John Trudell Is a Hero, not a Snitch: the Real Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash Story
As usual, I sat down to read my new Earth First! Journal cover to cover. I was bemused by yet another puerile pissing match between Captain Paul Watson and the Journalistas (see EF!J January-February 2006). It was good for a few laughs, but then it was on to an article that flat out blew me away. Here, in the EF! Journal, was a piece slamming noted American Indian Movement (AIM) activist, actor and spoken word visionary John Trudell, as well as his AIM allies Robert Robideau, Dino Butler, Russell Means and, by extension, noted political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
What had Trudell and the others done to warrant the attack? It seems that they all have come down on the side of justice for their friend and ally Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, who was executed in South Dakota 30 years ago.
The article did a fairly good job of rehashing the facts of the case. And, ostensibly, it was a piece defending someone's political prisoner, so an article on a 30-year-old murder in another allied activist movement was not as out of place in the EF! Journal as one would think at first blush. As the EF! Journal was founded as a forum on "biocentrism," a case can be made that writing about the ongoing assaults on a very endangered group of beings (indigenous North Americans) is also an appropriate topic.
But, as Trudell would say, "Let's get real here." Trudell is a hero, as are the others. He was at the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969-1971. He was at the Siege of Wounded Knee in 1973. He marched on Washington, DC. He served as AIM chairman for six years. He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with environmentalists on anti-nuke and antiwar efforts. He has been a solid ally on forest and animal defense. He has a 17,000-page FBI file. His four children, his wife Tina—an activist in her own right—and her mother were killed in a suspicious fire at their Nevada home, just 12 hours after Trudell had burned a US flag on the steps of FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. Let's get very real.
As the article noted, Arlo Looking Cloud has been convicted as an accessory in Pictou-Aquash's death. He was videotaped confessing his involvement. His accomplice, John Graham, awaits extradition in Canada. While the article supports Graham, Pictou-Aquash's family is asking for support of the extradition. Pictou-Aquash was killed because she was "snitch-jacketed" (i.e., labeled an informant) within AIM, which was plagued with informants at the time. Like radical environmentalists today, AIM was at the top of the FBI's radar in the 1970s. Believing the lie that Pictou-Aquash was a snitch, high-level AIM members ordered her killed. Looking Cloud, Graham and Theda Clark—who first accused Pictou-Aquash—were the chosen executioners.
As one might expect, this episode has split AIM—undoubtedly the FBI's goal in spreading the snitch rumor in the first place. Robideau, who was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense in the same shootout that saw Peltier convicted, has said, "I personally will be overjoyed when the Canadian courts rule to return Graham back to the US to answer for this brutal murder."
At first, this was not what AIM members believed. When Graham was originally arrested, Leonard Peltier wrote, "I fear that Graham will not receive a fair trial in the US any more than I did. I must remind you, it is court record that the FBI lied to extradite me back to the US."
True enough. But here's what Robideau, the international spokesman for Peltier's defense, wrote on February 2, 2005:
"There is compelling evidence that has recently come to our attention regarding Graham that compels Peltier to disassociate himself and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee from Graham and the John Graham Defense Committee.
"We have notified the Graham Committee of our decision, and we have also communicated—three times—our demand that the Graham Defense Committee remove all of Leonard's support letters, expressions... and support websites from their official website.
"Thus far, they have yet to comply with our requests. Pettier wants to make it very clear that he wants justice to run its course and... that he had no involvement in this matter and hence cannot associate himself with those alleged to have committed this crime against Indian people."
All of these AIM leaders agree on who did it and call for justice. Yet, distrust abounds on all sides, even among these former allies who agree on the major facts of the case. Such is the paralyzing effect of accusation and infiltration (just look at the recent arson arrests).
They may all agree, but it is Trudell who receives the brunt of the article's wrath. You'd think that fairness—especially toward an activist of this note— would demand that Trudell be notified and given a chance to respond before such accusations went to print.
Since that never happened, here's my take: Trudell has testified twice on Pictou-Aquash's murder. In the Looking Cloud trial, he said, "Looking Cloud told me that he, Clark and Graham did, in fact, take Pictou-Aquash from Troy Lynn's house to Rapid City, South Dakota. And when they were in Rapid City, Pictou-Aquash was kept in an empty apartment that belonged to Thelma Rios.... But it seems to me, from my conversation with Looking Cloud, that Pictou-Aquash was never in Rapid City for more than a couple of days at the very most.... She was taken from Rapid City by Looking Cloud, Graham and Clark to a house in Rosebud, South Dakota.... And according to Looking Cloud, Clark and Graham went inside this house, and they were in there for a period of time, and they came back out, and they got in the car. And then they went and drove to the spot where Pictou-Aquash was killed. And Graham and Looking Cloud walked her out to a spot and made her kneel down. He said she was on her knees, and she was praying and talking about her children, and she didn't want to die. And then Graham shot her in the back of the head."
Trudell hasn't changed his story once in 30 years. He knew the truth then, and he knows it now. He awaits long overdue justice for Pictou-Aquash. It is only with the extradition and trial of Graham that we'll finally get to the bottom of this.
The EF! Journal should be promoting this outcome and working to help solve this horrific, movement-destroying murder of an activist. What the EF! Journal should not be doing is muddying the waters.
It's one thing to note that virtually no activist can get a fair trial, particularly an AIM member. It's another thing entirely to posit that someone should get away with murder because of potential—or even probable—prosecutorial misconduct.
And it's beyond belief to attack a guy like John Trudell, who has done so much through the years. Go to his website, watch the documentary about him and then decide for yourself who is credible here. It's a matter of justice. For more information, visit John Trudell's web site.
Michael Donnelly has been active in environmental issues for decades, including numerous preservation efforts in the Northwest and in Michigan.
© Earth First! Journal March-April 2006