The recent discussion about the new HBO film Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee on bfp’s blog got me to thinking about Annie Mae Pictou Aquash. Annie Mae was a Mi’kmaq from Nova Scotia, Canada, who came to South Dakota in 1973 to work with the American Indian Movement‘s occupation of Wounded Knee almost 100 years later. Her actions were part of a growing internationalism amongst activists of color that reflected both a deep commitment to the singularity of their own culture’s oppression(s) and a profound understanding of how these oppressions were part of a larger global strategy that united us across cultures. It was also part of her longstanding work with AIM begun in the 1960s.
In the three years that she struggled against American Imperialism within its own borders, and for the solidarity and strength of indigenous people’s in the Americas she became a powerful cross-border voice. So powerful, that she was the target of FBI investigations and planted accusations of being an informant on the movement to discredit her. Even after she distanced herself from factions that would later be accused of being the real FBI informants, she was seen as a threat. In late December 1975 she was murdered on the edges of Pine Ridge Rez and left out in the cold to be washed away by the elements.
The cover up of Annie Mae’s murder has been a 30+ year process. Not only was her body left out on the South Dakota highway in winter, her hands were cut off and sent to DC for identification, and her originally autopsy claimed she died of exposure. Even though the family was able to get a second autopsy shortly after her body was identified that clearly revealed the shot to the back of her head was the cause of death, the investigation dragged on.
Two triumphs came for Annie Mae early in this century: 1. In 2004 her body was finally returned to her family in Nova Scotia and 2. In 2003 two men believed to be responsible for her death, John Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud were indicted. Looking Cloud returned to South Dakota and stood trial where he was convicted to life in prison.
John Graham continues to evade extradition despite overwhelming testimony and evidence against him. All evidence points to Graham having been the one who shot Annie Mae that day on Pine Ridge.
In 2005 and again in 2006 the Canadian judiciary system determined that extradition should go through.
As of today, John Graham has not returned to be held accountable.
I do not wish to disrespect the family’s wishes that Annie Mae’s story not be subsumed by a political agenda or become just another name on the memory monument to lost poc, so I will simply say this: with each new wave of colonialism and neo-colonialism we lose some of our best and brightest, when we forget their words and their struggles we lose our own, and tho each struggle is unique the oppression of marginalized people globally is something many of these leaders understood and taught us, let us never forget to stand in solidarity with one another.