A students look at the events of Anna Mae Aquash’s death.
“If someone follows carefully in my footsteps, they will learn what I know”
– Anna Mae Aquash 1975
A gunshot shot cuts through the air; a body drops into an ancient wash, coyote’s howl. A rancher finds the body sometime later while checking his fences. No identification was found on the body. The woman is decomposing and according to the initial autopsy, she had died of exposure he said. Her hands are cut off and sent to Washington D.C. for the FBI to get fingerprints from.
Sounds like a bad dime store novel, but it’s all true except maybe the coyote’s howl. This is about Anna Mae Aquash, or in her native tongue Naguset Eask, mother, activist and as a member of the American Indian Movement. This woman activist fought not only for the Indian community in general and but for the native women. The people talked about in this story about the life and death of Anna Mae will be fully addressed in the appendix at the end.
She was born in Nova Scotia 1945 as part of the Mi’kmaq tribe, with her two sisters and a younger brother. Anna Mae lost her father to cancer early in life moved after his passing to the reservation. She later meets Jake Maloney and during their relationship she gave birth to her two daughters. Jake and Anna Mae slowly drifted apart, and after their divorce, Anna Mae spent more time in the native community of Boston and become an activist. Anna Mae would later give the girls to Jake to take care of in the mid-70s. She was one of the founders of the Boston Indian Council this group later became known as the North American Indian Center of Boston. She went to Plymouth Massachusetts to participate in what would become National Day of Mourning. AIM was also invited to participate. The protest of Thanksgiving by boarding the Mayflower II, the incident occurred in 1970 about the governments’ refusal to addressing the issues of broken treaties. At this point, Anna Mae found AIM as a group that had the passion she had and became part of their movement. The march on Washington happened in 1972, and during the course of the activities the Bureau of Indian Affairs building was taken over by AIM, this was known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.
During this time, they took many documents from the BIA talking about sterilization of Native women, water issues and mining rights. Because of the documents AIM would now become targets for government agencies. Later she was at the takeover of Wounded Knee in 1973 were she was married to Nogeeshik Aquash by Wallace Black Elk. She separates from Aquash in 1974 and started working with AIM full-time. Anna Mae started working at the St. Paul, Minnesota, AIM office for a while. She was not at the Jumping Bull compound when the two FBI agents where shot but she did ending up participated in bomb building activities with Leonard Peltier in a mobile home owned by Marlon Brandon. He had loaned this to the AIM leadership, and he also gave them 10,000 dollars. The money was used by Leonard Peltier and Dennis Bank’s to purchase some guns. Peltier had been implicated in the shooting of the FBI agents, and while Anna Mae was with Peltier and Banks it was said that she may have overheard Peltier confessing to killing the 2 agents. During the time of her participation in the movement, she was arrested, like many others, but unlike those others, she would be released on lower bond. The last time this happened she missed a court appearance and the judge issued a bench warrant, this was the first time she became a fugitive. The suspicion would grow that Anna Mae was an FBI informer because of things like the releases from jail with a lower bond then everyone.
AIM says that even though they had no formal title they have been a movement for 500 years according to Laura Waterman Wittstock and Elaine J. Salinas who have written a brief history of AIM on the movement’s website. They start making their presence known in the late 1960s. The group started in prisons and with women who were fighting for survival. On some occasions, protests were armed and on other occasions were violent. Certain members of the movement advocated vocal disobedience over violent disobedience.
FBI are always present in respect to anything happening in the US, but they come into the Anna Mae story more during the march on Washington D.C. at the Trail of Broken Treaties. AIM took over BIA building and trashed the place during their occupation. Because of this action in Washington D.C. they became seen as a possible treat to the US government and were put onto the government watch list. She was first arrested in 1975 and released. This first run in and release occurred after Douglas Durham, who had been working closely with Dennis Banks, revealed that he was an FBI informant in 1974. This started the suspicions about Anna Mae possibly being an FBI informant, as well. However at that time, she managed to dissuade the AIM leadership from believing that she was working with the FBI.
