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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A murder in my past

Where to begin? If you have read my very early posts you have probably reached the correct conclusion that I was raised in a medium sized town by strict overly protective parents who monitored my TV viewing, my phone calls, my clothing and my friends (among other things). When I got my driver's license and a car, I developed a stellar ability to lie to my parents about my whereabouts.

I met these guys who owned a jewelry store. They were Vietnam vets and artistic hippies who designed and made mostly Native American silver jewelry. Really beautiful stuff. I had never met anyone like these guys. I used to go to their shop immediately after school and would stay until they closed engrossed in every word they said and soaking it all in.

One day Barry and Terry (sounds like a vaudeville act doesn't it?) asked me if I would like to go to a demonstration with them. (They were deeply involved in Native American causes) We would leave on Friday and come back late Monday. Sure, why not? So, I lied to my parents and told them I was going with my best friend to their lake cabin and would be back on Tuesday and off we went. I knew there was no phone at the cabin so my parents wouldn't be able to call and check and they completely trusted my best friends parents so all was great.

We traveled to Rapid City, Iowa prepared to demonstrate. This was June 27, 1975. I remember this date because it was my soon to be husband's birthdate. Once we got up there we discovered that there was not going to be a demonstration. Instead the plan was to BOMB THE MOUNT RUSHMORE TOURIST CENTER! uh nope. I don't think I'll participate in that. Talk about my daddy grounding me?? Once we discovered what they had planned, we decided to drive to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

When we arrived, things were really tense. People had been found dead in ditches. People had disappeared from their homes with no sign. Dinner on the table, TV still on but literally no one home and never seen again. Sniper shootings were becoming the norm. The reservation was out in the middle of nowhere. There were NO jobs on the reservation so anyone who wanted to work had to find a way into the nearest large city which is Denver (some 350 miles away). At one time the government had a bus that came to the rez twice daily to take residents into town and back again after work but once the Indians refused to part with the mineral rights to their lands, the government stopped the bus, effectively cutting the rez off from the rest of the world.

Then and now, Pine Ridge per captita is the poorest place in America with the highest crime rate in America. The unemployment rate is upwards of 95% at any time. Running water and inside bathrooms are a luxury. Many of the shacks have cardboard exterior walls and plastic windows. This in a state that sees record snow fall and temperature drops in the long winters.

At the time there was a real and bloody war raging between the two factions on the rez. The purebloods who refused to sell any part of their land to the government no matter what and the halfbreeds who wanted to sell the mineral rights off so that the poverty levels on the rez would be drastically reduced.

When we got to the rez it was abuzz with activity. Several AIM (American Indian Movement) groups from California and Oregon had come up. They were planting gardens and making repairs on some of the shacks. They helped the elderly to can vegetables and chop wood for the wood heating stoves. They were making a difference and I thought it was great. But there were also hired guns there who were like security guards to protect the purebloods (or traditionals) from what they called the "goon squads" who were thought to be carrying out the executions of purebreds in an attempt to intimidate them to sell the rights. Leonard Peltier was one of these armed guards.

During this period, the FBI COINTELPRO conducted a full-fledged counterinsurgency war against the American Indian Movement (AIM)—complete with death squads, disappearances and assassinations—not dissimilar to those conducted in third world countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala.

During this "Reign of Terror," some 64 local Native Americans were murdered and nearly 350 were subjected to non-lethal but serious physical assault.

Virtually all of the victims were either affiliated with AIM or their allies, the traditional tribal members.

The FBI had jurisdiction to investigate major crimes, yet these deaths were never adequately investigated or resolved. Nor did the FBI agents take any measures to curb the violence of the GOONs, with whom they closely collaborated.

I didn't know Leonard well but what I saw of him, I didn't like. He was, I think, from Louisiana and had been in serious trouble most of his life. He was, I thought, an opportunist who was there for the free room and board and the thrill of carrying a gun and acting like a bad ass. I will say it netted him LOTS of sex (though certainly not from me). I found him lacking in any type of class and didn't find him all that intelligent. But I stray.

I met this beautiful Canadian Indian (I believe she was a Micmac) named Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. She was like a beacon of light. She smiled and laughed and swung her thick lustrous hair about. She was tender and respectful to the elders and seemed to really care about helping them in any way she could. I really liked her. Unlike most of the Indian women I met that weekend, Anna Mae made me feel welcome. The rest of them treated me like I had a serious case of the cooties. They watched me and whispered but did not make me feel welcome.

After we got back home, I couldn't wait to go back. Didn't matter to my naive stupid self that people were being murdered and thrown in ditches all over the place up there, I just wanted to go back and hang out with the Indians.

We went back up there again in either late July or August, 1975. This time, the Anna Mae that I saw was not smiling and happy. She looked as if she had aged 10 years and was quiet and seemed on the verge of either tears or rage at all times. I heard through the grapevine that she had been publicly accused of being an FBI informant and had been threatened with her life by Leonard.

It was becoming somewhat public knowledge at Pine Ridge that Anna Mae was sleeping with Dennis Banks (the AIM leader at that time) although his wife was not aware of this fact, yet. I have always felt that this is the main reason that someone was able to spread gossip that she was an informant and make everyone believe it. No one approved nor liked the fact that she was sleeping with the married leader of the Pine Ridge AIM. The other women didn't like her to begin with, this just cemented their feelings.

I have always wondered why Anna Mae stayed in that situation. She had two beautiful daughters back home in Canada who were small at that time. Why didn't she just go home to her children or for that matter go back to California or Oregon where she had real friends who didn't think she was an informant. Why stay? There was no reason for it that I could see.

Things had heated up considerably. There were daily fights among the AIM members. No one trusted anyone. The only good point was one night when we sat around a campfire and several of the men had guitars and sang for us. Jackson Browne and Dan Fogelberg were among these men. That was a glorious night.

However, a couple of days later, we heard that the FBI had raided the house where Anna Mae was staying and she, Dino Butler and several others had been arrested. We decided it was time to go home.

So I went back to the safety of my home. I went back to being the daughter of a well respected and successful businessman with a mother who didn't work outside the home. I went back to worrying what I would wear that weekend and to planning my wedding for late that fall. I did that while Anna Mae was being kidnapped, tortured, then taken to the top of a bluff where she was put on her knees, shot in the back of the head and tossed down the bluff into a ditch. Witnesses (those convicted after 35 years) have said she cried, prayed and begged for her life and to see her children one more time. They kept her for nearly a week before finally killing her.

Anna's body was found on February 24, 1976. They buried her in an unmarked pauper's grave after cutting her hands off and sending them to the FBI for fingerprint identification. Although Anna Mae had been shot in the back of the head, the coroner determined she "died from exposure".

Even before her body had been found, Dennis Banks told John Trudell that Ann Mae had been shot in the back of the head and thrown in a ditch.

Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in 2004. Dick Marshall was acquitted this week on charges that he provided the gun used to murder Ann Mae. Thelma Rios and John Graham have been indicted (9-10-09) on murder, rape and kidnapping charges in Anna Mae's case.

35 years is a very long time for 2 little girls to have to live with the knowledge that their mother was raped, kidnapped, tortured, shot in the head and dumped in a ditch by "someone". I am very sad that this happened but I am very happy that her daughters have some sort of closure. I'm sure Anna Mae is happy about it too.