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Anna Mae Aquash
Born March 27, 1945(1945-03-27)
Indian Brook, Nova Scotia, Canada
Died December 1975
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, United States
Cause of death Murder (shot by a .32 caliber bullet in the back of the head, execution style)
Body discovered Side of State Road 73 on the far northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation, about 10 miles from Wanblee, South Dakota, close to Kadoka
Nationality Canadian
Other names Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, Anna Mae Pictou; first name also spelled Annie Mae; Mi'kmaq name Naguset Eask
Ethnicity Mi'kmaq
Citizenship Canada
Occupation Activist
Known for American Indian Movement, Trail of Broken Treaties, Bureau of Indian Affairs Building Takeover, Wounded Knee Occupation
Religious beliefs Native American Church
Spouse(s) Nogeeshik Aquash
Children Denise Maloney Pictou, Debbie Pictou Maloney

Anna Mae Aquash (also Anna Mae Pictou Aquash or Anna Mae Pictou; first name also spelled Annie Mae; Mi'kmaq name Naguset Eask) (March 27, 1945 - mid-December 1975) was a Mi'kmaq activist from Nova Scotia who became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) during the early 1970s. She was found murdered in 1976 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is sometimes seen as a martyr of the Red power and indigenous peoples resistance movement. She was born in Indian Brook, Nova Scotia, Canada and was thirty years old at the time of her death.



In Bar Harbor, Maine, Aquash became involved in the Teaching and Research in Bicultural Education School Project (TRIBES), a program designed to teach young Indians about their history. She soon moved to Boston where she met members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who were protesting against the Mayflower II celebration at Boston Harbor by boarding and seizing the ship on Thanksgiving Day, 1970. Aquash was active in creating the Boston Indian Council (now the North American Indian Center of Boston).

It was also at that time that she met Nogeeshik Aquash, from Walpole Island, Canada. They traveled to Pine Ridge together in 1973 to join AIM in the 71-day armed re-occupation of Wounded Knee, where they were married by Wallace Black Elk. Nogeeshik Aquash was her second husband.[1]

She was also involved in the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties march on Washington, D.C. that led to the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, and armed occupations by AIM and other indigenous warriors at Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario in 1974 and the Alexian Brothers Novitiate at Gresham, Wisconsin, in 1975.[2]

By the spring of 1975, Anna Mae was, according to her biographer Johanna Brand, "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."[2]

She was personally close to AIM leaders Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks. She worked until her death for the Elders and Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.[2]


Three years after Wounded Knee, and less than a year after the Shootout at Jumping Bull Ranch, on February 24, 1976, Aquash was found dead by the side of State Road 73 on the far northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation, about 10 miles from Wanblee, South Dakota, close to Kadoka. Her body was found during an unusually warm spell in late February, 1976 by a rancher named Roger Amiotte.[3] An autopsy was conducted by medical practitioner, W. O. Brown who wrote: "it appears she had been dead for about 10 days." Failing to notice a bullet wound in her skull, Brown concluded that "she had died of exposure."[2] Although federal agents who had met Anna Mae were present at her autopsy she was not identified. Subsequently, her hands were cut off and sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington, D.C. for fingerprinting. Her body was later buried as a Jane Doe.

On March 10, 1976, eight days after Anna Mae's burial, her body was exhumed as the result of separate requests made by her family and AIM supporters, and the FBI. A second autopsy was conducted the following day by an independent pathologist from Minneapolis, Dr. Garry Peterson. This autopsy revealed that she had been shot by a .32 caliber bullet in the back of the head, execution style.[4]

Indictments and a co-conspirator

On March 20, 2003 two men were indicted for the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash: Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud (a homeless Lakota man) and John Graham (aka John Boy Patton), a Southern Tutchone Athabascan man from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Although Theda Clark, Graham's adopted aunt, was also alleged to have been involved, she was not indicted.

Bruce Ellison—who has been Leonard Peltier's lawyer since the 1970s[5]—invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to testify at the grand jury hearings leading up to the Looking Cloud trial in 2003, or in the trial itself. During the trial, the federal prosecutor named Ellison as a co-conspirator in the Aquash case.[6] Witnesses state that Ellison participated in interrogating Annie Mae Aquash on December 11, 1975, shortly before her murder.[7]

In August 2008, a federal grand jury indicted a third man, Vine Richard "Dick" Marshall, with aiding and abetting the murder. Marshall was a bodyguard for Russell Means at the time of Aquash's murder.[8] It is alleged that Graham, Looking Cloud and Clark had taken Anna Mae to Marshall's house where she was held just prior to her being driven to her death. This is based on testimony given by Marshall's wife, Cleo Gates, at Looking Cloud's trial. Marshall is alleged to have provided the murder weapon to Graham and Looking Cloud. Marshall had previously been incarcerated for 24 years for the shooting death of man in 1975. He was paroled from prison in 2000.

