America’s Addiction to Lynching Indians
By Antoinette Nora Claypoole
The following is an overview of indictments regarding the death of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (1945-1976), by Antoinette Nora Claypoole (Claypoole’s blog is an excellent resource for info on the case). This article is a little dated, coming from December 2004, but it is informative nonetheless.
Anna Mae was a Mi’kmaq woman from Nova Scotia who joined the American Indian Movement (AIM), and who became one of the male dominated organization’s most prominent female members. She was found dead in the early months of 1976. Today, over 30 years after her death, the Federal government has accused three Indians of complicity in her death. One, Arlo Looking Cloud, stands convicted of her murder, while another, Richard Marshall was acquitted this past July, after only two hours of deliberation by the jury. Looking Cloud had fingered Marshall and a third Indian of being Anna Mae’s killers (though he later recanted). John Graham, the third Indian, recently had Federal charges against him dropped. He now faces State charges.
The water though here is murky. Anna Mae’s death has, perhaps predictably, sown division within the remnants of AIM, and within Indian Country in general. John Trudell, former chairperson of AIM, fingers Dennis Banks, one of the founders of AIM, while Banks claims it was from Trudell that he first heard of Anna Mae’s death. Trudell, a man who lost his entire family in a mysterious house fire, long suspected to have been started by agents of the colonial state, even testified for the government at Looking Cloud’s trial.
For me, it comes down to a suspect confession by (an apparently intoxicated) Looking Cloud, whose story has changed repeatedly over the years, a complete lack of physical evidence linking any of the suspects to the murder, and an extremely suspicious initial handling of Anna Mae’s body by the FBI and BIA (When Anna Mae was found dead the initial medical examiner from the BIA missed the bullet hole in the back of her head and declared she had died of natural causes. She was quickly buried as a Jane Doe, and, in another suspicious move, her hands were cut off and apparently sent away for fingerprinting).
For me the evidence, or rather the lack thereof, should be left speak for itself. However, one of the saddest elements of this case has been the way that some residents of Indian Country have become completely convinced of the accused’s guilt, even going so far as to proclaim it to the world before the trials even began, again with only hearsay and no physical evidence.
In yet another sad move it is also often those Indians who have joined the government’s side that are the very same ones who also campaign for the guilt of Leonard Peltier, even trying to link him to Anna Mae’s case by saying that she was killed by AIM because she possessed knowledge of his guilt. Let’s never forget though that at Peltier’s parole hearing last summer, and for the last several years, the government has actually moved in the opposite direction, saying that they do not know who killed the agents that Peltier is in prison for killing, but rather that he is guilty by geographical association. If the government had evidence of Peltier’s guilt from the Anna Mae investigation, then why is it never presented?
I hope this post, and some others I will be posting today help to clear some of the misconceptions that currently exist over Anna Mae, Looking Cloud, John Graham and others.
Courtrooms have been created by refugees from another country who came here to dream of something better than the place they left. Yet the oppression of Dark Aged Europe still tries to be with us and the forces which drove families to flee from Inquisition mentality is back upon us. Still. The inside of America has mostly been like a mysterious silkened box imported from some far away place. An image of Tristan from Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall comes to mind. Pandora’s myth thrives here. Open and free. Maybe. This is one of those times when history either repeats itself suicidally or some of us remembering ancient tribal matriarchies get a chance to take the best of where we came from and create a place like the poems of Lemuria. Once. Upon a peaceful time.
Still the verdict is not yet arrived. Is this paradise or hell…even quantum physics inspired by Dante can’t decide. Some current post-colonial artists along with stand-in news broadcasters resist opinion. But no matter. The work is here for us to do. Refuse to be silenced. That could be the Lennon mantra of the times. That is the best of what America inspires. Stories must be told and from them an attempt to silence revolution/re-evolution will fail. Making way for leaps, the string theory realities some of us dream and know and live could easily reinvent existence. All in the way that we tell a story.
And today there ARE stories to tell. Which are being buried like a visionary’s body, relics from her shrine about to become a training camp for Homeland Security recruits. Stories about the ever pursued and defiant nature of renegades. People who refuse to be assimilated and dominated by a culture who is known to throw their dead off the back of wagons and keep on moving. Without so much as a gesture of song. Let alone a Troy-like placing of coins on the eyes of their funeral pyred ancestors. Today there is a story burning through Indian Country from which all of us can learn.
