Anna Mae Aquash

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Anna Aquash)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Anna Mae Aquash
Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash.jpg
BornMarch 27, 1945
DiedMid-December, 1975 (age 30)
Known forActivism with the American Indian Movement

Annie Mae Aquash (Mi'kmaq name Naguset Eask) (March 27, 1945 – mid-December 1975) was a First Nations activist from Nova Scotia, Canada who moved to Boston in the 1960s and joined American Indians in education and resistance. She was part of the American Indian Movement in the Wounded Knee incident at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, United States in 1973.

Aquash participated in the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties and occupation of the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, DC; and protest to draw government action and acknowledgement of First Nations and Native American civil rights in Canada and Wisconsin in the following years. After she disappeared in late 1975, there were rumors she had been killed. On February 24, 1976, her body was found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota; she was initially determined to have died from exposure by a local medical examiner, but after a second autopsy two weeks later, was found to have been murdered by an execution-style gunshot. Initially, her death was covered up and the body declared to be "unidentifiable". The FBI disseminated rumours that she had been an informant. Aquash was thirty years old at the time of her death and had two young daughters, Debbie and Denise.[1]

After decades of investigation and the hearing of testimony by three federal grand juries, in March 2003, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham (also known as John Boy Patton) were indicted for the murder of Aquash. Looking Cloud was convicted in 2004 and Graham in 2010; both received life sentences. Thelma Rios was indicted along with John Graham, but she pleaded guilty to charges as an accessory to the kidnapping. In 2008 Vine Richard "Dick" Marshall was charged with aiding the murder, but was acquitted of providing the gun. Numerous Aquash supporters and her daughters believe that higher-level AIM officials ordered her murder, fearing she was an FBI informant.

Early life and education[edit]

Anna Mae Pictou was born into the Mi'kmaq First Nation at Indian Brook Reserve in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Her mother was Mary Ellen Pictou and her father Francis Thomas Levi. She had two older sisters, Mary and Becky Pictou, and a younger brother Francis. Her mother and sisters survived her death. Pictou and her siblings received their early educations on the reserve.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1962, Pictou and James Maloney moved together from the reserve to Boston. They had two daughters together, Denise, born in 1964, and Debbie, born in September 1965. They married that year, but divorced in mid-1970.

Pictou later married Nogeeshik Aquash, an Ojibwa activist, in a Native ceremony. She kept his last name after they separated.


In Boston, Pictou began to meet urban American Indians and other First Nations people from Canada. About 1968-1969, she met members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), founded in Minneapolis in 1968, who were organizing among urban Indians, initially to combat police brutality. Pictou became involved in the Teaching and Research in Bicultural Education School Project (TRIBES), a program in Bar Harbor, Maine, to teach young American Indians about their history.

On Thanksgiving Day 1970, AIM activists in Boston held a major protest against the Mayflower II celebration at the harbor by boarding and seizing the ship. Pictou helped create the Boston Indian Council (now the North American Indian Center of Boston), to work to improve conditions for Indians in the city.

In 1972 Pictou participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties march of American Indian activists to Washington, D.C. Protesters occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs national headquarters and presented a list of 20 demands to the government, 12 of them dealing with treaty issues. In Boston, Pictou had met Nogeeshik Aquash, from Walpole Island, Canada, and they began a relationship.

In 1973 Nogeeshik and Anna Mae traveled together to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to join AIM activists and Oglala Lakota in what developed as the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee. They were married there in a Native ceremony by Wallace Black Elk, a Lakota elder. Anna Mae took Aquash as her surname, keeping it after they later separated.[2]

"These white people think this country belongs to them," Aquash wrote in a letter to her sister at the time. "The whole country changed with only a handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians." On her first night in South Dakota, [Dennis] Banks told her that newcomers were needed on kitchen duty. "Mr. Banks," she replied, "I didn't come here to wash dishes. I came here to fight."[3]

Using the surname Aquash, in 1974 Annie Mae was based mostly in Minneapolis. She worked on the Red Schoolhouse project, for a culturally based school for the numerous American Indian students who lived in the city. That year she also participated in the armed occupation at Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario, by Ojibwe activists and AIM supporters. They were protesting treatment of the Ojibwe in Kenora and northwestern Ontario in relation to health, police harassment, education and other issues, and failures by the national government's Office of Indian Affairs to improve conditions.[4]

In January 1975, Aquash worked with the Menominee Warriors Society in the month-long armed occupation of the Alexian Brothers Novitiate at Gresham, Wisconsin.[5] The Catholic abbey had been closed and abandoned, and the Menominee wanted the property returned to the tribe, as the land had originally been appropriated by the Alexian Brothers for their mission.[6] That year, Aquash was arrested twice on federal weapons-related charges, but was quickly released.