In September 2009, Graham and Thelma Rios were charged in the State Court of South Dakota with the kidnapping and murder of Anna Mae. No trial date has been set, [9] but the State of South Dakota anticipates being ready for trial by March 1, 2010.[10]

Graham and Marshall are scheduled to begin trial on the federal charges on February 16, 2010. [11]

Looking Cloud convicted

On February 8, 2004 Arlo Looking Cloud was tried before a U.S. federal jury and five days later was found guilty. 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 Looking Cloud admits to being at the scene of the murder but claims that he was unaware that Aquash was going to be killed. In that video, in which Looking Cloud is 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, taped on March 27, 2003, he states that Graham was the triggerman.[12]

Looking Cloud appealed his conviction and on August 19, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of conviction.[13] Other witnesses testified that Looking Cloud had confessed his involvement to them, including his childhood friend Richard Two Elk, Troy Lynn Yellow Wood, John Trudell, and Aquash's two daughters.[14 ]

Although Arlo Looking Cloud did testify on videotape that he was present at the murder and that John Graham pulled the trigger, also said that he was making his statement while under the influence of "a little bit of alcohol."[12] However, trial testimony showed that Looking Cloud also confessed to a number of other individuals in various times and places.[14 ]

In Looking Cloud's appeal, filed by attorney Terry Gilbert who replaced his trial attorney Tim Rensch, Looking Cloud has retracted his videotaped confession stating that it was false. He is appealing on the grounds that his trial counsel was ineffective in that he failed to object to the introduction of his videotaped statement, 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.[15] The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Looking Cloud's appeal.[16]

Graham awaits trial

On June 22, 2006 John Graham's extradition to the United States to face charges on his alleged involvement in the murder was ordered by Canada's Minister of Justice, Vic Toews. Graham appealed this 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. He is presently being held in jail in Rapid City, South Dakota awaiting trial on first degree murder charges. He will be tried together with Marshall.[17]

Graham has denied any involvement in the death of Anna Mae. He claims that the U.S. government threatened to name him as the murderer of Anna Mae if he "didn't co-operate". Claiming that he last saw Annie Mae on a drive that took them from Denver to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he left her at a "safe house" (in his own words, in an interview with Antoinette Nora Claypoole[18]), Graham explains why he believes he is being charged as her murderer: the mid-80s or sometime about there. The FBI showed up at my home in the Yukon, and asked me all kinds of questions about Anna Mae and the death. They were trying to say I was there, or I knew about it, or I was aware of it. And I had to tell them I wasn't aware, I wasn't around there and I wasn't involved in her killing at all.

And they wanted me to name leadership that would have given the order to that effect, to kill Anna Mae. And they were trying to tell me they would put me in the witness protection program, they would change my identity, they would relocate me if I would go to testify in front of the federal Grand Jury in South Dakota against the AIM leadership. So I told them I couldn't do that because it never happened. I never, ever received orders of any kind like that from any of the AIM leadership. And so I wouldn’t do it; I wouldn't cooperate with them. And they left. Then they came back a year or so later and said ... if I didn't cooperate with them to put this information on the AIM leadership, then I would be facing all these charges myself.

The question of Graham's innocence or guilt has divided AIM and AIM leadership, with some (including John Trudell and Russell Means) arguing that he was, in fact, the triggerman and others arguing that he is merely a scapegoat.

Theories and possible motive

There are many theories about who may have been behind the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. John Trudell fingers Dennis Banks, stating in both the 1976 Butler and Robideau trial and the Looking Cloud trial that Banks told him about the killing before the body had been identified.[19] In Dennis Banks' autobiography, Ojibwa Warrior, he states that he was informed by John Trudell that the body that had been found was Annie Mae. Banks states that he did not know until that time that Aquash had been killed.

In an editorial written in early 2003, DeMain stated that the motive for the execution-style murder of Anna Mae "allegedly was her knowledge that Leonard Peltier had shot the two agents, as he was convicted." DeMain did not accuse Peltier of participation in the murder. In response, Peltier launched a libel lawsuit on May 1, 2003, against DeMain. On May 25, 2004, Peltier withdrew the suit after he and DeMain reached a settlement, which involved DeMain issuing a statement where he wrote, “…I do not believe that Leonard Peltier received a fair trial in connection with the murders of which he was convicted. Certainly he is entitled to one. Nor do I believe, according to the evidence and testimony I now have, that Mr. Peltier had any involvement in the death of Anna Mae Aquash.’’[20][21] DeMain did not, however, retract his central allegations: That Peltier was in fact guilty of the murders, and that Aquash's murderer or murderers' motive was the fear that she might inform on Peltier.[22]