In late April of 2004 the remains of a murdered American Indian Movement (AIM) woman, Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, were exhumed from her grave of 28 years. Moved from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, by her daughters, to Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, a reburial was planned for June 19, 2004. To bury Annie Mae for the third roundthis time in her birthplace. Ironically Nova Scotia was a scene she had worked hard to get away from most of her life.
But not everything is easy. Just as the well advertised event was to happen, the burial was halted. “Annie Mae” remains were held for DNA testing by a team of Canadian lawyers working for one of the men recently indicted for her murder, John Graham.
After a court order halted the new burial of Annie Mae, DNA testing was completed. According to advocate for the Graham Defense campaign (who asked to remain anonymous): “Anne Mae’s family did a test of their own which showed no DNA could be found, so John’s lawyers dropped their request.” Annie Mae was then settled into her new/old home on June 21, 2004.
Without A Net
In March 2003 TWO Indian men, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were indicted for the murder of their friend, Annie Mae, with the threat of at least four other indictments pending. This is an execution committed over 28 years ago. So understandably to some this brutal murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash is very old news. But Annie Mae’s memory has not yet been brought to justice. Even after a trial and the recent conviction of Looking Cloud, the circumstances of her death are as much a mystery today as they were when her body was found in February 1976.
There are still many unanswered questions. What project was she working on in Minneapolis before her death, something which would cause the government to increase its attacks on her ??? Was Annie Mae REALLY killed on December 12 1975 as all the current prosecution theories suggest?? If so, what about letters to loved ones some claim Annie Mae wrote during Christmas 1975?? And what about admitted FBI documents which state her body had been exposed for “one to two weeks” before it was found? As disclosed by more than one former FBI agent.
Before now an attempt to hold Annie Mae’s murderers accountable had never been pursued. Still. These current witch hunts, lead by the U.S. Attorney in South Dakota, have created an exhibit of creepy corruption which continues to reveal the danger of trusting a government to uphold moral standards they have repeatedly defied.
Enter a detective in Denver, Colorado. Some BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) agents and a handful of people spreading propaganda to the media. And bingo! The indictment against two Indian men in March 2003 has revealed more about how Homeland Security posing as saviour impacts our lives than anything about who actually killed Annie Mae. One of the accused was a teenager at the time, a young AIM foot soldier. The other, her dear friend. John Graham. And nailed to the Ashcroft cross they have been/are.
John Graham was arrested in Canada Dec. 2003 where he currently fights extradition to the United States. Looking Cloud was found guilty after a three and one half day trial in which there was no physical evidence, no weapon, a village of hearsay rumors and a sketchy denial of Miranda rights.
Under the new Patriot Act the arrests were easy, and the Looking Cloud conviction pitiful. Rumors had been circulating for years, many planted by Federal employees themselves. There is little surprise that no one from the Federal Government has been charged with threatening the life of Anna Mae, though there are witnesses and evidence to that effect.
And so the witch hunt continues. Conducted by characters some might call clowns. With Homeland Security “laws” allowing surveillance freely, there are infiltrated support groups, phone taps streamline for techno illiterate, troublesomecomputer hackings and bought off media editorials. All of these invasions of “privacy” have become practices which would make the Bill of Rights guys quiver.
This quiet collective shift from justice to railroading with tar and feather as an encore was clearly evident in February 2004, in a Federal Building in South Dakota. As a court of the most flagrant colonizer debauchery convened. That is, a circus emerged that month in Rapid City, South Dakota. It became a place where heroes fell without a net. It was the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud.
Looking Cloud Trial
Looking Cloud, Lakota , held for one year without bail on a charge where there were no eye witnesses to the murder, no weapons and no evidence had a statement taken, yes “stolen” from him following his arrest. Videotaped during his interrogation, Looking Cloud had no attorney present and admitted to his interrogators that he was drunk when they pulled him in for the session. The video—was it tampered with, who knows–was presented as pivotal “evidence” in his conviction. The authenticity of the tape was never publicly challenged by the “defense”. But yes he HAD been telling varied stories about driving Annie Mae in a car with a man who killed her.
