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Subject: Fwd: Annie Mae book review
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this is the first of 3 parts.

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Black Hills Alliance
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Full-name: Libyad817
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 16:36:01 EST
Subject: Annie Mae book review
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                  INDIAN MURDERS
         a book review by David Seals

Who Would Unbraid Her Hair:
        the legend of annie mae
by antoinette nora claypoole
Anam Cara Press
1999, 293 pp., $21

      She was just another dead Indian in the ditch. That gray and freezing 
winter of 1975-76 in the Black Hills was full of terrible fear and death 
everywhere, and I had to go up on Bear Butte to see how beautiful and clear 
the world could also be. From the top of the Sacred Mountain the air at the 
end of February, when her body was found, was as cold as crystal, and the sky 
was bluer than the turquoise in her New Mexico bracelets and rings.
      The rings that had been on her fingers, on her hands, and that were 
chopped off by the FBI and sent to Washington for fingerprinting or something 
      I didn't know that her name was Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash until years later 
when Johanna Brand pioneered the quest in 'The Life and Death of Anna Mae 
Aquash', and then a video came out later, 'Brave Hearted Woman'. At the time 
I didn't even see a notice about it in the newspapers, and only the warriors 
who dared to confront the Beast in its Belly on Pine Ridge Reservation knew 
who she was. 
      Slowly it came out that she was a cut above the other Jane Does South 
Dakotans sneer about, winos often found in the creeks and alleys and trash 
cans of the land where Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse also fought and died for 
      I began to hear women speaking of her with special reverence, women who 
had worked with her to help the elders and children who were starving and 
alcohol-sick and mistreated worse than dogs in America, on the hidden gulag 
of concentration camps of the Indian Reservations deep in the intestines of 
the Dakotas, and Minnesota, Colorado, Boston, California, and her home 
territory of the MicMac Nation in Nova Scotia.
      She was everywhere, they said, from rallies at Plymouth Rock demanding 
Native Justice to the Trail of Broken Treaties leading into Washington DC, 
and Wounded Knee.  And everywhere the whispers persisted that her death at 
the age of 30 in that bad winter had about it an air of mystery, of a legend 
of elemental War between good and evil, of honor and dishonor among thieves 
in both the Indian camps and the American.
      Antoinette Nora Claypoole captures some of the stark mythic tragedy of 
this story in her book 'Who Would Unbraid her Hair: the legend of annie mae'. 
  Its modern poetic style and loose structure make me feel our bleak and 
beautiful South Dakota winters as Indians feel them. It is a continuation of 
the heroic quest to solve not only the terrible murder mystery of one woman, 
but also, in a way, to solve and help heal the whole continuing terrible 
Indian Wars that are resulting in many other murders every day. 
      It is heroic not in the romantic hollywood corruption in which heroes 
are defined by millionaires like Jane Fonda and Madonna, but rather in the 
classical sense in which a Tragic Hero failed because of her greatness. 
      It was not enough for a person to die to be called 'tragic' as it is 
routinely used today; and it was not enough alone to save somebody else's 
life to be called a 'hero'. Great tragic heroes like Antigone or Queen Dido 
of Carthage or Joan of Arc failed because of their greatness, their great 
love for mankind or God, their uncompromising courage in the face of certain 
death that leaves us all trembling with terrible pity and awe and shame.
       It looks to me and many others now that Annie Mae was murdered brutally 
because she would not dishonor herself, that she would not betray her own 
immortal spirit, regardless of the evil consequences.
      By all accounts Annie's last days and hours were full of the most 
terrifying cruelty and violence imaginable.
      Claypoole quotes a Rolling Stone story from 1977, "On February 24th, 
1976, the temperature climbed from freezing to above, bringing an early thaw 
to the bleak northeastern corner of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
      "Cattle rancher Roger Amiott went to work lining up a new fence, moving 
slowly, wary of the mud left by the receding snow. He was working his way 
along a dry creek bed about midafternoon when he saw the body.
      "She was still dressed in a wine colored ski jacket, jeans and blue 
clothe shoes, but she had been there at least several days and had begun to 
rot. Her face was blackened and some features had been nibbled away by 
prairie animals ... the dead woman was 30 year old Anna Mae [Pictou] Aquash, 
an important organizer in the American Indian Movement ..."

