by Carson Walker
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP)
The family of slain American Indian Movement activist Anna Mae Pictou Aquash exhumed her remains from an Oglala cemetery April 22 so they can be reburied on her home reservation in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Denise Maloney of Toronto, Aquash’s older daughter, would not discuss it but did issue a statement saying the family also plans to give prosecutors an audio tape transcript implicating AIM leaders.
Maloney wrote that her mother “began her journey home this morning... to the warmth and security of her family and people – to be near their hearts, for inside their hearts is where her spirit has always been.”
The ceremony, which included words and songs in Aquash’s native Mi’kmaq language, freed her “from 28 years of darkness,” wrote Maloney, executive director of Indigenous Women for Justice.
Among those present were her sister, Debbie Maloney; their father, Jake Maloney; and Aquash’s sister, Mary Lafford.
Charlie Rooks of the Sioux Funeral Home in Pine Ridge said the disinterment took about two hours. “It was a very comforting time for all those involved,” he said. “That there’s some closure with her being returned to her tribe in Canada.”
Aquash was killed in December 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation because AIM leaders suspected her of being a government spy, according to witnesses at the Rapid City trial of Arlo Looking Cloud of Denver, one of two men charged with the murder.
He was convicted in February and was sentenced on April 23 to life in prison, and must serve at least 10 years before his first parole hearing.
A motion for DNA testing by Looking Cloud’s new attorney, Terri Gilbert, to determine if Aquash was raped was denied by the judge.
The other man, John Graham, has pleaded not guilty and plans to fight extradition from Vancouver, British Columbia.
A rancher found Aquash’s frozen body in February 1976 in a ravine in the Badlands. She died of a gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Maloney said in her statement that AIM member Bill Means had Aquash buried on land owned by his family so he could say “he would not have arranged that if she had been an informer whose death AIM leaders had ordered.”
At Looking Cloud’s trial, John Trudell, AIM chairman at the time, testified he believes Graham, Looking Cloud and fellow AIM member Theda Clarke were ordered to kill Aquash during a stop at Means’ house.
Maloney said Aquash’s family will turn over to prosecutors a transcript of an audio tape of AIM co-founder Vernon Bellecourt in which he allegedly acknowledges investigating Aquash because of evidence that she was an informant.
On the tape, Bellecourt also says Graham, Looking Cloud and Clarke kidnapped Aquash, drove her to places where she was held, questioned about being an informant and then killed, Maloney said.
Maloney wrote that Bellecourt said his brother, Clyde Bellecourt, was at Means’ house when Clarke and Graham stopped by before taking Aquash to be killed.
“(Vernon) Bellecourt acknowledges that Looking Cloud was holding Anna Mae outside Means’ house. We shall be presenting this transcript with corroborating material to federal prosecutors, at which time we shall also urge the U.S. attorney to indict Theda Clarke – age does not absolve murder,” Maloney wrote.
Clarke, who has not been charged, is elderly and lives in a nursing home in western Nebraska.
Vernon Bellecourt denied any involvement and has blamed the FBI.
“I have never stated anything like that,” Vernon Bellecourt said April 22, in response to Maloney’s allegations.
“I have no idea what she’s talking about. To this day I don’t know who shot Anna Mae Aquash.”
Clyde Bellecourt said he often stays at Means’ house when he’s in South Dakota but was never present for a conversation that included orders to kill Aquash. “Everyone in the movement knows I would not allow anything like that to take place,” he said April 22.
Means could not be reached for comment.
Clarke’s niece, Troy Lynn Yellow Wood of Denver, said during mid-April that Clarke wouldn’t be credible because she has Alzheimer’s disease.
Yellow Wood, from whose house Aquash was taken before her death, did say she hopes those who ordered the killing acknowledge it.
“I would like to see a little bit of courageousness on their part,” she said. “Those persons who are responsible are responsible to make the restoration.”
Prosecutors are not allowed to discuss pending cases and have refused to say if Clarke or anyone else will be indicted.
Aquash was among the Indians who occupied the village of Wounded Knee for 71 days in 1973 – a standoff that became a symbol of 1970s Indian conflicts. Her slaying occurred amid a series of violent clashes between federal agents and AIM leaders calling for treaty rights and self-determination for Indians.
Maloney said one reason family members wanted Aquash’s remains exhumed was to prevent Vernon Bellecourt from holding another ceremony at the grave denying he had anything to do with the killing.
“The prospect of such abuse prompted us to act now. No longer will we allow Anna Mae to be exploited by those who contributed to her suffering,” Maloney wrote.
“Piece by piece, the 28-year lie is being dismantled and those who conspired and ordered the murder of Anna Mae are being exposed.”