The last time Anna Mae jumped bail she had been scurried off to the St. Charles hotel in Pierce, South Dakota. From there some people friendly with the American Indian Movement at the time where called and they left Rapid City to come picked her up in Pierce. They picked up Anna Mae and were told to head to Denver where they had a place waiting for her to stay. According to the accounts the weather was the worst blizzard and snow seen in a while. They stopped outside of Denver at a bar that was owned by Theta Nelson aka Theta Clark. This was the last time this group of people would see Anna Mae. She was then taken over to the house of Troy Lynn Yellowwood in Denver. Troy Lynn then kept Anna Mae for some time, this part of the story is sketchy because of the time factor involved, but they became friends. Anna Mae just stayed and Troy Lynn who provided her with clothing and other items because Anna Mae only had the clothes on her back when she had showed up at Troy Lynn’s home. They had passed the time discussed matters. Memories fade how long it was before the phone call came saying the she was to be brought up to Rapid City.
In Rapid City, she would have to explain herself to the AIM leadership about what had happened before she ended up in Pierce. Theta Clark along with John Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud came down from Pine Ridge to bring Anna Mae up to Rapid City, South Dakota. Then she was tied up with a rope getting her ready for the trip to Rapid City in the night, the dead of night. You may wonder why it was necessary to tie Anna Mae up at this point she was considered a liability to AIM community because it was feared that she was a spy for the FBI. They didn’t want her to get away before they could question her. Before Anna Mae left Lynn Yellow Wood’s house, she had pled “Please don’t make me go you will never see me again.” Troy Lynn was so upset, she cried and pleaded with the three, “Don’t take her, don’t take her she’s safe here.” Troy Lynn kept on arguing knowing that something disastrous would happen. Troy Lynn started to call the Denver Police and somebody hung up the phone on her, and they didn’t let her call anyone. Anna Mae, fearing for Troy Lynn who had now become a good friend to her, she said to her, “Don’t get yourself in trouble on my account.” Then they stuck her in the back of the Pinto hatch back tied up. Nothing much has come out about the trip to Rapid City.
When they reached Rapid City she was taken to the house of a Native American woman, this place was considered to be a safe house. This empty apartment, all wood apartment she was kept and that the before she was taken to Russell Mean’s brother’s house to be questioned. During that time, she was being questioned and shuttled from one place to another, Anna Mae was also raped by John Graham. After the questioning of Anna Mae, Theta Nelson received a note from someone that read, “Take care of this baggage.” So from there John Graham, Arlo Looking Cloud, Theta Nelson left with Anna Mae was still stuck in the hatch back of the car. Taken to Dick Marshall’s house were Dick Marshall supplied them with a gun. So at this point Theta Clark was the one in charge, and it was time to take care of what AIM now had decided was a problem.
John Graham, Theta Nelson and Arlo Looking Cloud with Anna Mae tied up in the back headed out to a lone stretch of highway. It was very dark as the sun was just about to come up during the dead of winter. They stopped be the side of the road. Theta Clark handed the gun to John Graham. John and Theta then got out of the car. They proceeded to get Anna Mae out of the car. Anna Mae started praying in her native language, sobbing and crying. She begged them not to do this, telling them that they were making a huge mistake getting involved with this. Theta also told Arlo to go out with John. Anna Mae was made to kneel on the ground. She asked if she could make a request, “can I have a minute to pray?” As she started to pray in her native language, John Graham took hold of the pistol pushed it to the back of her head pulled the trigger. She fell over the edge of the ravine and was left there to die (if she had not already died instantly).
It was mid-December when she was murdered. Because of the weather and the time of the year, her body was slow to decompose. On February 24, 1976, her body was discovered by Roger Amiotte (the rancher) looking for a place for his cattle and checking the fences. It seems from all the records that this wasn’t a place that was planned. They found it to be off the road and out of the line of sight for the deed.
AIM’s front men from the 70s were, for the most part, Dennis Banks and Russell Means. Both men had an enormous amount of charisma and, it should be noted, not averse to causing violence to get their point across. Dennis Banks would later be linked to having a relationship with Anna Mae but in his autobiography that only makes a passing mention of her and his sorrow over her death. Means, on the other hand, never mentions her in his autobiography even though Russell Means would make a statement to the press talking about two people from AIM who ordered Anna Mae’s death, that of Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt. Leonard Peltier also makes a passing mention of Anna Mae in his book.