      Apparently dozens of cops and FBI agents converged on the remote scene 
when Amiott called it in, and one of the Agents  wrote later than he thought 
her body had been burned first and then dressed again. [A lot of supplemental 
information like that is on the publisher's websites on the Internet, by 
Jordan S. Dill, who has done an incredible job of helping to reopen this 
      After a hasty and later very controversial autopsy at Pine Ridge 
hospital, about a 100 miles away, it was determined she had died of exposure 
and she was to be buried as a Jane Doe. There was some evidence of rape as 
well, and some blood was oozing out of the back of her head, according to a 
nurse and doctor. And her hands were chopped off and sent to Washington 
ostensibly for fingerprinting to determine her identity. She was then hastily 
buried in an unmarked pauper's grave, in the old Red Cloud cemetary of a 
Catholic School, not far from the famous chief himself.
      These details and a great deal more have been researched by Brand and 
the Internet websites of AIM and others, as well as by Peter Matthiessen in 
his 1983 bestseller 'In The Spirit of Crazy Horse'. Wild charges and 
countercharges of racism and terrorism and conspiracy of a coverup have flown 
back and forth between AIM and the FBI ever since then, all of which looks 
more and more to observers like me to be the work of some very skillful 
misinformation specialists turning everybody away from the scent.
     Family members of Annie's asked for an exhumation of the body and a 
second autopsy when the FBI notifed them in Canada, from Washington, of her 
identity.  When it became known the Jane Doe was really a respected leader in 
the hierarchy of AIM, a Native Rights organization famous for flamboyant 
confrontations with the US government, like the Wounded Knee Occupation of 
1973, several of AIM's eastern lawyers quickly moved for the exhumation and 
      The government complied and, at least according to 2 FBI Agents at the 
second autopsy, they were shocked to discover that a bullet hole was found in 
the back of the dead woman's head, and a .32 calibre slug was lodged in her 
left temple. The bullet wound had been completely overlooked by the 
government's doctor in the first autopsy. The second examination also 
indicated that the woman had had sex before she died, but it remains unclear 
whether the reports indicate rape or not.
      Annie was buried again  on March 12 with honors this time, attended by 
dozens of friends and admirers and prayers from medicine men.  The February 
thaw had broken and howling blizzard winds had returned with the end of 
winter. No AIM leaders attended the wake and funeral, and none of her family 
could make it in time all the way from the Atlantic Coast of Canada.

                       " . . . but the Sun is up and you're going
                       my heart is filled with tears
                       please don't go, i need you walking
                       by my side ... the road is long and weary
                                   and i get so tired . . . "
Mae Pictou Aquash

      There she lies to this day, among the tall weeds not far off the road on 
a hillside between the villages of Oglala and Pine Ridge, overlooking a 
pretty valley and rocky hillsides to the east. When I first visited her 
gravesite in 1983 there was no marker at all, nor was there one for the grave 
beside, but friends told me it was hers. The other one was for Joe killsright 
Stuntz, a young Indian killed by the FBI in a famous and terrible firefight 
just up the road on June 26, 1975, a few months before Annie disappeared into 
      I wish somebody had known to include one of Annie's poems there, or 
something, as Claypoole thoughtfully has in her book:

                       "I am a part of this creation ....
                              I am the generation ....
                                    I am not a citizen of the United States 

                               I have a right to continue
                     my cycle in this Universe undisturbed

      The legend of annie mae as antoinette claypoole perceives it is that of 
a strong woman caught in the forces of history. "She is fossilized into the 
psyche . . . this is a book about silence and how it murders people. this is 
a book about breaking ancient rituals. of human sacrifice and tragedy."

                                open sores oozing premonition

... and i tell him
'look, see. it's not who fuckin' pulled the trigger, we both know
dominant white culture killed her. with their scare tactics and
snitch jacket terrorism. okay?'
                                                ... the martyr snitch 
ridiculousness ...

               the pontiac just turned over, they take indians
               and turn them into cars.
               and nickels
               and beer.
               souvenirs of war.

               this ain't that.
               anna mae is no collectors item.
                                                       eros and psyche.