Ever since Looking Cloud was released from a series of Federal prison stays Looking Cloud had begun that story. Which for the prior 24 years no one had ever heard before. This is where the rumors step in. The tape convicted Looking Cloud, along with an array of hearsay evidence from prosecution witnesses which would make a Saturday Night Live skit look lame. Their testimonies were nearly all a mirage, infused with “heat”, a two-lane desert summer highway head-on of court appointed, rumour mongering, hearsay. A collection of “she said he saids” that would make a kindergarten teacher monitoring the bullies cringe.
Of the over 20 prosecution witnesses many of them were old AIM members, people who were noticeably shaken and often mouthing what appeared to be “scripted” testimony. Most notorious and difficult to fathom were the presence of John Trudell and Ka-Mook Banks, testifying for a prosecution, a government who had once/may still threaten their own lives. It really did start feeling like a B grade movie without the popcorn.
Some of these “witnesses” had been friends with the accused, even been in Sundance camp together. So. Why did someone like Trudell turn State? Many people are still troubled by this fact. Yet here is the underlying truth. It is documented that many of these “witnesses” were offered immunity from being indicted for Annie Mae’s murder themselves, in exchange for their testimony. They just had to say something about what they had heard. About the murder. From somewhere. Rumors–potentially planted by the FBI themselves–rumors about the murder had been circulating for years, so talking about the talk wasn’t hard to do.
Didn’t matter where the “witnesses” got their information. In a late night hotel room. Or in the back of a bar. The “drunk Indian”, Looking Cloud, watched all this silently and was found guilty of murdering Annie Mae Pictou Aquash. Within only four days Looking Cloud was convicted by a jury who deliberated about 7 hours. Found guilty he was. At a trial that was postponed three times. Postponed because the prosecution was holding the accused without bail, hoping he would plea bargain.
Early on Looking Cloud was presented with a series of offers by the prosecution to set him free–if he would name names of old AIM leadership. He refused and was used as vehicle of terror himself.
It seems I heard a chorus in the lobby after the trial was over. “This is what happens to people who don’t co-operate with the Homeland Security daddies.”
The message seemed pretty hard to miss. The defense attorney, a man who the presiding judge refused to let the defendant dismiss– early on– that “defense” attorney called ONE witness. A former FBI agent. Go figure. In late April 2004 Looking Cloud was sentenced to life in prison. For a murder he said someone else had done. He named John Graham. Washing his hands of guilt like a tired Roman soldier. But perhaps it was not the guilt of murder which was so eery. It was more Looking Cloud seeming to lie about where he was and why. That was the pain which pounded inside a chest of questions. All the while those slides of Annie Mae’s bruised wrists and her daughters love ringing in our ears.
Reckoning Winds of the Yukon, John Graham
“She was my friend. I did whatever she needed me to do back then.” This a quote from the second man indicted for the murder of Annie Mae, John Graham. The man now accused of pulling the trigger. Graham was Annie Mae’s close friend, confidant and brother. He and his family insist on his innocence. From an as yet unpublished interview I did with Graham in April 2004, his connection to Annie Mae is explained. And the painful irony of his being accused of her murder revealed. “She was strong and taught me a lot about how to survive and live. She asked me to help her hide from the FBI and I took her to where she thought she would be safe”.
Graham never saw Annie Mae alive again. In that interview Graham insists that he was only accused of killing his friend AFTER he refused to name as her murderers leaders of old AIM. Dennis Banks, John Trudell, the Bellecourt brothers were some of the names suggested to him as those he could claim killed her.
“Special U.S. agents kept coming up to Canada, looking for me. Several years ago they found me telling me testify against these AIM leaders or we’ll say YOU killed her. I refused to lie.” According to Graham he was threatened with a murder indictment if he refused to co-operate. He never named anyone and apparently the agents made good on their word. In December 2003 in Vancouver, B.C. John Graham was arrested for the execution of Annie Mae and the defense attorney of a former “acquaintance”, Arlo Looking Cloud, claimed that Graham pulled the trigger that killed her.