Of three people who were ordered to carry out the murder of Anna Mae, John Graham, Arlo Looking Cloud and Theta Nelson Clark only Arlo and John have been tried and convicted. Theta is unfit to stand trial and remains in a nursing home. Arlo is the only one to have called the family and apologized for what happened. None of the AIM leadership showed up for the most recent trial of John Graham. Newspapers reported that Russell Means had fled the country before the trial; he was on the list of people to testify.
During the 70s one, incidents stand out among many that Anna Mae was involved in which is the Wounded Knee Incident. This uprising of some 200 Native American was to impeach the tribal president of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Richard A. “Dick” Wilson, who had formed a GOON squad that was persecuting Indians on the reservation who did not like how things were going. Economics were the major issue with those of mixed race getting most of the jobs and support by Wilson’s government. According to FBI some 57 people died during the Goon Squad’s reign of terror. Listening to the accounts coming from the AIM camp and members of the Goon Squad, the FBI was supplying Wilson’s Goon Squad with weapons and ammunition to silence the opposition. The Incident lasted 71 days.
Two FBI men were murdered in Pine Ridge shootout on June 26, 1975. The agents were driving in two separate vehicles follow a red pickup onto the Jumping Bull ranch. A shootout commence between the FBI and AIM members on the ranch. The agents died, and one AIM member was also killed. According to the stories, and they are many, the agents never identified themselves before they opened fire. The one man in prison for the murder of the agents, Leonard Peltier claim he knows who the real shooter was and would not give him up. The story also goes that while Peltier was fleeing from the law, hiding out in a mobile home that was owned by Marlon Brando, he told Anna Mae that he had killed the agents. Anna Mae never appeared at Peltier’s trial it should be noted. People like Robert Redford believe Peltier to be innocent, and this is what they tried to show in the documentary, Incident at Ogallala. A number of FBI agents are seen in this movie as well as give their side of the events that happened there.
Agent David Price would play a role in the death of Anna Mae, as he stated that when Anna Mae’s body was found at the dry wash he didn’t recognize her. Price had questioned her about another case and was on the lookout for her. Price was one of the few agents who knew what she looked like and had talked with her about the deaths of the Agents at the Jumping Bull compound.
Anna Mae was buried more than once, but now she rests at the Indian Brook Reservation in Nova Scotia. Anna Mae Aquash was a woman who was passionate about the Indian people. She saw what was happening and wanted more than anything to help fix what was broken. She worked to educate as well as being an activist. Helping AIM with fund raising and organizations. She slowly moved into the upper management of AIM. Even though people will tell you that they believe she was a warrior and equal to any man you can’t help but wonder were the men of AIM feeling threatened by her. Did it come down to the men of AIM feeling emasculated by this efficient and eloquent woman? Was this all they needed for an excuse to get rid of her. Anna Mae went out of her way to find out things that even the government would have wanted to get rid of her for, such as the mining issues and water pollution affecting the reservation during that time. One movie that brings all the issues about AIM, the FBI and the death of Anna Mae together is Thunderheart. This movie hints at all the stories that play into the life of Anna Mae’s life and death. Telling the tale while changing the names of all involved, it grabs hold and makes you wonder. One thing may never be known totally is how many people were FBI informers, but one thing is clear Anna Mae was not, but by the time of Anna Mae’s death, both sides may have wanted her out of the way.
From all sides, the details of this case have been muddy, wither deliberately, or not it makes many of the situations surround the life and death of Anna Mae something to question. Going over every piece of information associated with her death brings up new groups of questions every time one takes a look at it. The amount of information would take longer than one semester to study and sift through. There are so many different sides that present evidence, from the FBI, AIM, the family and others. Things that can honestly be said about Anna Mae’s life and death are that she cared for Indian people and was willing to fight for the rights of those people in any means she knew how. She was an eloquent woman, who could fund raise, build bombs, and love her children, as well as those people around her. Her agenda was to make a place and a good life for all Native people. She would never help the FBI, they were part of the establishment that had persecuted and hunted the Natives. She would keep as secret at all costs, and she would search out the truth of a situation. Her relentless pursuit of helping the Native people would cost her. It is said that her death split AIM and that could be very true. Not all the people responsible for her death have been brought to justice.
