AIM leaders Point Fingers at Each Other in Aquash Murder 11-99

AIM leader says other AIM members killed woman activist

by Robert Weller
Denver, Colorado (AP/ICC)

American Indian activist Russell Means on Nov. 3, 1999 accused senior American Indian Movement members of ordering the execution of activist Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash in 1975.

AIM leaders have long accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation of being responsible for the shooting death of AIM member Pictou-Aquash, whose body was found on a South Dakota Indian reservation in February 1976.

It is the first public accusation of AIM involvement by anyone who was in a leadership role in the movement at the time of her death.

No one has ever been charged with her slaying, though three federal grand juries have heard testimony in the case on and off since the killing in 1976, 1982 and 1994.

Current and former AIM members have been trading bitter accusations for the past several years about the death of Pictou-Aquash, who was close to several top leaders of the group and participated in the 1973 takeover of the town of Wounded Knee, S.D.

Pictou-Aquash was not present on the reservation ranch where two FBI agents were killed in a shootout with AIM members in June 26, 1975. She was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the trial of Leonard Crow Dog with Jean Day and Theda Nelson Clark according to Jean Day.

AIM member Leonard Peltier is serving a life prison term in connection with those slayings, though AIM officials and other activists claim he is innocent.

Means told a news conference Nov. 3, he believes AIM members killed Pictou-Aquash because they falsely believed she was an FBI informant and had provided information on the agents’ killings. Such informant rumors had dogged Pictou-Aquash in the years before her killing and were heightened after her quick release on bond from two federal weapons-related arrests in 1975.

Means accused federal authorities of refusing to arrest the killers because it would reveal the FBI’s role in efforts to destabilize AIM.

"If AIM is the perpetrator of this grisly murder, in collusion with the FBI, I want it brought out," Means said.

Means, who for years has publicly feuded with AIM leaders Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt, said he would remain a member of the group but wants it to be an organization "that does not murder its own, and a woman at that."

He said that was a particularly serious violation of Indian heritage.

A statement issued by Bellecourt’s office said Means was no longer a member of AIM. It also said Means’ allegations "are a continuation of the U.S. Government FBI war against the American Indian Movement leadership. One can only suspect that Russell Means is attempting to deflect attention from himself and what role he may have played in the death of Anna Mae Aquash."

Means said, "We are convinced the FBI hired Vernon Bellecourt" to create dissension in the organization.

Jane Quimby of the Denver FBI office said, "The FBI has done nothing to obstruct this investigation." Means’ allegations mirror those made by other 1970s AIM figures reported by the newspaper News From Indian Country of Hayward, Wisconsin. Their investigation has been posted since 1997 at www.indiancountrynews.com .

Pictou-Aquash, a member of the Micmac Nation from Canada, moved to the U.S. at age 17 and became involved in Indian causes in Boston. Later, she joined Indians who took over Wounded Knee.

Means said it had long been suspected within AIM that its own members had killed Pictou-Aquash but no one wanted the information to get out because it would discredit the movement.

"Two of the (AIM) leaders ordered her death," said Means, adding he believes the FBI knows their identities as well as the identities of the three killers.

"One of the three who took Anna Mae to her death has told me" that top leaders of AIM were working with the FBI to promote dissension in the movement, Means said.

Means and Pictou-Aquash’s cousin, Robert Pictou-Branscombe, said she was kidnapped from a house in Denver in late 1975, driven first to Rapid City, S.D., and then to a home on the Rosebud reservation.

Several days later she was driven to the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation and shot in the head, Means said.

Pictou-Branscombe said his cousin was falsely accused of being an FBI informant in what he called a "snitch jacketing," a tactic he said the agency frequently uses to create havoc in antigovernment organizations. He said the FBI had mishandled the investigation from the start.

At the first autopsy, Dr. W.O. Brown of South Dakota ruled Pictou-Aquash died of exposure to the cold. FBI agents cut the hands off the body and sent them to Washington for identification, and authorities later announced they had identified the body as Pictou-Aquash.

A second autopsy by Minneapolis pathologist Garry Peterson revealed she had been shot, execution style, in the back of the head with a .38-caliber gun. Brown wrote that he "inadvertently overlooked" the bullet, although Peterson says a nurse at the first autopsy remembered seeing blood flowing from the head wound.

"Either you have the most amazingly incompetent people in the history of the FBI or there is a coverup," Pictou-Branscombe said.

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