Her releases heightened internal AIM suspicions and rumors that Aquash might be a government informant.[7] Leaders were nervous since they had discovered in late 1974 that Douglas Durham, a prominent member who by then had been appointed as head of security for AIM, was an FBI informant. The officials expelled him from AIM in February 1975 at a public press conference.

According to biographer Johanna Brand, by the spring of 1975 Aquash was "recognized and respected as an organizer in her own right and was taking an increasing role in the decision-making of AIM policies and programs."[5] She was close to AIM leaders Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks. She and Banks had developed an intimate relationship beginning in the summer of 1974, although he was in a common-law marriage with another woman.[6][8] Aquash also continued to work for the Elders and Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.[5] After having been seen in Denver and Rapid City, South Dakota, she disappeared in December 1975.


On February 24, 1976, rancher Roger Amiotte found Aquash's body by the side of State Road 73 in the northeast corner of the reservation, about 10 miles (16 km) from Wanblee, South Dakota. Her remains were revealed when snow melted in February.[9] An autopsy was conducted by medical practitioner W. O. Brown, who wrote: "it appears she had been dead for about 10 days," and she had "died from frost." Failing to notice a bullet wound at the base of her skull, Brown concluded that "she had died of exposure."[5] She was not identified at the time. Her hands were cut off and sent for fingerprinting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, DC.[citation needed] Her body was buried in South Dakota as a "Jane Doe".

On March 10, 1976, eight days after the burial, Aquash's remains were exhumed due to requests made by the American Indian Movement and her family. AIM arranged for a second autopsy to be conducted by Dr. Garry Peterson, a pathologist from Minneapolis. He found that she had been shot by a .32 caliber bullet on the left side at the back of her head, under the hairline, in a shot that traveled upwards, missing the brain and lodging in her left eye socket. It was described as execution style.[10] She was reinterred in Oglala Lakota land. Rumors persisted that she had been killed by AIM as an informant, related to federal prosecution of activist Leonard Peltier in the 1975 shooting deaths of FBI agents at Pine Ridge.

Her murder was investigated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who started the investigation as the death appeared to have taken place on the reservation. The FBI became involved because of its interest in AIM. It was learned that she had been seen at the Pine Ridge Reservation before her disappearance in December 1975. Federal grand juries were called to hear testimony in her case in 1976, 1982 and 1994, but no indictments were made.[7] In 1997 Paul DeMain, editor of the independent newspaper News From Indian Country, started regularly publishing articles about the investigation of the murder of Aquash.

People come forward[edit]

On 3 November 1999, Robert Pictou-Branscombe, a maternal cousin of Aquash from Canada, and Russell Means, associated with the Denver-based AIM movement, held a press conference in Denver at the Federal Building to discuss the slow progress of the investigation into Aquash's murder. It had been under investigation both by the FBI and the BIA.

Earlier that day in a telephone interview with journalists Paul DeMain and Harlan McKosato, journalist Minnie Two Shoes commented about the importance of Aquash,

Part of why she was so important is because she was very symbolic. She was a hard working woman. She dedicated her life to the movement, to righting all the injustices that she could, and to pick somebody out and launch their little cointelpro program on her, to bad jacket her to the point where she ends up dead - whoever did it - let's look at what the reasons are. You know, she was killed and lets look at the real reasons why it could have been any of us. It could have been me. It could have been... Ya gotta look at the basically thousands of women. You gotta remember that it was mostly women in AIM. It could have been any one of us and I think that's why it's been so important. And she was just such a good person.[11]

Paul DeMain (Ojibwe/Oneida), publisher and editor of News from Indian Country, said that day,

...Anna Mae had a legacy of doing things differently, in 1975 she was alcohol- and drug-free, which made her stand out within the movement boldly because many people were still using and partying and there were many things going on in that area.[11]

In a January 2002 editorial in the News from Indian Country, DeMain said that he had met with several people who reported hearing Leonard Peltier in 1975 admit the shootings of the two FBI agents on 26 June 1975 at the Pine Ridge Reservation. They also said that they believed the motive for the death of Aquash "allegedly was her knowledge of who shot the two [FBI] agents, and Joe Stuntz." DeMain did not reveal his sources because of their personal danger in having spoken to him. In an editorial of March 2003, DeMain withdrew his support for clemency in the life sentence of Peltier. In response, Peltier sued DeMain for libel on May 1, 2003. On May 25, 2004, after Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted by the jury, Peltier withdrew the suit; he and DeMain reached a settlement.