But John Graham is not convicted by the U.S. yet. He lives in Vancouver, B.C. under house arrest, is currently fighting extradition to the United States and insists on his innocence. He and his family/friends are convinced of the fact that he will never receive a fair trial in the U.S. Seems like it didn’t take a psychic friend to help them with that conclusion. So. Graham works with a team of lawyers who will challenge the United States in December, 2004, the beginning date of Graham’s extradition hearing. Canada, the diminished step sister of America, will dare to defy the demand to hand over one of her citizens, Graham, a member of a sovereign First Nation in the Yukon. In this way some people are resisting America’s new laws.
Predictably a campaign against Graham has risen since the Looking Cloud trial. Groups with sketchy leadership and hollow history have surfaced threatening Graham and his supporters. These anti-Graham people write slanderous articles on the internet, send email death threats and hover around benefits, feeding the media lies and accusatory statements regarding people who dare support Graham.
Old Radicals Emerge
Anyone who watched Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 might remember the segment about a Peace Group in Fresno, California. Where cookie eating yuppies were infiltrated by hungry police who monitored the Peaceniks “threatening” activities. Take that reality and multiply by one thousand. This is the sum of fragmented parts in Indian Country right now.
For instance. Working as a freelance journalist for Pacifica Radio Los Angeles I covered that trial of Arlo Looking Cloud in Rapid City, South Dakota this past winter. After four days of 10 minute per day news coverage my news director and I received a series of death threats from “unknown” sources.. Determined to round up and arrest former leaders/activists of “radical political movements of the 60’s and 70’s” (as documented in a memo sent to U.S. Attorneys in all 50 states by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in June of 2003) naming us as terrorists, the Looking Cloud prosecution headed up by U.S. Attorney Robert Mandel from Pierre, South Dakota, proved to be foreshadowing how “the shadows of the past can hold our future hostage” (as posted on random flyers around Ashland town).
At the trial of Arlo Looking Cloud, the American Indian Movement (AIM) and it’s former leaders were actually the ones on trial. Repeatedly pictures of AIM protests and activities, from the early 70’s, were shown in the courtroom.
The opening statement to the jury was filled with descriptions of AIM as “savage militant Indians” who threatened and terrorized their own people. There was even the stunning admittance of Ka-Mook Banks, the wife of old AIM leader Dennis Banks, that she had been working for the FBI since 1989. She claimed to have “volunteered to be wired” by the FBI and then visited her former husband where she secretly taped the father of her own children.
More than once over the past few years. Ka-Mook was taken into secret custody right after her testimony at the Looking Cloud trial. Right after she spoke, on the stand, about her role with the FBI, her recent receipt from them of a $45,000 stipend and Ka-Mook’s attested desire to “cooperate” with FBI. She was the prize witness against AIM claiming people like her old friend Leonard Peltier to be a murderer and terrorist. After leaving the stand Ms. Banks was taken away by the FBI “for her own safety”.
“This was a kangaroo court ” explained Russell Means as the verdict of guilty was handed down. Means, former AIM leader and devoted attendee of the trial, vowed to help the Looking Cloud family appeal the verdict. Meantime this so-called trial proved that inside of Indian Country there are things which are being done, continue to done, which feed a ghastly disregard for life and truth. And there are still those who will resist this darkened trend. Witnessed by the number of us activists, independent journalists and artists who refuse to be silenced. We will not hope for change. We will become it.
America’s Fear Box
Someone at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Or. is quoted as saying a Pacifica radio show called Democracy Now! is “advocacy radio” and thus not legitimate to air. Hmm. Since when did advocacy become outlawed activity?? And condoning of censorship so flagrant?? Many of us sense that if we don’t advocate for brother/sister humans we are doomed.
Inside a homeland security staged trial it is apparent that not being afraid is our one ace in the velvet glove. We must be awake enough to bed down with Pandora and learn how Hope can betray action. Hope in its essence immobilizes and silences. And is monitored by fear. Action, a near extinct elixir, is essential. So.
Some of us must advocate for rebelling against a myth of mediocre existence. Freely. Know Hope is an opiate, Dreaming the poppy, and Speaking what you see the seed to surviving greed. Inside America’s Pandora Box the pulse of us unafraid fends off the late night raids. We are the place we imagine ourselves to be. In this way, the beat goes on.
John Graham will fight extradition, Arlo Looking Cloud will appeal his conviction and Americans have an election coming soon which could either serve or slay the truth. The dream. All People are One. Perhaps our time has come.