It's murderers who make headlines and devastate families

Editors Note: On February 1, 2002 the editor of News From Indian Country, Paul DeMain, appeared live on Native American Calling along with Bruce Ellison, Leonard Peltier's attorney to discuss DeMain's belief that Peltier shot the agents at close range on June 26, 1975 as the FBI alleged.


by Serle Chapman

Following the Native America Calling broadcast of February 1, it is possible that some of the listeners to the program were left with the erroneous impression that I had misquoted Leonard Peltier in a piece from my book, We, The People, in which Leonard discusses Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash.

I strongly refute any such suggestion and stress that, like every contributor to the book, Leonard's words have been edited only for grammar and structure in the transition from the spoken to the written word.

Paul DeMain attempted to provide a characterization of this piece on Native America Calling and informed the listeners that they could view it in the then current issue of News From Indian Country but in his closing remarks, in what appeared to be a reference to the content of the comments attributed to Leonard in my book, Bruce Ellison retorted, "What nonsense."

I accept that Bruce may not have been referring specifically to the book, but to eradicate any doubt I offered to make the tape of the interview I conducted with Leonard available to Native America Calling so that the listeners could judge whether what is ascribed to Leonard in We, The People is an accurate representation of his comments.

Similarly with the segment of Dino Butler's taped interview in which he discusses the 'Mr. X' scenario, another piece from We, The People which seemed to have been contested.

Out of respect to the seventy or so contributors to the book, from members of the Gwich'in Nation in the north to the Zapatistas in the south and to Leonard himself, I wish to emphasize that We, The People is not a book about Leonard Peltier's character or actions; Leonard features in one section of the book that focuses on the American Indian Movement.

We, The People is a forum for Native voices that are rarely heard, a format Leonard approved of when it was conceived. Having previously been involved with some support activities for Leonard, at the outset of this project it had been my intention to feature Leonard's art on the book's cover and one of his essays as the introduction. However, there are aspects within the publication process that the author does not necessarily control: I was asked if I could state for a fact that Leonard did not kill the FBI agents at the Jumping Bull's, to which my response was that I could only state for a fact that Leonard told me he didn't kill them - therefore the book has a different cover and introduction.

I have no interest in joining the present debate about who fired the fatal shots that killed SA Coler and SA Williams but that said, we need to recognize that writers and journalists are not responsible for what interviewees say; writers and journalists are responsible for accurately recording what is said.

If in the process of researching and compiling a feature it becomes apparent that the picture being revealed is not what you had originally anticipated, ethically you are still obligated to present it if you are satisfied that you have done everything that might reasonably be expected to verify what you intend to publish.

With that in mind, the insinuation that somebody must be involved in a government conspiracy or has joined the FBI payroll if they offer an account of June 26 that differs from Leonard's is, frankly, pathetic.

By that logic, from reading the mid-February issue of News from Indian Country, we would have to assume that Dusty Nelson is some kind of operative because his lucid, eyewitness account of Leonard arriving at the Jumping Bull's, closely followed by the agents, contradicts the version argued by Leonard's defense team, but I expect that anybody who knows Dusty Nelson would quite rightly find such a suggestion to be ludicrous.

It is a fact that there were people present at the Jumping Bull's that morning, and people who traveled and associated with Leonard in the aftermath and up until his arrest, who neither testified at a Grand Jury nor at the subsequent trials at Cedar Rapids and Fargo. Their information didn't benefit the prosecution or defense because it wasn't introduced, but that doesn't mean that it does not exist; like it or not, some of it simply has not been heard.

How sad it is that in the twenty-six years since Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash was murdered due to unfounded rumors, the reflex is still to imply that somebody is in cahoots with the federal government if they offer an opinion contrary to the status quo.

Bruce Ellison is one of the most effective defense attorneys in the US and, in the forum of broadcast media, a seasoned and articulate performer. Bruce wrote the postscript to my last book, Of Earth and Elders, and in regards to the murder of Anna Mae, he may have had legitimate cause to criticize journalists whom he feels have not given him the opportunity to respond directly to a number of accusations, a point he made on Native America Calling.

I have discussed such allegations with Bruce several times and one day maybe everybody will agree that the truth is more important than rhetoric.

Who killed Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash is no secret and their names, along with some of the alleged aiders and abettors and conspirators, are already in the public domain.

Those who seek to defend the prime suspects often point to the fact that they have not been called to testify before a Grand Jury, but that is hardly mitigation as potential defendants are rarely called before a Grand Jury for obvious reasons.

There are those who argue that these people should not be tried in the US criminal justice system but should face a traditional review.

If abducting somebody, brutalizing them and then shooting them in the back of the head resembled a traditional form of inquiry then that argument might carry more weight, but being as it resembles a gangland killing it would seem that the authoritarian system that spawned it should be the one by which it is judged; surely traditional spirituality should not be reduced to a level that is akin to invoking the Fifth Amendment.

Annie Mae's daughters and her sisters should make that decision and if they feel that a criminal prosecution would help them to bring closure, their wishes should be respected; Anna Mae Pictou is still their mother and sister, not a name to be thrown back and forth to satisfy egos and agendas.

It is time that Native communities as a whole had the opportunity to heal from these wounds and move forward.

Regardless of ethnicity, those who care should help to facilitate that process as there is no shortage of adversaries - from the White House to your neighborhood legislature - lining up on a range of critical issues.

Those so-called 'leaders' who claim to be fighting for Native people, yet in reality only fight over the size of their honorariums and egos, may as well join that line of adversaries, as the lies they perpetuate about their glory days, particularly in regards to the murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, are not only an insult to her memory but an affront to what they purport to believe in and to the grassroots people who, like their communities, are still trying to recover from the consequences of those 'leaders' actions.

What kind of a 'leader' can't even take responsibility for what they have done? The only real conspiracy here is the "them against us" silence that nurtures hate and fear.

Writers and journalists report and analyze the news, it's murderers and their accomplices who make the headlines and devastate families.


Serle Chapman.
Rapid City, South Dakota

cc: Leonard Peltier.
Bruce Ellison.