Daughter of native rights activist wants apology from Assembly of First Nations

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash 1

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash.

HALIFAX – To many aboriginals, Leonard Peltier is a hero of the American native rights movement in the 1970s and a wrongfully convicted political prisoner whose story has inspired films, books, songs and T-shirt slogans.

But in the Mi’kmaq community of Indian Brook, N.S., the former member of the American Indian Movement is a largely reviled figure, considered unworthy of his cult-like status.

Those competing visions clashed Wednesday when the daughter of a murdered native rights activist from Indian Brook demanded an apology from the head of the Assembly of First Nations for suggesting Peltier should be freed from a U.S. prison.

Denise Maloney Pictou, daughter of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash, said Perry Bellegarde’s comments earlier this week were insensitive to the plight of murdered and missing aboriginal women because of Peltier’s ties to the men convicted of killing Aquash in 1975.

“To have an entity like the AFN endorse him marks a sad day,” Pictou said in an interview. “It sends a mixed message … It’s certainly a slap in the face.”


Leonard Peltier, Native American Prisoner of War in the USA, currently held in a Florida prison.

In a series of previous court cases in the United States, the FBI has implied that Aquash was executed by members of the American Indian Movement because the group’s leaders believed she was an informant.

Bellegarde said Wednesday he planned to apologize to Pictou for the pain his comments caused.

“I regret that my statement on TV caused some hurt and pain for her and I want to make sure she knows that,” Bellegarde said in an interview.

“I don’t have as much information as the family has, so I’ll be mindful and respectful, and if they’ve got requests for support, I can also look at that as well.”

However, he said the AFN’s position on the matter has been clear since 1999 when the organization adopted a resolution urging the Canadian government to ask the U.S. attorney general to free Peltier.

“The Peltier family has been living with an injustice as well,” he said. “We have chiefs’ resolutions that call for his release, in addition to (a similar call) from Amnesty International and … the Dalai Lama.”

The national chief, in an interview broadcast Monday on CBC, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should ask U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon Peltier when Trudeau visits the White House on Thursday.

Bellegarde said Peltier was the victim of a miscarriage of justice when he was sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting two FBI agents in South Dakota in 1975.

Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said native leaders in the province, including the regional representative for the AFN, “had no clue” about Bellegarde’s position.

“I think the national chief has to retract what he said,” Maloney said in an interview. “He’s been very insensitive to the (Aquash) family.”

Maloney said the timing of Bellegarde’s comments couldn’t be worse, coming on the eve of International Women’s Day and in advance of the federal government’s promised inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women.

“Leonard Peltier has been romanticized as a hero,” Maloney said. “The (Aquash) family has taken great offence to that.”

In 1973, Aquash was among American Indian Movement militants who occupied the village of Wounded Knee on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in a 71-day standoff with federal authorities.

The simmering conflict came to a head in 1975 when the two FBI agents were shot on the reserve.

In 1977, a jury in Fargo, N.D., convicted Peltier of first-degree murder. The resident of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota was sentenced to life in prison, but he has always maintained his innocence.

Aquash’s body was found in a remote area in southwest South Dakota in February 1976, but U.S. authorities didn’t file an indictment until March 2003.

Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted of Aquash’s murder in February 2004 and was sentenced to life in prison.

In April 2004, Aquash’s remains were exhumed from the reservation and later buried near her childhood home in Indian Brook, a small native community about 70 kilometres west of Halifax. Mi’kmaq and native leaders came from across Canada to mark the occasion on National Aboriginal Day.

In December 2007, a member of the Southern Tutchone tribe in the Yukon, John Graham, was extradited to the United States from Vancouver to stand trial for Aquash’s murder.

Graham was sentenced to life in prison in January 2011 for felony murder. Prosecutors said Graham and two other AIM activists, Looking Cloud and Theda Clarke, killed Aquash because they suspected she was an informant.

Clarke, who was never charged, died in October 2011.


Posted on March 9, 2016, in Counter-Insurgency and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It should be noted that Peltier has never been charged with the death of Anna Mae Aquash nor implicated in her death in any way. Debbie Maloney, the sister of Denise, is also an RCMP officer in Nova Scotia.

  2. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    They kind of dance around the reasons why the Aquash family was upset — Peltier is supposedly the one who fingered Aquash. From what I have read, there were two FBI informants, but she was not one of them. She was a threat because she was an effective leader.

    • It appears that Aquash was bad-jacketed by the FBI, they made it appear as if she was an informant. According to the police theory, it was “high level” AIM members who ordered her execution on the suspicion she was an informant. The daughters have never had anything to say about the context of Anna Mae’s killing, ie the reign of terror imposed by Dick Wilson’s tribal regime with the support of the FBI and federal authorities. Nor have they ever addressed the killings of over 60 members or associates of AIM on the Pine Ridge reservation between 1973-76. The fact that one of them is an RCMP officer shows where their heads are at…

  3. I think it matters that truth be revealed to the family members of Anna Mae Aquash. Conjecture and appearances, and maybes have no place in such a serious matter. I might not know exactly what happened-but I think to accept something that might not be true even worse. We all know the very important facts-she was murdered brutally-and whomever planned and/or executed such a horrendous thing is still out there possibly. The courage to speak the truth by those who really know is all that is lacking.

  4. Gah, it seems like the same thing — the traditionals versus those that do not want to live the natural life with respect towards the Earth and women. To me, she was murdered because of the manipulations — BUT if one had stayed connected to their Higher Power and trusted one’s gut, they would have known she was innocent of the accusation. Like I said, she apparently was an effective leader to be seen as a threat by the feds…therefore, they started the rumor mill and let it take its course. And I know I’m from the outside looking in, but her death just bothers me so much. I just want the person(s) responsible to be held accountable.

  5. P.S. — I just have to say this because it keeps popping into my head. The gut feeling I am getting is there was an undercurrent — that perhaps Peltier had made romantic advances towards Anna Mae and she rejected him. Thus, perhaps he had an ulterior motive for wanting to believe she was an informant.

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