Anna Mae Aquash’s Activism

Published on January 14, 2012 by Carol

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Anna Mae Aquash
Anna Mae Aquash

Anna Mae Aquash (also known as Anna Mae Pictou Aquash or, legally, 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, Canada who became the highest-ranking woman in the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the United States during the mid-1970s.
Aquash participated in the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties and occupation of the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, DC; the Wounded Knee Incident in 1973; and armed occupations in Canada and Wisconsin in following years. On February 24, 1976, her body was found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota; she was determined to have been shot execution style. Born in Indian Brook 14, Hants County, Nova Scotia, Canada, Aquash was thirty years old at the time of her death.
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 Graham, but she pled 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. As of 2011, authorities continue to investigate the murder, as they believe that higher ranking AIM leader(s) ordered the execution in the mistaken suspicion that Aquash was an informant.

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Early life and education

Anna Mae Pictou was born into the Mi’kmaq First Nation at Indian Brook Reservation 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 reservation.

Marriage and family

In 1962 Anna Mae Pictou and Jake Maloney moved together 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

Activism

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. 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 protested 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 started a close relationship.
In 1973 Pictou and Aquash traveled together to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to join AIM activists and Oglala Lakota in what developed into the 71-day armed occupation of Wounded Knee. They were married there by Wallace Black Elk, a Lakota elder.
Now using the surname Aquash, in 1974 she was based mostly in Minneapolis, where she worked on the Red Schoolhouse project, for a culturally based school for Indian students. She participated in the armed occupation by Ojibway activists and AIM supporters at Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario in 1974, to protest treatment of Ojibway in Kenora and northwestern Ontario in relation to health, police harassment, education and other issues, and failures by the government’s Office of Indian Affairs. In January 1975, Aquash worked with the Menominee Warriors Society in the month-long armed occupation of the Alexian Brothers Novitiate at Gresham, Wisconsin. Her quick release on bond from two federal weapons-related arrests in 1975 heightened internal AIM rumors that Aquash might be a government informant. Leaders were nervous since they had discovered in late 1974 that Douglas Durham, a prominent member and by then appointed head of security for AIM, was an FBI informant. He was expelled from the organization in February 1975 at a public press conference.
According to her 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.” She was close to AIM leaders Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks, the latter with whom she had a sexual relationship beginning in the summer of 1974, which created jealousy among other members. She was considered the highest-ranking woman in AIM.[ Aquash worked until her death for the Elders and Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

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