      The physical presence of the book is stunning as soon as you see the 
magnificent Frank Howell black and brown painting on the cover; SHE is the 
ghost warrior in terrible otherworldly ruthlessness, a Warrior with a faint 
white mask over her eyes and grim-lovely maroon and gray feathers tied to her 
eternal hair. It is a chilling evocation of the land and the night. The book 
is nowhere as elaborate with color paintings like Chuck Storm's incoherent 
New Age bestseller 'Seven Arrows', but it has that same open feeling of the 
prairie that only a few masters like Mari Sandoz can summon with mere words.
      Perusing any Indian bookstore these days will reveal a flood of gorgeous 
new multi-colored Indianesque book covers, with cosmic eagles and 
grandmother-thunderbirds, etc., but inside the expensive artwork there are 
few stories as universal or as dignified as this one of Annie Mae.
      It's a true story. She was very real. The search for her killers is 
still ongoing, pointing painfully from the Badlands to traitors like AIM 
leader Russell Means in our midst, a swaggering Sioux on the Hollywood 
circuit like a caricature out of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Indians who 
worked for the FBI and the US back in the 70s were called Goons, and Means is 
the New Age Goon whom Annie discovered in the belly of deceit and greed, and 
she was about to expose him as a provocateur for hire by the FBI, but he shot 
her in the back of the head first.
   How do we know that? Annie's cousin Robert Branscombe-Pictou has 
re-opened the case over the last few years, with the blessings of Annie's 2 
grown daughters and the leaders of the MicMac Nation, as well as support from 
the Canada-wide Assembly of First Nations, along with help from some other 
Native print organizations like Notes From Indian Country in Wisconsin, and 
they have gone public with names of the killers. A Denver Police detective 
has also helped them; and there was a BIA policeman investigating it earlier 
in the 90s on Pine Ridge. (Unlike some ideologically-minded AIM people I 
don't automatically discredit the sincerity of all cops or whitemen, some of 
whom certainly must be as horrified by this case as anyone)
      When they named 2 young Native guys, Arlo Looking Cloud and John Boy 
Patton as the shooters, and an older Native woman Theda Nelson-Clark, it was 
like a bombshell on the Internet in Indian Country. Finally, a breakthrough 
in the case after 20 long years! Branscombe and the family went even more 
public in September 16, 1999 at a big press conference in Ottawa, naming the 
killers and demanding the FBI re-open its botched investigation, calling for 
more Grand Jury investigations (there have been 3 over the years, with no 
public disclosure of any results), and indictments.
      Then the coup-de-grace - Branscombe smoked out Russell Means in Denver 
at a subsequent press conference on November 3, along with his lieutenant 
Ward Churchill, a former Rapid City policeman and 'Disinformation Specialist' 
with Army Intelligence, fronting as a professor at the University of Colorado 
in 'Indian Studies'. Means came forward ostensibly to name other AIM leaders 
as the undercover FBI provocateurs who ordered Annie's death, notably AIM 
founder Vernon Bellecourt, an Ojibwa from Minneapolis.
      Means and Churchill were smoked out in a classic Crazy Horse ambush - 
they smelled AIM blood and moved in for the kill, to discredit the Movement 
by turning all the famous leaders, including Dennis Banks and Leonard 
Peltier,  against each other. An ugly public spectacle resulted, predictably, 
as the media gleefully covered the feuding with much more attention than they 
ever gave Annie's original murder.
      Means is famous in Indian Country for being famous to the American media 
on the 'radical chic' circuit, speaking out for everything from Sovereignty 
to Treaties while not denying he took bribes from the Cleveland Indians to 
stop protesting their repulsive Chief Wahoo logo, and making a fortune in 
hollywood and publishing a self-serving autobiography.
      Why did he do it? Money. Ego. I remember one time in 1982 when Daniel 
Ortega was elected president of Nicaragua, Means snarled, "He's younger than 
me and already the president of his country." It's well known here among his 
Oglala relatives that he had no admiration for the Sandanistas or any other 
revolutionary indigenous struggles, but he went down there and disrupted 
them, acknowledging he was working for the vicious attack dog Eliot Abrams of 
the US State Department. The story of Russell Means and Ward Churchill is the 
story behind why Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 24 years (Peltier was 
not even mentioned once in Means' book 'Where Whitemen Fear To Tread'), why 
Pine Ridge is on the poorest county in the richest country in the world, why 
the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, with legal native claim to most of the upper 
plains of the West, is ignored by environmentalists and everybody else. 
Conspiracy? Of course. Ask Sitting Bull. 
      Back in South Dakota on the battlefields, the elders and grassroots 
people who witnessed the events and actions of those crucial days and nights 
of the 1970s on Pine Ridge have come forward naming Russell Means as the 
killer. The spirit of Annie Mae herself has named him in Ceremonies. They are 
preparing their own depositions and indictments for his Trial at a 
traditional Council on the sacred mountain, Bear Butte, and have asked all 
the old AIM leaders and central players and friends of Annie to come forward 
and give testimony. It might be a continuation of the ongoing War Crimes 
Tribunals that have been conducted through the American Hemisphere for years, 
purging the whole 507 years of the American Holocaust and 100 million 
uninvestigated Indian Murders. 

      These are not the ordinary factual rational procedures in a criminal 
case, but they are what Annie herself believed in, and I have come to feel 
the same way as the descendents of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. No one 
around here expects justice from the United States jurisprudential system. We 
are not going to be ambushed by them again, waiting for Grand Juries or 
Congress or the University System to do the right thing. Antoinette 
Claypoole, to her credit, also sees this as an extra-rational process, and, I 
hope, would support the ancient spiritual councils.
     She contributed to Branscombe's early investigations, along with Dill and 
the others of the underground Native media and internet sites, and she goes 
into a lot of detail of the dangerous and difficult dynamics of it. A lot of 
Natives didn't trust her.

                   you can't talk about life on the rez oppression and 
                   of indian people you are not indian

                   another smoke. KK girl. i want to hold her by the throat.
                   she pulls out the gideon and starts again.
                   says, why all this about annie mae anyway. a woman who
                   slept around and drank. what's the big deal about this 

      She writes in a more normal prose preface, "The continual intention of 
my work is to encourage a healing of the fear and sorrow, anger and injustice 
which surround the memory of Annie Mae, and to help her wandering spirit 
settle into her journey home."

                    with this book i toss the key to lies and secrecy. i 
                    those still  living who knew annie mae and loved her,
                    to open their hearts and speak her honor.

                   who would unbraid her hair, stare into a winterwind
                   walk into her grave? 

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