It is only conjecture how many people were involved, people like Bellecourts’, Dennis Banks, Russell Means and other members of AIM are said to be somehow involved her death. We know that some have shown their remorse over her loss by honoring her memory, namely fighting those battles against mining and other causes that hurt Native communities everywhere. Arlo Looking Cloud showed his remorse by talking with Anna Mae’s family. Arlo seems to be the fall guy, as the being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As for members of the FBI who knew Anna Mae like David Price and others, their involvement in her life only hastened her death.
It’s hard to believe that David Price who had questioned Anna Mae as often as he did would not recognize Anna Mae’s lifeless body, but it could be that Price realized the trouble that would arise from Anna Mae’s death and opted to say he didn’t recognize her, so he would have time to inform the FBI who had been found.
There is far more here that has not come to light about the death of Anna Mae, but maybe someday all the pieces will come together. No team ever gives up a member no matter what they have done, and others will sacrifice the most important and helpful member for their own power instead of saving them for the greater good of the group. Anna Mae was promising eloquent women, activist and mother when she died, may her spirit live on always.
Nogeeshik Aquash: Second husband of Anna Mae, artist & activist, married during occupations of Wounded Knee site. Said to have died mysteriously when it is said he figured out who killed Anna Mae.
Dennis Banks: AIM co-founder and charismatic figure said to have had a relationship with Anna Mae. He received amnesty from the Governor of California for his part in the Custer riots, but later decided to turn himself in and do 18 months in prison. Involvement in Anna Mae’s death in question.
Clyde Bellecourt: AIM co-founder, implicated by Russell Means as ordering the death of Anna Mae.
Vernon Bellecourt: AIM co-founder, implicated by Russell Means as ordering the death of Anna Mae.
Theda Nelson Clark: AIM member, implicated in Anna Mae’s murder, not able to stand trial due to medical reasons.
Arlo Looking Cloud: AIM member, convicted in 2004 in the death of Anna Mae and serving a life sentence. Appeared in John Graham trial.
Douglas Durham: Chief Security Officer for AIM met with Russell Means and Dennis Bank frequently. Admitted to being an FBI informer, sold information during the occupation at Wounded Knee and was to let them know of any other illegal actions that AIM was planning.
Wallace Black Elk: son of Nicholas Black Elk bearer of the sacred pipe, Lakota elder & spiritualist, activist.
John Graham, aka John Boy Patton: AIM Member charged with kidnapping, rape and murder he was convicted of the felony murder of Anna Mae December 2010. Premeditated murder was dropped, as well as rape charges because of decomposition of Anna Mae’s body it was hard to prove rape. The testimony given by Arlo Looking Cloud was not enough evidence to charge him with the rape.
Jake Maloney: First husband to Anna Mae they met when her family moved to Shubenacadie Reserve after the death of Anna Mae’s father. Indian school was where they first met. Married 1965 and divorced in 1970. They had two daughters together Denise and Deborah Maloney.
Denise Maloney: First daughter of Anna Mae and Jake. Director of “Indigenous Women For Justice” to help native women find justice.
Deborah Maloney: Second daughter of Anna Mae and Jake. Canadian Police officer.
Richard “Dick” Marshall: AIM member and bodyguard of Russell Means, acquitted of providing the gun that killed Anna Mae.
William Means: Brother of Russell Means, his home was used to interrogate Anna Mae before her death.
Russell Means: AIM leader starting in the 70’s. Involvement in Anna Mae’s death in question.
Leonard Peltier: AIM member convicted in 1977 or the death of the 2 FBI agents at the Jumping Bull Compound in 1975. Dino Butler and Robert Robideau were acquitted on the same charges. Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences.
David Price: FBI agent who had question Anna Mae on several occasions, and may have had Anna Mae followed on some occasions hoping to find other AIM fugitive member. Was one of the agents at the scene when Anna Mae’s body was found, claimed not to recognize her due to decomposition of the body.
Thelma Rios: AIM member who passed along the message that Anna Mae needed to her brought to South Dakota for questioning.
Richard A. “Dick” Wilson: Tribal leader at Pine Ridge, leader of the Goon Squad. Passed a law on the reservation to eject any AIM member found there. He is implicated in deaths during his “reign of terror” that may have been carried out by the Goon Squad.
Troy Lynn Yellow Wood: AIM member who Anna Mae stayed within Denver. It is unclear wither Anna Mae was being held prisoner at her house or she had no other place to hide at the time.
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