Afederal grand jury in Rapid City took
testimony this month on the slaying 27
years ago of American Indian
Movement member Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash,
according to a woman who testified.
A rancher found the frozen body of Aquash,
a member of Mi’kmaq Tribe of Nova Scotia,
Canada, on Feb. 24, 1976, north of Wanblee, on
the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She had
been shot once in the head, execution style.
Aquash had been taken from Troy Lynn
Yellow Wood’s home in Denver in late 1975. In
an interview, Yellow Wood said she testified
Jan. 14 before a grand jury in Rapid City. “She
had been brought to my house as a place of
refuge. To hide, basically. That’s about all I can
say. She was at my home,” Yellow Wood said.
The Rapid City grand jury is latest of
several to take up the case over the years.
Grand juries meet in secret. Federal
investigators and prosecutors can’t speak about
pending cases until someone has been indicted
and arrested, so they would not confirm if
jurors took testimony.
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to comment
on that,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert
Mandel of Rapid City.
Talk in Indian Country about possible new
evidence revisits a turbulent time in the
reservation’s history when tensions between
AIM members and government-backed
factions turned deadly.
Aquash was among Indian militants who
occupied the village of Wounded Knee for 71
days in 1973. Her death three years later and
the various probes that followed have left some
with more questions than answers, wondering
if the latest investigation will yield anything.
“There’ve been so many and then nothing
happens. I’ve quit holding my breath,” said
Aquash friend Candy Hamilton of Oglala, who
testified at a previous hearing and was with
Aquash in Rapid City shortly before she was
Hamilton said Friday she had no idea her
friend would end up dead when she last saw
her. Now that there’s another investigation, “I
expect there’s some pretty nervous people,” she
Russell Means, an activist turned actor and
politician, testified about the case before a
federal grand jury in November 1999 in Sioux
Falls. At the time, he accused senior AIM
members of ordering the execution because
Aquash knew which of them were federal
informants. Others have said Aquash was killed
because she was an informant.
Means said federal investigators have had
the information they need to arrest someone for
years. “It’s perplexing and frustrating,” he said
this week from the Pine Ridge reservation.
Vernon Bellecourt, now director of
international affairs with AIM in Minneapolis,
dismisses Means’ accusation that Bellecourt
and other AIM leaders had anything to do with
“I don’t know if he’s trying to draw
attention to himself or what,” Bellecourt said.
He thinks the responsibility rests with the
“Why did they say they couldn’t identify
her and sent her hands to Washington?”
Bellecourt asked. That’s a reference to what
happened after Aquash’s body was found.
At the first autopsy, the local coroner, Dr.
W.O. Brown, ruled she died of exposure to the
cold. Then FBI agents cut off the hands and
sent them to Washington for identification.
Authorities later identified the body as Aquash.
A second autopsy by Minneapolis
pathologist Garry Peterson revealed she had
been shot in the back of the head with a .38-
caliber handgun. Brown then wrote that he
“inadvertently overlooked” the bullet, although
Peterson said a nurse at the first autopsy
remembered seeing blood flowing from the
head wound. Federal authorities have
repeatedly denied any involvement.
“We are still actively investigating it
but I can’t go any further than that,” said Mark
Vukelich, Rapid City FBI supervisor.
Because Aquash was a Canadian citizen,
people north of the border know her story well.
One of Aquash’s daughters, Denise Maloney
Pictou of Toronto, was 11 when her mother was
killed. She said the family is surprised the case
has lingered so long. “A Canadian woman was
murdered on American soil and nothing was
done about it,” Pictou said. “It seems to be
more than a visible border, as far as the justice