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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 10:20 GMT
Murder mystery on the reservation
by Chris Summers
BBC News Online

She died an enigma, and in the 28 years since she has become almost a martyr to the cause of North American Indians.

Anna Mae Aquash was an activist with the American Indian Movement and this week a former American Indian Movement (AIM) activist goes on trial accused of her murder.

Edgar Bear Runner on the Pine Ridge Reservation
Edgar Bear Runner, an Oglala Lakota, stands beside the grave of Anna Mae Aquash
Prosecutors claim she was murdered in December 1975 but the motive remains clouded in mystery. One theory is that she was an FBI informant.

Arlo Looking Cloud, an alcoholic vagrant arrested in Denver, says he is innocent of the murder.

Many people had suspicions about Anna Mae because she often seemed to be around when the FBI raided AIM premises but never went to jail.

Born Anna Mae Pictou in 1945 in a Micmac Indian village outside Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, she grew up in Canada with a deep awareness of her roots.

Her pride in her Indian origins was strengthened, rather than undermined, by racial slurs from white Canadian children when she went to a mixed school.

Indian rights struggle

In 1962 she moved across the US border to work in Boston, met another Micmac youth and started a family, giving birth to two daughters.

Arlo Looking Cloud in picture from Denver police
He did not kill her, he did not help to kill her and he did not know that she was going to be killed. This was a complete surprise to him
Tim Rensch
Arlo Looking Cloud's attorney
During the 1960s Anna Mae became more and more involved in radical Indian rights campaigns.

In 1973 she moved to South Dakota with her new husband, Nogeeshik Aquash, a Chippewa Indian, to help with the "struggle" and participated in the Wounded Knee siege.

She later had an affair with AIM leader Dennis Banks, who had been acquitted of conspiracy and assault in relation to the stand-off.

By the summer of 1975 she was back on Pine Ridge, working side by side with her AIM comrades.

But she left shortly before the two FBI agents were shot dead and by the time she was released on bail in September many AIM members suspected she was an informant.

It was widely thought that the FBI only agreed to bail her because they hoped she would lead them to Banks and Peltier.

Anna Mae, who had always been a deeply spiritual person, predicted her own death.

Robert Ecoffey at his office in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Policeman Robert Ecoffey, who has spent years investigating Anna Mae's murder
In November 1975 she told a reporter: "If they take me back to South Dakota I'll be murdered."

A month earlier, as she bade farewell to her friend and fellow AIM activist John Trudell in California, she told him: "I'll talk to you through the rain."

In December 1975 she rang her sister Mary and said: "They're out to kill me. They'll get me if the FBI doesn't get me first."

The "they" is thought to refer to her erstwhile AIM comrades.

Denials

In February 1976 her body was found beside a remote road on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Wild animals had eaten away much of her face and the FBI later removed both her hands, claiming they needed to be sent off to check fingerprints for her identity.

Peltier has always denied any involvement in events leading to Anna Mae's death and recently threatened to sue a US journalist for defamation over an article which implicated him.

Dave Hill, a spokesman for the Leonard Peltier Defence Committee, said there were similarities between the cases of Peltier and Graham and added: "Leonard was extradited from Canada based on fabricated evidence and the Canadians are wary of doing that again."

Leonard Peltier remains a powerful symbol for many American Indians
Looking Cloud's attorney, Tim Rensch told BBC News Online: "He is absolutely and completely innocent. He did not kill her, he did not help to kill her and he did not know that she was going to be killed. This was a complete surprise to him."

The trial is expected to hear evidence that Anna Mae had been abducted by Looking Cloud and Graham on the orders of senior AIM leaders.

One of the founders of AIM, Russ Means, said he had testified to a grand jury about who was behind the killing of Anna Mae and he added: "She wasn't an informant but she found out that a senior AIM leader was an informant and that is why he ordered her killed."

Bob Ecoffey, the detective who believes he has cracked the case, said: "There has been a change of attitude on the reservation over the years. People came forward and wanted justice for Anna Mae and her children."

Mr Ecoffey, himself an Oglala Sioux, and his partner Detective Abe Alonzo from Denver, both claim to have been guided by Anna Mae's spirit.

This isn't a battle between what's left of AIM and the FBI, this is a struggle to bring justice for one of our sisters, who was kidnapped, brutalised and murdered
Indigenous Women for Justice
"I feel that The Creator gave us guidance to do the right thing and Anna Mae was there all along wanting the right thing done because what was done to her was not right," said Mr Ecoffey.

A spokeswoman for the Indigenous Women for Justice campaign said: "This isn't a battle between what's left of AIM and the FBI, this is a struggle to bring justice for one of our sisters, who was kidnapped, brutalised and murdered."

But Frank King, publisher of the Native Voice newspaper, said: "Arlo was a drunk and a vagrant and when you're living that kind of life like that and someone offers you $50 to say something you take it.

"He may have talked himself into a life sentence for the sake of some drinking money."




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