MMIWG in Montreal: Indigenous activist's murder leaves deep wounds and division
Published Tuesday, March 13, 2018 10:18PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 14, 2018 7:49AM EDT
A Canadian woman who became a famous Indigenous activist in the U.S. was the focus of the missing and murdered inquiry Tuesday in Montreal.
Denise Pictou-Maloney brought her mother’s pipe to the inquiry, holding it as she shared Anna Mae Pictou Aquash’s story.
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
Aquash was a Mi’kmaq woman born in Nova Scotia in 1945. In the early 1970s, she joined the ranks of the American Indian Movement (AIM), at the time the most visible advocacy group for Indigenous civil rights.
She defiantly took part in two standoffs, including the 1973 Wounded Knee incident, when about 200 followers of AIM occupied South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.
The standoff ended in a raid.
“I saw two FBI agents standing there with M16s,” Aquash described at the time.
Wounded Knee, 1973
Aquash disappeared in 1975.
Months later, her body was found in a remote area in southwest South Dakota by the side of a road. Her murder launched botched investigations and a rash of conspiracy theories.
U.S. authorities didn't file an indictment until March 2003.
“For decades, Indian country thought the FBI had shot my mother,” said Pictou-Maloney at the inquiry.
Those ultimately found guilty of killing Aquash were fellow activists who wrongly suspected she was an FBI informant.
“American Indian Movement members kidnapped, interrogated, beat, raped and executed Anna Mae Pictou Aquash,” said Pictou-Maloney.
Her family struggled for years to have investigations re-opened, and to have her body repatriated so she could be buried in her home community.
Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted of Aquash's murder in February 2004 and 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.
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.
A third AIM activist, Theda Clarke, was never charged, and died in October 2011.
Some Indigenous groups have continued to support activists Pictou-Maloney believes played a role in her mother's murder.
“I want to ask you for forgiveness,” said Commissioner Michele Audette, through tears. “I learned something today. I was supporting something without knowing.”
Pictou-Maloney shares her mother's story with commissioners at the MMIW inquiry.
Pictou-Maloney said she often felt excluded from telling her story.
“Truth cannot be polluted by politics and greed and corruption,” said Commissioner Qajaq Robinson.
Pictou-Maloney wanted to speak out to confront lies she said are told within Indigenous communities, but also as a tribute to her mother.
“She was the centre of our universe. She was the sun, the moon and the stars and she left a legacy to us. I continue to mourn, because of her strength and resilience,” she said, adding that her mother would have fought for missing and murdered women and girls.
- With a report from Genevieve Beauchemin of CTV News and files from The Canadian Press