Anna Mae Pictou
Inspiration can come from anywhere .... people who live their lives with conviction and courage .... for the betterment of their people .... these are the most inspiring people to me.
For me, some of these peole are : Crazy Horse .... Sitting Bull .... Mohandas K. Gandhi .... Martin Luther King, Jr. .... and .... Annie Mae Pictou.
This page is dedicated to the woman who has inspired me since I first heard her story. She left a mundane life to dedicate herself to Native People; she looked after the elders and children, and risked her life many times in order to stand for Treaty Rights, and the rights of our Native People to live in harmony with Mother Earth the way we were intended to live.
For Annie, for all our ancestors, for all Native people, for all our future generations .... this is why Wakan Yeja Kin Intertribal Council will thrive and grow, and this is why we came to be.
Dancingsong / Terra S. Robertson, President/ Executive Director
Sacred Indigenous Youth Education Circle
Wakan Tanka nin cin un <<Great Mystery go with you>>
In Loving Memory of Anna Mae Pictou
Who was Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash ?
Annie Mae devoted her life to our people; she cared for and defended the elders and children, as well as fought for our treaty rights and sacred lands.
Anna Mae Pictou Quote -- Posted by Tyson Yunkaporta
Some gutsy words from Indian activist Anna Mae Pictou, who paid the ultimate price for speaking out against colonial oppression.
"These white people think this country belongs to them - they don't realize that they are only in charge right now because there's more of them than there are of us. The whole country changed with only a handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians." ...Anna Mae Pictou .
I am not a citizen of the United States or a ward of the Federal Government, neither am I a ward of the Canadian government. I have a right to continue my cycle in this Universe undisturbed...
---- Anna Mae Pictou
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
"I'm Indian all the way, and always will be.
I'm not going to stop fighting until I die,
and I hope I'm a good example of a human being and my tribe."
From the era of Native American political activism and militancy during the early 1970s, there is no more haunting figure than Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. Mother, wife, social worker, daycare teacher, American Indian Movement (AIM) member, her image is powerful as much for her untimely death as for her life's work. Found murdered on the Pine Ridge Reservation during a time of tremendous social and political upheaval, she has become an icon of the indigenous rights movement.
Anna Mae Pictou was born on March 27, 1945 to Mary Ellen Pictou and Francis Thomas Levi, both Micmac Indians. She came into the world in a small Indian village just outside the town of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Canada. Levi left before Anna Mae was born, and Mary Ellen's third grade education was not enough on which to raise her children in financial security. Still a young woman herself, Mary Ellen Pictou admitted to being a little too unsettled to offer her girls much in the way of discipline. Pictou spent her early years in this atmosphere of poverty and uncertainty.
Pictou's mother married Noel Sapier, a Micmac traditionalist in 1949. A strong believer in the retention of what little was left of Micmac culture and religion, Sapier brought discipline and emotional security to the family. He moved them to Pictou's Landing, another small Micmac reserve, and tried to make a living between seasonal farmhand jobs and traditional craftwork. Although she knew they were still very poor, Pictou learned the richness of her people's culture.
Poverty often breeds disease, and conditions were very poor at Pictou's Landing. In 1953, Anna Mae was plagued with recurrent eye infections. By the time an Indian Department physician recognized the signs of tuberculosis of the eye, Anna Mae had already developed tuberculosis of the lung. She recovered but she was physically weak for sometime afterward.
In 1956, Noel Sapier died of cancer, and a new phase of Pictou's childhood began. Until then, she had encountered racism mostly during trips to nearby towns. Now she went to an off-reserve school and was shocked by her reception. Although reserve schools were notoriously below standards, Pictou's prior A-average schoolwork was still well above failing when she started in her new school. By the end of her first year, however, she was failing all her subjects. In later years, she would often talk about how the constant jeers, racial slurs, and lewd comments had ruined her school years. Pictou was not alone; most of her Micmac tribespeople followed the same pattern of failure when they enrolled in off-reserve schools.
Pictou's difficulties with verbal and sometimes physical threats from classmates continued in high school. She steadily performed at lower and lower grade levels, but she stayed in school, something that many of her Indian classmates had not done. Her school problems were compounded in 1956, when her mother ran away to another reserve to marry Wilford Barlov. Pictou and her siblings came home to find that they had been abandoned. Because it was common for Micmacs to work as migrant farmhands throughout the Maritime Provinces and New England, and Pictou herself had worked summers as a harvester, she dropped out of school and turned to the only profession she knew, working the potato and berry harvest.
NEW LIFE IN BOSTON
At the age of 17, Pictou decided to move to Boston to seek her fortune. Reportedly on something of a dare, she went there with Jake Maloney, a young Micmac she knew but had never dated. They found themselves in Boston in 1962, a strange, noisy, bustling world for people used to reserve life. The presence of so many other Micmacs made the transition somewhat easier, though, and the couple soon settled in. Pictou began working in a factory and set up house with Jake. They considered themselves married and started a family. In 1964 and 1965, Pictou gave birth to daughters Denise and Deborah. Just after Deborah's birth, the couple married in New Brunswick and moved to another Micmac reserve. Although they had liked life in Boston, they had mixed feelings about raising their daughters in such a big city, and they moved back and forth between Boston and the Maritimes several times. During their stays in Canada, they immersed themselves in Micmac tradition, learning much from Jake's step-uncle, one of the last Micmacs to remember many of their old ways.
BECOMES A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
In 1968, Natives were calling for equal rights, cultural recognition, and the upholding of promises made in treaties. Pictou worked as a volunteer in the Boston Indian Council's headquarters while holding down her factory job. Her council work centered on helping young, urban Natives develop self-esteem, a technique that seemed to help them avoid alcohol abuse. It was a topic close to Pictou's own life. She had seen the havoc drinking caused in Indian communities and during the initial period after her breakup with Jake Maloney, she herself frequently drank.
