Not long ago, I was asked to contribute to a sociology/criminology textbook called Women Criminals: An Encyclopedia of People and Issues. The book examines how and why women become involved in real, or in some cases, what the government deems as criminal activity. I was assigned to write about Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, who joined the American Indian Movement to help improve the conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I read incredible news clips and books on her life and death, and learned that while she sought justice for the future of her children and all native people, she became entangled in a web that eventually led to her death, some believe by members of those she sought to help. I want to thank Cal State University, Northridge professors Kristyan Kouri for inviting me to contribute to the book and Vickie Jensen who edited the piece. Here is a short selection from the textbook (2011):
…Even now, the Pine Ridge Reservation remains to many in the Sioux community a symbol of broken promises by the U.S. government. Poverty, joblessness, crime, and lack of social services persist. The disconnect between federal agents and the Sioux people who live there contributed to a deeper distrust of the U.S. government, fueling bloody clashes. Tensions between American Indian Movement (AIM) activists, federal authorities, and government factions on the reservation resulted in dozens of deaths.
These were the conditions Anna Mae Aquash saw when she arrived in Pine Ridge in the early 1970s, just as the AIM was gaining momentum; AIM called on the U.S. government to acknowledge its broken treaties. Though the civil rights movement had called for equality for all during the 1960s, American Indians remained largely isolated from the national dialogue. Nonetheless, members of AIM had been encouraged by the results.
In 1973, members of AIM barricaded themselves in the village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, the site of an infamous, blood massacre of a century before. A 71-day standoff followed. At the time, Anna Mae Aquash’s role was unique, because the AIM was largely a patriarchal one, but she established herself as a guard and a supply courier. She also caught the attention of agents from the FBI. The FBI considered AIM an extremist organization. To this day, some American Indians believe the FBI was so concerned about AIM that they planted spies within the group to track their moves.
After the stand-off, Anna Aquash’s work continued with AIM, and her activism to garner support for AIM took her to various cities, including Los Angeles. However, a shadow of doubt had been cast upon her from those back at Pine Ridge. Some thought Anna Mae Aquash was a snitch because she seemed to always be around when arrests occurred.