Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism

By Devon Abbott Mihesuah | Go to book overview

10
Interview with Denise Maloney-Pictou and Deborah Maloney-Pictou

Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash was a prominent American Indian Movement (AIM) activist in the 1970s. A Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia, Anna Mae had a long history of working for Native rights. She helped form the Boston Indian Council and worked in Maine teaching Native students. In the early 1970s she participated in AIM's activities because she believed that she could help secure equal rights for Natives. She participated in numerous activities, including the boarding of the Mayflower II to protest Thanksgiving, the march on Washington, and the takeover of Wounded Knee in 1972—73. After Wounded Knee Anna Mae worked for a while in the St. Paul, Minnesota, AIM office.

After the takeover at Wounded Knee ended, conditions remained dire for South Dakota tribes. Poverty, crime, and disease raged among them throughout the 1970s, and residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation experienced a “reign of terror” in which members of Oglala tribal chairman Dick Wilson's political faction beat, shot, and harassed his opponents almost on a daily basis. A “siege mentality” was beginning to show among AIM members by 1975. On June 26 of that year, two FBI agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, arrived at the private Jumping Bull property in South Dakota to arrest a young Native man accused of stealing boots. A firefight ensued, and Williams, Coler, and one Native man, Joseph Killsright Stuntz, were killed. One suspect in the shooting was Leonard Peltier, who was arrested and imprisoned for life for killing the agents. 1 Although Anna Mae was not present at the shooting, the FBI was convinced that she knew who the killers were and interrogated her intensely before releasing her. Later that year she was arrested on a weapons charge and then was quickly released, leading AIM members to believe that she was an informer for the FBI.

In the winter of 1976 Anna Mae's body was found in a remote area of the reservation, although she was not immediately identified. The initial autopsy concluded that she died of exposure. Her hands were severed and sent to FBI headquarters for identification, and she was

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