Indictments and a co-conspirator[edit]

In January 2003, a fourth federal grand jury was called in Rapid City to hear testimony about the murder of Aquash. She was known to have been given a ride from the home of Troy Lynn Yellow Wood of Denver on December 10, 1975, by AIM members Arlo Looking Cloud, John Graham and Theda Nelson Clarke, who transported her to Rapid City. They took Aquash further to the Pine Ridge Reservation in mid-December.

On March 20, 2003, a federal grand jury indicted two men for her murder: Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud (an Oglala Lakota) and John Graham (aka John Boy Patton; a Southern Tutchone Athabascan), from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Although Theda Nelson Clarke, Graham's adopted aunt, was also alleged to have been involved, she was not indicted; by then she was in failing health and being cared for in a nursing home.

Bruce Ellison, who has been Leonard Peltier's lawyer since the 1970s,[12] invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to testify at the grand jury hearings on charges against Looking Cloud or at his trial in 2004. During the trial, the federal prosecutor referred to Ellison as a co-conspirator in the Aquash case.[13]

Looking Cloud convicted[edit]

On February 8, 2004, the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud began before a U.S. federal jury; five days later he was found guilty of murder. On April 23, 2004, he was given a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Although no physical evidence linking Looking Cloud to the crime was presented, a videotape was shown in which he admitted to having been at the scene of the murder, but said he was not aware that Aquash was going to be killed. In that video, Looking Cloud was interviewed by Detective Abe Alonzo of the Denver Police Department and Robert Ecoffey, the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Law Enforcement Services. On March 27, 2003, Looking Cloud said that John Graham was the gunman.[14]

Looking Cloud said that he was making his statement while high and under the influence of "a little bit of alcohol."[14] Trial testimony showed that Looking Cloud told a number of other individuals in various times and places about having been present at the murder of Aquash.[15]

Looking Cloud appealed his conviction. In the appeal, filed by attorney Terry Gilbert, who replaced his trial attorney Tim Rensch, Looking Cloud retracted his videotaped confession, saying that it was false. He appealed based on the grounds that his trial counsel Rensch was ineffective in failing to object to the introduction of the videotaped statement, that he failed to object to hearsay statements of Anna Mae Aquash, failed to object to hearsay instruction for the jury, and failed to object to leading questions by the prosecution to Robert Ecoffey.[16] The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied Looking Cloud's appeal.[17] On August 19, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of conviction.[18] Richard Two Elk, adopted brother of Looking Cloud; Troy Lynn Yellow Wood, former AIM chairman John Trudell, and Aquash's daughters Denise and Debbie Maloney were other witnesses who testified at the trial that Looking Cloud had separately confessed his involvement to them prior to any indictments or arrests.[15]

Extradition of Graham[edit]

On June 22, 2006, Canada's Minister of Justice, Vic Toews, ordered the extradition of John Graham to the United States to face charges on his alleged involvement in the murder of Aquash. Graham appealed the order and was held under house arrest, with conditions. In July 2007, a Canadian court denied his appeal, and upheld the extradition order. On December 6, 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada denied Graham's second appeal of his extradition.

Graham told police that he last saw Aquash while accompanying her on a drive from Denver to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he left her at a safe house.[citation needed]

Richard Marshall[edit]

In August 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Vine Richard "Dick" Marshall with aiding and abetting the murder. Marshall was a bodyguard for Russell Means at the time of Aquash's murder. It was alleged that Graham, Looking Cloud, and Theda Nelson Clarke had taken Aquash to Marshall's house, where they held her prior to taking her to be executed in a far corner of the reservation.[19] Marshall's wife, Cleo Gates, testified to this at Looking Cloud's trial. Marshall is alleged to have provided the murder weapon to Graham and Looking Cloud. Marshall was imprisoned in 1976 after being convicted in the 1975 shooting death of a man. He was paroled from prison in 2000. He was acquitted of the charge of conspiracy to murder Anna Mae.