In Looking Cloud's trial, the prosecution argued that AIM's suspicion of Aquash stemmed from her having heard Peltier admit to the murders. The prosecution called as a witness Darlene “Kamook” Nichols, former wife of AIM leader Dennis Banks. She testified that in late 1975 Peltier confessed to shooting the FBI agents to a group of AIM activists who were at that time on the run from law enforcement. The fugitives included Nichols, her sister Bernie, her husband Dennis Banks, and Aquash, among several others. Nichols alleged that Peltier said, “The mother fucker was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.”[23] Bernie Nichols-Lafferty also gave the same account of Peltier’s statement.[24] Other witnesses have testified that once Aquash came under suspicion of being an informant, Peltier interrogated her on the matter while holding a gun to her head.[25] Peltier and David Hill later had Aquash participate in bomb-making so that her fingerprints would be on the bombs. The trio then planted these bombs at two power plants on the Pine Ridge reservation.[26]

Anna Mae’s daughters

One of Anna Mae’s daughters, Denise Maloney Pictou is the executive director of the Indigenous Women for Justice,[27] who are convinced of Graham's guilt. She has stated that she believes 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."[28] Aquash’s other daughter, Debbie Pictou Maloney, is a Constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and has been active in the Annie Mae Justice Fund.[29]

Denise Maloney Pictou claims that Paul DeMain, the managing editor of News from Indian Country, arranged (through Richard Two Elk) for Arlo Looking Cloud to call her at home. She claims that Looking Cloud confessed to her the story that has become known as "The FBI story." Neither Debbie nor Denise personally knew Looking Cloud at the time and cannot verify that the caller was indeed him, although he mentioned speaking to the daughters in his videotaped testimony of March 27, 2003.[12]


  1. ^ A photo of their wedding can be found in Voices from Wounded Knee, 1973, in the words of the participants, Akwesasne notes, Rooseveltown, NY (1974).
  2. ^ a b c d Johanna Brand, The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash, Toronto: James Lorimer (1993)
  3. ^ "Testimony of Roger Amiotte in the Trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, February, 2004" Justice For Anna Mae and Ray
  4. ^ "Aquash murder gets new grand jury hearing " News From Indian Country, January 24, 2003
  5. ^ Freepeltier.
  6. ^ Aquash Murder Case Timeline by Paul DeMain, NFIC,
  7. ^ Aquash Murder Case Timeline by Paul DeMain, NFIC,
  8. ^ "U.S. indicts Richard Marshall in Aquash murder case", News from Indian Country, August 26, 2008
  9. ^ "2 charged in 1975 American Indian Movement slaying", News from Indian Country, September 22, 2009
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c "Interview With Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud, March 27, 2003", Justice For Anna Mae and Ray
  13. ^ Looking Cloud appeal decision
  14. ^ a b Witness statements, Justice For Anna Mae and Ray
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Terry Gilbert, Summary of Looking Cloud Appeal Decision, American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council
  17. ^ "Trial for 1975 murder of Canadian woman set for February in South Dakota", Associated Press (via The News, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, October 17, 2008)
  18. ^ Antoinette Nora Claypoole, "An Interview with John Graham" (March 30, 2004), Heyoka Magazine
  19. ^ Justice For Anna Mae and Ray, "Testimony of John Trudell in the Trial of Arlo Looking Cloud February, 2004"
  20. ^ News From Indian County Allows Peltier to Withdraw Lawsuit.
  21. ^ Peltier accepts settlement over Aquash murder.
  22. ^ Press Release May 28, 2004.
  23. ^ "Ka-Mook Testifies".  
  24. ^ "Bernie Lafferty Speaks Regarding Leonard Peltier".  
  25. ^;;;; Steve Hendricks, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, 2006, Thunder's Mouth Press, p. 202;;
  26. ^ Corel Office Document.
  27. ^ Indigenous Women for Justice web page
  28. ^ Justice For Anna Mae and Ray, "An interview with Denise Pictou-Maloney on the death of her mother, Annie Mae Aquash", November 24, 2004
  29. ^ Annie Mae Justice Fund web site

Further Reading

  • Voices from Wounded Knee, 1973, In the Words of the Participants Rooseveltown, New York: Akwesasne Notes, 1974. ISBN 0-914838-01-6.
  • Anna Mae Aquash, "Letter from jail", 1975.
  • Antoinette Nora Claypoole, Who Would Unbraid Her Hair: The Legend of Annie Mae. Anam Cara Press, 1999. ISBN 0-9673853-0-X
  • 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
  • Michael Donnelly, "Getting Away with Murder", Counterpunch, 2006.
  • Charlie Smith, "John Graham says Native chiefs under FBI spell". The Georgia Straight July 12, 2007

External links

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