Writing about Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash
The topic of writing about Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash opens the door for a variety of discussions, covering protection of sources, respecting the tribe and family of the subject, territoriality in activism and feminist studies, and the author's self-preservation. Writing the Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash essay (chapter 9) was a stressful exercise in addressing controversial issues that Natives know about but usually do not textualize for the world to read: the bad behavior of some Native men toward Native women, their lack of respect for tribal traditions, and the reality that many Native women condone their behavior. Some Natives might be disturbed by my bringing these realities to light, but my perspective is the same as that of many Native women who will not tolerate being victimized by Native men and other Native women. I have gone so far as to write about gender relations within the Red Power movement, but because discussions of ethnocentrism among tribes, personal knowledge of the behavior of some AIM men, and identity politics are complicated and painful to recount (and probably not very useful to anyone except voyeurs who like to read about such things), I decided to omit many of the original discussions in the Pictou-Aquash paper and the essay “Feminists, Tribalists, or Activists?” (chapter 12). Sweeping these topics under the rug, however, will not make them go away.
I was a senior in high school when Anna Mae was found murdered in South Dakota, and for twenty-five years thoughts of her have come and gone. When Theda Perdue invited me to write an essay on Anna Mae for her anthology Sifters: Native Women's Lives, I jumped at the opportunity, although I knew I could not do it without permission and assistance from her family. Long conversations with Anna Mae's cousin Robert A. Pictou-Branscombe and with her daughters reinforced my thinking that if I am going to write, then it needs to be about something worthwhile.
During the 1970s I, like many other young Natives, was caught