State trial for Graham and Rios[edit]

In September 2009, Graham and Thelma Rios, a Lakota advocate in Rapid City, were charged by the State Court of South Dakota with the kidnapping, rape and murder of Anna Mae. The case against the defendants continued through much of 2010.[20]

Thelma Rios[edit]

Thelma Conroy-Rios, a longtime Lakota advocate in Rapid City, was charged by the state of South Dakota in September 2009, along with John Graham, for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Aquash.[21] Already in poor health, she avoided a trial on murder charges by agreeing to a plea bargain "that acknowledged her role in the events leading up to Aquash's death." In November 2010, she pleaded guilty to the charge of being an accessory to kidnapping and received a 5-year sentence, most of which was suspended due to her poor health.[22]

Rios admitted in court that she "relayed a message from AIM leadership to other AIM members to bring Aquash from Denver to Rapid City in December 1975, because they thought she was a government informant."[23] Rios died of lung cancer 9 February 2011.[22] Although names were redacted in her plea agreement at court, she had said she heard two people ordering Aquash to be brought from Denver to Rapid City and that there was a discussion about "offing her".[24]

Graham convicted of felony murder[edit]

On December 10, 2010, after two days of deliberation in the state court, jurors found Graham guilty of felony murder, but acquitted him of the premeditated murder charge. The felony murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.[25] After an appeal by Graham, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld the lower court conviction in May, 2012.[26]


Observers and historians speculate about who ordered the murder of Annie Mae Aquash. John Trudell testified in both the 1976 Butler and Robideau trial and the 2004 Looking Cloud trial that Dennis Banks had told him that the body of Anna Mae Aquash had been found before it was officially identified.[27] Banks wrote in his autobiography, Ojibwa Warrior, that Trudell told him that the body found was that of Aquash. Banks wrote that he did not know until then that Aquash had been killed, although she had been missing.

In Looking Cloud's trial, the prosecution argued that AIM's suspicion of Aquash stemmed from her having heard Peltier admit to the murders of the FBI agents. Darlene "Kamook" Nichols, former wife of the AIM leader Dennis Banks, testified that in late 1975, Peltier told of shooting the FBI agents. He was talking to a small group of AIM activists who were fugitives from law enforcement. They included Nichols, her sister Bernie Nichols (later Lafferty), Nichols' husband Dennis Banks, and Aquash, among several others. Nichols testified that Peltier said, "The motherfucker was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway."[28] Bernie Nichols-Lafferty gave the same account of Peltier's statement.[29]

Other witnesses have testified that once Aquash came under suspicion as an informant, Peltier interrogated her while holding a gun to her head.[30][31][32] Peltier and David Hill later had Aquash participate in bomb-making so that her fingerprints would be on the bombs. The trio planted the bombs at two power plants on the Pine Ridge reservation.[33] Extensive testimony suggests that AIM leaders ordered the murder of Aquash; because of her prominent position in the organization, lower-ranking members would not have taken action against her without permission from above.

Denise and Debbie Maloney[edit]

Together with federal and state investigators, Aquash's daughters Denise and Debbie believe that high-ranking AIM leaders ordered the death of their mother due to fears of her being an informant; they support the continued investigation.[24] Denise Pictou-Maloney is the executive director of the "Indigenous Women for Justice", a group she founded to support justice for her mother and other Native women.[1] In a 2004 interview, Pictou-Maloney said her mother was killed by AIM members who

thought she knew too much. She knew what was happening in California, she knew where the money was coming from to pay for the guns, she knew the plans, but more than any of that, she knew about the killings.[34]

Re-interment at Indian Brook Reservation[edit]

After the conviction of Looking Cloud in 2004, Aquash's family had her remains exhumed. They were transported to her homeland of Nova Scotia for reinterment on June 21 at Indian Brook Reservation in Shubenacadie. They held appropriate Mi'kmaq ceremonies and celebrated the work and life of the activist.[35] Family and supporters have held annual anniversary ceremonies in Annie Mae's honor since then.

Representations in culture and media[edit]


  • The Spirit of Anna Mae (2002) - a 72-minute film directed by Catherine Anne Martin, a tribute by women who knew Aquash. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).[36]
  • Maggie Eagle Bear - a leading character in the drama Thunderheart, loosely based on Aquash.



