a gun. She testified that Peltier said, “The ‘MF’ was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.” The agents were murdered execution style with coup de grace bullets to the head, as they lay wounded near their vehicle. Peltier is now serving two life sentences for the murders.
For every violent death on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s, AIM has pointed the finger of blame at the FBI, and at the duly elected tribal government of Dick Wilson. Over the years Wilson was mercilessly castigated and vilified by AIM and the mainstream media, and the government of the Oglala Sioux Tribe was labeled as “goons.”
Too many movies and too many books have glorified AIM and told only one side of the story. It would be a terrible miscarriage of justice if only the foot soldiers are prosecuted and not those that gave the order to murder Anna Mae or those that knew about it and failed to prevent it or to report it.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991 and founder of The Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers. He founded and was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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