Anna Mae's Spirit Reaches Out
by Doug George-Kanentiio
The February 6th conviction of Arlo Looking Cloud for his role in the 1975 murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash represents a glimmer of hope to other Native people who have lost family members at the hands of killers still at large.
Mr. Looking Cloud was not alone in his actions as Russell Means pointed out in his post trial comments. He allegedly acted on the orders of others who have, up to this point, escaped justice. Mr. Looking Cloud's attorney should have been more vigorous in his defense of his client. He had key suspects actually sitting in the court during the trial in Rapid City and could have easily subpoenaed them to testify before the jury to substantiate the claims that Looking Cloud was a mere patsy for the real culprits.
The murder of Ms. Pictou-Aquash has been a heavy cloud over the American Indian Movement, even as far east as Iroquois territory. There have long been rumors that she was assassinated because of allegations she was an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, charges which have never been substantiated. We here in the east never bought into these innuendoes, it was just too easy to dismiss her violent death as the work of wayward agents.
The Iroquois realized there were critical divisions tearing apart the Movement during that era. The FBI had been successful in infiltrating AIM's ranks at the highest level which, when discovered, contributed to an existing aura of suspicion, competition, organizational instability and territoriality. There was also serious doubts about giving blanket support to a group which was not under the control of traditional leaders, had a reputation for substance abuse and treated women rather badly. All of these allegations, true or not, greatly impeded AIM's ability to recruit members or establish chapters within the Haudenosaunee territory.
That AIM had a great effect on Native history is without question. Some of its tactics were adopted by the younger Iroquois who believed the American and Canadian authorities had for too long had their way controlling Native people and it was time to confront those bureaucrats head-on.
At Onondaga, Kahnawake and Akwesasne their were periodic clashes with the external police as the Iroquois began to flex their rights as indigenous peoples. When the call went out for support the Movement was responsive. Some key members, including my late brother-in-law "Cartoon" (a Shawnee from Oklahoma and cofounder of the AIM chapter in that state), lent advice on tactics, strategy and training. Without them the current income generating activities on Iroquois territory, ranging from casino gambling to tobacco sales, would not have been possible.
But there were the rumors about what actually happened to Anna Mae. This was particularly troublesome in a matrilineal society, one which has always respected the role of women as lifegivers and tailored its social and political systems accordingly. Iroquois women walked along side their partners, not behind them. For a Native woman, and a mother, to be dumped into a gully to be consumed by the elements and to have that murder inadequately investigated by AIM or the FBI was reprehensible.
Anna Mae's spirit. more than any other factor, has plagued AIM for the past 27 years. The Iroquois firmly believe those in the spirit world have their own powers and may well exercise considerable influence in this dimension. Our most important ceremonies are meant to assure a peaceful journey for the dead which in turn brings healing and spiritual stability to the living. Anna Mae's spirit was never reconciled in an appropriate manner.
Those who caused her death interrupted her life's work. They brought great pain to her family. They must address her spirit (along with any others who have died under similar circumstances) and give their own lives, if the Pictou family so desires, as compensation. Only then will healing begin and the Movement reborn. This is the true old way, an ancient tradition the founders of AIM once pledged themselves to uphold.
Anna Mae, the Pictou family, the M'ikmaq Nation and all Indigenous peoples are waiting.
[Note: Doug George-Kanentiio, Mohawk, is the former editor of Akwesasne Notes and now resides in Oneida, New York where he is married to the composer/singer, Joanne Shenandoah. He was also a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association.]