  • Annie Mae's Movement (1999, reprinted 2006) - play by Yvette Nolan about Aquash and her participation in AIM[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Indigenous Women for Justice web page". Archived from the original on 2018-03-15. Retrieved 2006-01-18.
  2. ^ Voices from Wounded Knee, 1973, In the Words of the Participants, Rooseveltown, NY: Akwesasne Notes, 1974
  3. ^ Eric Konigsberg, "Who Killed Anna Mae?", The New York Times Magazine, 25 April 2014
  4. ^ James Burke, "The Occupation of Anicinabe Park 1974; Two Interviews: Lyle Ironstand and Louis Cameron", Paper Tomahawks: From Red Tape to Red Power, Queenston House Publishing, 1976; reprinted from Oh-Toh-Kin, Volume 1 Number 1, Winter/Spring 1992, accessed 18 July 2011
  5. ^ a b c d Johanna Brand, The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash, Toronto: James Lorimer (1993), pp. 104-105, accessed 18 July 2011
  6. ^ a b Deborah Kades, "Native Hero", Wisconsin Academy Review 2005, accessed 9 June 2011
  7. ^ a b Robert Weller, "AQUASH MURDER CASE: AIM leaders point fingers at each other" Archived 2012-01-25 at the Wayback Machine, AP, at News From Indian Country, 4 November 1999, accessed 17 July 2011
  8. ^ Johanna Brand, Life and Death of Aquash, pp. 104-105
  9. ^ "Testimony of Roger Amiotte in the Trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, February, 2004" Archived 2008-05-18 at the Wayback Machine, Justice for Anna Mae and Ray
  10. ^ "Aquash murder gets new grand jury hearing ", AP, News From Indian Country, January 24, 2003
  11. ^ a b Native America Calling, 3 November 1999, Native American Public Telecommunications, carried at News From Indian Country, accessed 16 July 2011. Sound files deleted, transcripts available at AIM Disinformation -- Russell Means Press Conference November 3, Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash November 4.
  12. ^ Freepeltier.
  13. ^ Paul DeMain, "Aquash Murder Case Timeline" Archived 2008-05-13 at the Wayback Machine, NFIC, accessed 8 June 2011
  14. ^ a b "Interview With Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud, March 27, 2003" Archived 2016-05-16 at the Wayback Machine, Justice for Anna Mae and Ray
  15. ^ a b Witness statements Archived 2006-08-20 at the Wayback Machine, Justice For Anna Mae and Ray
  16. ^ US v. Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine, 2005 appeal, US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
  17. ^ Terry Gilbert, Summary of Looking Cloud Appeal Decision, American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council
  18. ^ "Looking Cloud appeal decision" Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine, Eighth Circuit Court
  19. ^ "U.S. indicts Richard Marshall in Aquash murder case", News from Indian Country, August 26, 2008
  20. ^ "Aquash", Rapid City Journal
  21. ^ "Aquash - NFIC Files/Articles", News from Indian Country, accessed 9 June 2011
  22. ^ a b Mary Garrigan, "Rios, accessory in Aquash murder, dead at 65", Rapid City Journal, 11 February 2011, accessed 9 June 2011
  23. ^ AP, "Woman convicted in AIM slaying dies of lung cancer", 14 February 2011, accessed 13 June 2011
  24. ^ a b "Key witness' death complicates '75 murder case", AP, Rapid City Journal, 21 February 2011, accessed 10 June 2011
  25. ^ Nomaan Merchant, "SD jury convicts man in 1975 AIM activist's death", Associated Press, Beaver County Times, December 11, 2010
  26. ^ "Graham Conviction for the 1975 Execution of Annie Mae Aquash Upheld by South Dakota Supreme Court". South Dakota State News. May 31, 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  27. ^ "Testimony of John Trudell in the Trial of Arlo Looking Cloud February, 2004" Archived 2006-08-18 at the Wayback Machine, Justice for Anna Mae and Ray
  28. ^ "Ka-Mook Testifies". Archived from the original on 2008-05-18. Retrieved 2009-09-24.
  29. ^ "Bernie Lafferty Speaks Regarding Leonard Peltier". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2009-09-24.
  30. ^ "Anna Aquash, Part 4", Dick's Shovel
  31. ^ "Robideau's letter to Paul DeMain" Archived 2012-11-25 at the Wayback Machine, Colorado AIM website
  32. ^ Steve Hendricks, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006, p. 202, at Dick's Shovel website
  33. ^ Corel Office Document Archived 2009-03-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^ "An interview with Denise Pictou-Maloney on the death of her mother, Annie Mae Aquash, November 24, 2004" Archived 2005-12-20 at the Wayback Machine, Justice for Anna Mae and Ray
  35. ^ Carson Walker, "AIM Activist to be Buried in Native Nova Scotia June 21, 2004" Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, News from Indian Country, 18 June 2004, at Justice for Anna Mae and Ray, accessed 10 June 2011
  36. ^ The Spirit of Anna Mae Miami University of Ohio Library
  37. ^ Rindfleisch, Bryan (2011). ""Slaying the Sun Woman": The Legacy of Annie Mae Aquash". The Graduate History Review. 3 (1).
  38. ^ "Lyrics: Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes".
  39. ^ Annie Mae's Movement (2006), Miami University of Ohio Library


  • Johanna Brand, The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash, Lorimer; 2nd edition (January 1, 1993). ISBN 1-55028-422-3.
  • Steve Hendricks, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006. ISBN 1-56025-735-0

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]