At the Indian Council Pictou heard about a planned protest by AIM. A number of New England AIM members were joining with national leader Russell Means to protest the "official" version of Thanksgiving by converging on the Mayflower II, a reconstruction of the Pilgrims' vessel. Pictou participated in the protest and the event galvanized her resolve to work for Native rights.
Pictou, along with her daughters, moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, to work in the Teaching and Research in Bicultural Education School Project (TRIBES). The girls attended the school and Pictou taught. The curriculum aimed at keeping young Indians in school by teaching traditional subjects as well as Indian history, values, and beliefs to foster pride in the students. Although the project was successful, it was closed in 1972, when funding was cut. The family returned to Boston, where Anna Mae enrolled in the New Careers program at Wheelock College. This program was designed to include classroom instruction and community work. Pictou's assignment was teaching at a daycare center in Roxbury, a predominately African-American section of Boston. She excelled in the program and in her work, and was eventually offered a scholarship to attend Brandeis University. Pictou declined the offer, preferring to continue her work in the Black and Indian communities.
Around this time, she met a Nogeeshik Aquash, a Chippewa artist from Ontario. Together, they raised her daughters and became more involved in the growing Indian rights movement. When AIM and other allied groups marched on Washington, D.C., in 1972, on the Trail of Broken Treaties, Pictou and Nogeeshik were there. Several months later, in April of 1973, AIM occupied the small, historic settlement of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In 1890, it had been the site of an infamous massacre of Minneconjou Sioux by General George Custer's old regiment of the Seventh Cavalry. It was chosen for this historical significance to garner public attention for AIM's efforts against the reputedly corrupt administration of tribal chairman of the Oglala Sioux, Richard "Dick" Wilson.
When word of the occupation and resulting siege by federal troops reached Boston, Pictou and Nogeeshik left for South Dakota. Arriving several days later, they immediately busied themselves by sneaking food and medical supplies to the occupiers. Initially, they camped at Crow Dog's Paradise, the home of medicine men Henry Crow Dog and Leonard Crow Dog. Later, inside one of the stores at Wounded Knee, Anna Mae would help deliver Pedro, the first son of Mary Brave Bird, who would soon marry Leonard Crow Dog. On April 12, 1973, Pictou married Nogeeshik Aquash in a traditional Lakota (Sioux) ceremony presided over by Nicholas Black Elk and Wallace Black Elk.
The standoff at Wounded Knee ended with the indictment of AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means. The Aquashes returned to Boston, where they continued their work for the movement. Aquash was on her way to becoming a national AIM leader. In 1974, she moved to St. Paul to work in the AIM office there. Within a year, she was involved in the Menominee Indian takeover of an abandoned Alexian Brothers Catholic Monastery in protest of the termination of their federal Indian status. The conflict in Gresham, Wisconsin, ended peacefully and Aquash emerged as a figure who would be constantly under FBI observation.
BACK TO WOUNDED KNEE
During the summer of 1975, Aquash and AIM security chief Leonard Peltier attended an AIM conference in Farmington, New Mexico, to lend support to Navajo protests over mining in the Four Corners area. From there, they were called back to Pine Ridge to help organize security for Lakota traditionalists and AIM supporters who were being attacked by Wilson's provisional police force. They camped on the property of the Jumping Bull family. On June 26, 1975, a fight broke out between two FBI agents and AIM members. Two agents and a young Indian were killed. AIM members scattered as an international manhunt began for the FBI agents' killers.
Three months later, in September of 1975, Aquash was arrested with several others during a raid on the Rosebud Reservation. Fearing the worst, she jumped bail and went "underground." In November, she was leaving the Port Madison Reservation in Washington state when federal agents began watching the two vehicles in the AIM caravan. In Oregon, just one mile short of the Idaho border, state troopers stopped the group and Aquash was again arrested. She was extradited to South Dakota in handcuffs to face charges from the raid at Rosebud, as well as federal charges of transporting and possessing firearms and dangerous weapons, including dynamite. Since she had not been indicted on the earlier charges, the South Dakota judge gave her bond; she fled again on November 24, 1975.
On February 24, 1976, a Lakota rancher found Aquash's dead body while riding the perimeter of his property. Her body's deteriorated condition indicated that she had been dead for some time. The body was initially taken to the Pine Ridge Public Health Service for an autopsy. The cause of her death was deemed exposure, and, as no one was able to identify her, she was buried as a "Jane Doe." Her hands were cut off and sent to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., for possible identification. A week later, Anna Mae Aquash was identified. When her family was informed, they called on AIM to help them secure a second autopsy. On March 11, 1976, another post-mortem revealed a .32 caliber bullet hole at the base of Anna Mae's skull. Her death was now officially a homicide. Aquash was reburied with traditional rites, and the investigation of her murder began.
Although two senators brought the matter before Congress and the Department of Justice, and although Canadian authorities demanded full accounting for the murder of one of their citizens on the federal land of a friendly neighboring country, the investigation never went far. The murder of Anna Mae Aquash remains unsolved, but she is remembered as a powerful symbol of an era of Native rights activism.
- Brand, Johanna, The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash, Toronto, James Lorimer, 1978.
- Matthiessen, Peter, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, New York, Viking Books, 1983.
- Native American Women, edited by Gretchen M. Bataille, New York, Garland Publishing, 1993.
- Native North American Almanac, edited by Duane Champagne, Detroit, Gale Research, 1994.
- Weyler, Rex, Blood of the Land, New York, Everest House Publishing, 1982.