Family names alleged kidnapper in
Aquash case
by Leanne Yohemas-Hayes, Ottawa
Sept. 17, 1999

Family members of Anna Mae Aquash, a Canadian native-rights activist killed two decades ago in the United States, allege they have located her killer - and he is living in western Canada.

Anna Mae Aquash, 30 at the time, was shot in the back of the head. Her frozen body was found on the far northeast end of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in February 1976 .

"Before that shot happened Anna Mae asked to pray - they did not allow that time," said Robert Pictou-Branscombe, a distant cousin who has been investigating her murder for nine years. He learned this information through a statement given by one of the alleged kidnappers.

Pictou-Branscombe said one of the three alleged kidnappers - the one who allegedly held the gun - resides in the Yukon.

Two of the other alleged kidnappers, one female, the other male, live in Nebraska and Denver, Pictou-Branscombe told a news conference. He did not present evidence to support his claims.

Pictou-Branscombe and Aquash's two daughters made a plea Thursday on Parliament Hill to speed up the prosecution process in Canada.

The RCMP in Canada is investigating the case "as the need arises" upon request by the Denver police, said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Marc Richer.

He would not confirm the file is active at this time, only noting that the RCMP received some information last year which was then forwarded to the Denver police.

Three grand juries have been convened in her death, but none have produced charges.

Richer said that in certain cases publicly naming an alleged offender, like Pictou-Branscombe did on Thursday, could jeopardize the chance charges could be laid.

"The effect may be that they may be scaring the people" that they actually want to prosecute, he said.

But Pictou-Branscombe said he doesn't care if somebody sues him for liable or slander. He has named the alleged kidnappers in the past on the Internet as well as in speeches in the United States.

"I want these people in a courtroom," he said.

Aquash's story is as tragic as it is complicated. It involves arms smuggling, FBI agents, kidnapping, coverups and a botched autopsy.

Described as a beautiful and true warrior of the Mi'qmaw Nation , Aquash moved to South Dakota from her homeland in Nova Scotia to become involved in the American Indian Movement .

After she left a ruined marriage and two children behind, she was involved in helping smuggle weapons to the 70-day standoff at Wounded Knee near the reservation.

Later, two FBI agents and a native man were killed when they came to the reservation to investigate a theft.

Leonard Peltier, an Indian Movement security chief who was charged with the agents' death, fled to Canada and was later extradited.

The FBI believed Aquash was a key witness. Others believed she was an informant to the FBI.

Aquash was arrested and indicted on charges unrelated to the FBI deaths. After a judge released her on bail, she was kidnapped and later killed at the beginning of December 1975.

"She knew who the informers were and she was willing to discuss that," said Pictou-Branscombe, a 52-year-old Vietnam vet from Rimrock, Ariz., who was born in New Brunswick and has dual citizenship.

His mother was Aquash's first cousin.

The family still fights tears when they speak about the events leading up to her death. They say they want to find out why she died.

"I personally hold the American Indian Movement and the FBI personally responsible," said Pictou-Branscombe.

He said he wouldn't be shocked if the American Indian Movement and the FBI worked together to give orders to kill Aquash.

"That has not been proven as yet, but that would not shock me a bit."

Anna's Archive