[Note: Today is 2.2.05.
The following interview of JoAnn Tall was conducted by News From Indian Country at Cheyenne Creek, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the Fall of 2001. It appeared in the January, 2004 edition. It is being published here, now, with special permission.
For those unfamiliar with JoAnn, click on this link. ]
The last time that I saw Anna Mae alive was at Crow Dog's, after the Sun Dance in 1975. That was around the time that Crow Dog was put up to labeling her an informant. That happened just that day. I was with Keith DeMaris and Sue Ferrar – a white woman from Minneapolis who was involved with Nogeeshik, Anna Mae's ex-husband. We were camping there, and we were right out there near the fire, and she was feeling real sad, and she was just wearing her boots, her Levis, and she had on a brown-fringed jacket. We all shared a cigarette by that fire, but she wasn't talkative that night – she hardly was anyway – but that was the day that Crow Dog labeled her an informant. She was feeling pretty bad that night, and we just had small talk.
Vernon Bellecourt accused me of being an FBI informant in October 1975. I was working at Red Schoolhouse then as a reading teacher aide for Eddie Banai; he was the Superintendent of Red Schoolhouse then. I came back from Ganienkeh in May 1975, and moved back to St. Paul and got acquainted through my aunt, Theresa Le Deaux, and Mary Earler; Mary Earler's mom, Monica, was a secretary to Ken Tilsen. That's how I had ties to the Tilsen's back then. So I was employed by Red Schoolhouse then, but during that time, late summer 1975, I came home just for a visit. I stopped in at my grandmother's, Mary Tall's, in upper housing in Manderson, and then Verdell Le Deaux came up and he said, "Uncle Russell wants you down there. There's one of your friends down there, and they need you down there right away." So I went down there, to my uncle's, below Manderson day school, and there was Stan Holder. I didn't recognize him at first, he was all in disguise, and he said he needed to talk to me and so we went behind my uncle's log house and talked. Stan said, "I need to leave out of the area. I'm on the run." And that was from that trial there in Cedar Rapids, and he went underground and asked for my help to get him a place for a while until he could regroup, because he had his family with him. I said that the only place I could think of was where my allies were, up at Ganienkeh in Mohawk country in Adirondacks in upper state New York. That's where I sent a letter, and then sent Stan Holder up there.
When he was over there, he contacted me again and said he needed to see me. So then, through Red Schoolhouse, I raised my own money. My sister, Betty Janis, came after me in her car from South Dakota to St. Paul, and we took three students with us and my son, Flint, and went up there to Ganienkeh to see what was going on with Stan. He was just feeling that he was getting closed-in on, although he was safe with the Mohawk people, but he said he was tired of running and dragging his family along, and he wanted to give himself up. He asked if he could come back with us to St. Paul because he wanted to talk to Ken Tilsen. So we brought him back and I set-up the meeting with Ken Tilsen. I thought he would be the only one to come and see Stan, but when Ken came to that meeting at my apartment, Vernon Bellecourt was with him – that was October 1975. When they came, my sister and I took the kids and left. When we came back that evening Stan was real pissed-off. He said, "That son-of-a-bitch Bellecourt, guess what he said about you?" I said, what did he say? Stan said, "Bellecourt asked me, 'What are you doing with that woman, don't you know that she can't be trusted?"' He labeled me an informant. So Stan got pissed-off and stuck up for me, saying that he knew me from when I was real young and had moved to Oklahoma, and that's where I joined the Movement, down there in Oklahoma.
That really ticked me off, Vernon labeling me an informant. He didn't even know me. Why did he label me that? And up to this day I've never confronted him to ask him, "Why did you name me as an informant?" When I realized what had happened to Anna Mae – she was quiet, pretty much a woman that kept to herself, she was reserved. I didn't know her as well as the women in Oglala. But when she was killed, what came to mind, and it still comes to mind, is that if people hadn't known me, I probably would have been "offed" too, somewhere along the way, with the AIM leaders' directives, with their vendettas they had against strong women back in those days. I think a lot of that had to do with jealousy, because when you didn't follow these guys, they were out to point you out as informants or whatever.
My only connection to John Boy, Theda, or Arlo came through my sister Betty who used to live with Arlo in Rapid City. Back then we didn't know that he was directly involved in Anna Mae's murder. I think I knew about Theda's involvement through the Kings, Josie and LeVone King, from Kyle, through their conversations. I used to hang out with them at Crow Dog's; other than the time I camped with Keith DeMaris in 1975, I used to camp with the Kings at Crow Dog's. So I knew that Theda was involved in it back then. When I think back about Vernon Bellecourt, he was kind of a slick-dressed guy. I think the first time that I seen him was at Lincoln High School, they had a powwow there in Denver, and Vernon looked like a white guy; he was well-dressed, and I guess he was a hairdresser or something back then. I didn't even know that he was affiliated with AIM at that point. Vernon's involved, I can say that, he's involved. I don't know if he's the one that directly ordered Anna Mae hit, but he was involved in some way. Like, way back, when our people had ceremonies back then to find out who did this to Anna Mae, it was told that there was three men – that it was three men and that the truth will come out. The only thing I can say for Arlo and John Boy is that they were young guys then, and those young guys were real impressionable at that age. In their minds they were like the foot soldiers or the Dog Soldiers, and they did everything and anything that they were told to do by the higher-up leaders, or the people in command. And these kids got used, and it's wrecked their lives. This is something that they have to live with and take to their graves.
Although I didn't know Anna Mae real well, to this day it is real painful to me. Michael Apted came with Bruce Ellison to ask me about different things to do with the movie Thunderheart, and just their probing brought out different feelings and memories. Afterwards it was really painful, because it was like they opened up a wound. After they left I really cried, and that night a car pulled-in, and I think it was Regina Brave and Wilma Blacksmith from Oglala, and I guess Bruce had made the rounds there too, to interview them. They were feeling out-of-sorts too, and so they came to my house. We cooked-up a meal and sat around visiting all that night, and when we started talking about Anna Mae somebody knocked on the window at us from the outside. When we peeked out, there was nobody there. She was - or somebody was - letting us know that they were hearing us and that they were there. We just all cried together. Jean Belt had a pipe with her, and at daybreak we prayed for Anna Mae. We prayed with that pipe that the truth would come out. The truth is close to coming out, but it's still painful. Here was this strong woman, she didn't hurt anybody, and she had children – but they didn't think of her as being this. Although she's not of my nation, I look upon her as a Lakota woman who was strong, who had children, and was a single parent. They didn't have to kill her the way they did.
The Raping of a Martyr
An interview with Denise Pictou-Maloney on the death of her mother, Annie Mae Aquash
Support the extradition of John Graham
Indigenous Women for Justice
Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash and Ray Robinson Jr. Justice Fund
One of the first AIM people to suspect that Douglass Durham was some sort of government agent was Anna Mae Pictou Aquash...
Anna Mae Archive