HONOUR THE SPIRIT OF ANNA MAE AQUASH!
Stop the Extradition of John Graham! Free Leonard Peltier!
By Gord Hill, Kwakwaka’wakw Nation
[Excerpt from article that appeared in Redwire magazine, March 2004]
The Case of Anna Mae Aquash
“We do not know for certain who pulled the trigger on Anna Mae Aquash. But we are horrified by the way her spirit is being defamed and used against the people she fought so hard for. We sympathize with the desire of Anna Mae’s family to achieve closure on this matter. And so, we urge them to look towards the ones most strongly pointing the finger at John Graham. We believe the real killer is hidden among them.” – The Friends of John Graham, February 2004.
Anna Mae has long been a symbol of Indigenous resistance and the ideals of the American Indian Movement, to which she belonged. She was a Mik’maq from Nova Scotia, Canada, and one of the most prominent women members of AIM. She had participated in the occupation of the BIA offices in Washington, DC, in 1972, and the siege of Wounded Knee, 1973. On Feb. 24, 1976, her frozen body was found near Wanblee, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in S. Dakota.
At first, the FBI and its official coroner, WO Brown, attempted to pass the death off as a “Jane Doe” who had died of exposure. Brown’s coroner reports were routinely used to minimize or conceal the cause of deaths resulting from police/paramilitary attacks during this period (some 67 members or associates of AIM were killed on Pine Ridge between 1973-76, many by BIA cops & GOONs –Guardians of the Oglala Nation– a paramilitary force employed by corrupt tribal president Dick Wilson). Claiming they were unable to identify the body, her hands were cut off & sent to an FBI lab in Washington, DC, for fingerprint analysis. Still unidentified, her body was buried in Pine Ridge on March 2, 1976. The next day, the FBI Identification Division revealed the body to be that of Anna Mae Aquash. On March 5, her family in Nova Scotia was notified, and they demanded a second autopsy. This was performed by an independent coroner who immediately found a .32 cal. bullet in the back of her head. She had been shot execution-style.
For over 20 years, it was generally believed that Anna Mae had been killed either by paramilitary death squads then active on Pine Ridge (GOONs), and/or the FBI. Shortly after Aquash had been identified, the FBI denied any involvement in her killing (despite the attempted cover-up), and speculated that perhaps she had been killed by AIM as a suspected informant. These allegations were not considered credible, as it was well known that the FBI was still then engaging in counter-insurgency operations against AIM. Nor is the Aquash case the only one in which the FBI & media have accused AIM of killing as a ‘suspected informant’ (i.e., Ray Robinson, a black civil rights worker, along with Jeanette Bissonette, both believed to have been killed by GOONs).
In the early 1990s, police re-newed their investigation into Aquash’s death. One of the main investigators was Robert Ecoffey, a BIA police officer in Pine Ridge during the ’70s period, and one of the first Natives to become a US Marshall. Ecoffey has been described as an “Oglala GOON” (p. 236 Agents of Repression), who also testified in Peltier’s 1977 trial.
FBI Smear & Dis-Information
“It is obvious to anyone who looks at the past few years with an open mind and a remembrance of COINTEL-PRO, that the FBI’s program of misinformation & discrediting of activists is alive and well. I encourage all who come into contact with this finger-pointing behavior to also look at the person pointing.” Leonard Peltier (Dec. 5/03 Statement)
The FBI case is based largely on the confessions of ArloLooking Cloud, allegedly told to others over the years, & in a video-taped confession to police in April, 2003. The FBI’s version is that Aquash was taken from a house in Denver, Colorado, by Graham, Looking Cloud, and Thelda Clarke. She was then driven to various offices & apartments in Rapid City, S. Dakota. One of these included the legal offices of the Wounded Knee defense committee. From there, she was taken to houses on Pine Ridge, then executed on a desolate road near Wanblee, on or around Dec. 12, 1975 (where her body was found two months later).
According to the FBI, Aquash was suspected of being an informant and had sensitive info related to the Oglala shoot-out. Because of this, she had to be killed. Looking Cloud’s video-taped statement reflects the FBI’s version of events, except in one important detail: according to Looking Cloud, he did not know what was occurring until moments before John Graham took her out of the car and shot her.
The story itself raises many obvious questions, inc.:
Why would an AIM “hit squad” take Aquash, in the presence of so many witnesses, from one city to another, across two states, to several apartments and a defense office (more than likely under surveillance), then execute her?
If the FBI seriously considered the death of Aquash to have been carried out by AIM in 1976, we can be sure vast amounts of resources would have been devoted to this case at that time. Instead, the FBI attempted to cover it up!
The FBI’s version of events has always been based on rumors within AIM that Anna Mae was a suspected informant. Candy Hamilton, a friend of Aquash, reports that it was common for people to be suspected of being an informant at this time (CBC The Fifth Estate). Over the years, many people had in fact informed or gave evidence to police. It is a common practice of police and the FBI to use informants & collaborators.
In 1975, Douglas Durham was exposed as an FBI infiltrator who worked at the highest levels within AIM. Despite all this, it was never the practice of AIM to punish, let alone execute, informants or collaborators.
Defend the Spirit of Anna Mae Aquash!
Today, the FBI’s version has taken on the appearance of truth, bolstered by confusing & contradictory statements from former AIM leaders (seemingly motivated by bitter & hostile divisions, conspiracies, etc.), and testimony from government witnesses & informers (also former members of AIM). Added to this are the demands from Anna Mae’s two daughters for justice & convictions of those responsible, one of whom is herself an RCMP officer.
Due to the nature of the charges against her alleged killers (Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham), and because of the success of FBI disinformation, many in our own movement have distanced themselves from this case. They refuse to take a stand, let alone investigate the matter, and this reveals the extent to which they’ve accepted the FBI version of events.
At this time, the strategy of the FBI is to destroy anything positive associated with AIM (and by extension all Indigenous resistance), to further undermine the case of Leonard Peltier (falsely convicted in the 1975 killing of two FBI agents in S. Dakota), and to turn Aquash from a symbol of this resistance to one of injustice.
Out of this process, the FBI will emerge as heroes who have solved the murder-mystery of Anna Mae Aquash, while Indigenous resistance will be smeared as the work of assassins and thugs. Only by erasing the memory of struggle can this be done, for even a brief glimpse at the 1970’s period in S. Dakota clearly shows who the real assassins & terrorists are: the FBI & the US federal government.