For many years, I supported the campaign to free American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who had been convicted, many said wrongly, of the death of two federal agents in a shoot out on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Even Amnesty International signed on to his case. But after moving to Maine, I learned more about the murder of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash, and I began to have reservations. I stopped my support, but didn’t really know how to speak about it.
Yesterday, via my friend Sherri Mitchell’s Facebook feed, I started to listen to a live feed of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls that was taking place in Montreal. Denise Pictou Maloney was testifying about the death of her mother Annie Mae. I listened for an hour and a half, and then after she had completed, I went back to hear what I had missed at the beginning of the tape.
Annie Mae was a leader in the American Indian Movement, originally from the Mi’kmaq First Nation at Indian Brook Reserve in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. I first learned about Annie Mae in the song by Buffy St. Marie, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, in which she sang,
My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she’d died of exposure
The implication, the narrative, the story so many of us believed for many years, was that she was killed by the FBI. But in fact, the truth later came out that she was killed by other AIM members. In 2004 and 2010, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were convicted of her kidnapping and murder. They also implicated AIM leadership in her death, though no one was ever charged. You can find out a lot more if you listen to the tape of Denise’s testimony, or even if you look up Annie Mae on Wikipedia.
Hearing the pain in Denise’s voice moved me to want to speak publicly this time. It feels risky to do so, because, as a white person who tries to be an ally, a co-conspirator, with Indigenous people, I know that I will always know too little about all of this. I do know that the FBI tried to sow dissension in the ranks of activist movements, especially those of Indigenous people and people of color. This included planting informants within the movements, and also casting suspicion on dedicated activists to cause others to suspect that they might be informants. This is one theory about the motive for killing Annie Mae. Another theory claims she was challenging AIM leaders on their behavior, or that she had heard Leonard brag about killing the agents. I don’t know the answers to that.
But I want to speak today, despite not knowing all the answers, because I have in the past spoken in support of Leonard Peltier. Denise talked about how painful it has been for their family, every time there is more public support for Leonard. So I want to interrupt my own participation in that process, (which most lately has been through my silence), and let my friends and colleagues know that I can no longer support Leonard Peltier’s campaign for release from prison. And I also want to acknowledge how difficult a journey we make when we intend to be allies or co-conspirators. We often make mistakes and get it wrong. But that does not make it less worthwhile to try, to show up for what is right.
What I carry away with me today is sadness and anger. Sadness and anger for the fall of heroes–the leaders we wanted to be better than they were, because the cause they fought for was so important. Sadness and anger for the children and family and friends of Annie Mae, who have waited so long for the world to know the real story, and often feel as if their voices are not welcome because the truth interrupts the stories people want to believe. Sadness and anger that in my ignorance as an outsider, I was drawn in to the narrative, and thus contributed to their sorrow. Sadness and anger at the insidious complexity of colonization and oppression, and the brokenness within all of us left in its wake.
Thank you for always digging deeper as you seek the truth, and for your willingness to show us your heart. I dearly hope you will continue this blog stop the we can continue to hear your voice. This line will stay with me: ” …often feel as though their voices are not welcome because the truth interrupts the stories people want to believe.” That you.
Thanks Cathryn, and I do plan to continue the blog…
Thank you for this posting and shining a light on Leonard Peltier and the terrible injustices to Anna Mae and her family. Thank you also for the link so I could also listen to the testimony. I noticed something in your statement. You named one of the men Looking Horse. In the tape it names the man as LOOKING CLOUD. I know of the work of a man of peace whose name is Looking Horse and a similar first name. I would just be worried there could be confusing. Thank you for this post.
Thanks Beth, and I’ve made the correction to the name!
Thank you 😊
Thank you for posting this research. I have many American Indian cousins through a great-uncle’s marriage. My heart breaks for Anna-Marie’s daughters and family. Now I understand President Obama’s decision not to release Mr. Peltier whom I had supported until I read your narrative.
Thank you for your comment. It is a heart-breaking situation.
First, Leonard and Anna Mae were friends. The first thing out of HIS mouth at HIS sentencing was to seek justice for Anna Mae Aquash and Joseph Stuntz, Jr.
Second, Leonard Peltier was NOT even in this country. He was in Canada at the time she died. He was literally hiding for his life and had no access to even a phone booth.
Third, Lookingcloud and Graham’s defense never even called one witness in their defense although there were many subpoenaed for their defense.
Fourth, Why does no one listen to ANNA MAE? She said, “It does not matter if the FBI pulls the trigger or it’s one of my own people they managed to turn — the FBI is going to kill me.”
Fifth, Anna Mae was found dead after Leonard had been in Canada for a year. She told people she would be killed soon, and to look to the FBI. Agent Price said he would see her dead if she did not testify against Leonard.
Six, 2 people said those exact words about “bragging”. Myrtle PoorBear, Kamook. Agent Price showed PoorBear pictures of Anna Mae’s desecrated body and said, “This will happen to you too if you do not say what we want.” PoorBear was developmentally disabled and terrorized. Kamook (Dennis Banks’ wife who later married BIA/FBI investigator) was paid 43,000.00 dollars for her testimony regarding Leonard was ruled “not truth” by the court.
7. The head of AIM at the time of her death was John Trudell. It would be interesting if they did investigate. Another person who should be investigated would be, some say, Herb Powless who was facing charges for weapons after he and Anna Mae were pulled over and his license plate had been removed from car. It is said that she was supposed to testify against him. People have been known to say that Powless said “hold her (Anna Mae) until I get there” to Theda Clark on the telephone upon learning that Anna Mae had been taken to South Dakota.
8. Anna Mae was supposed to testify as a defense witness in Peltier case.