in Anna Mae Aquash's murder
What follows are excerpted portions of videotape 1 (of 4 total) of an interview with Richard Two Elk, conducted June 16, 2000 at the Native American Journalists Association conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Richard Two Elk - It's a hard thing to do I think, it's been a hard thing, and I apologize, (voice breaks) for the power of it, it brings me to tears sometimes. I will start with the first statement, that's really the essence of where I stand right now.... My name is Two Elk, Richard Two Elk, I'm a Ogalala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. I took up the pipe when I was 17 years old, I sun danced for my brother in 1977, I'm a combat veteran, I was in Wounded Knee. I was in the United States Army, I served actively from 1983 to 1987 as a medical NCO, and I've been a journalist in Indian America since about 1975 when I started going around and recording Indians.
My brother is Arlo Looking Cloud, he's also from Pine Ridge South Dakota. We grew up together, I grew up hanging with Arlo over the years, many times we went many places and we participated in a lot of different AIM actions together. We went to Wounded Knee and we were always there supporting AIM in the Denver area, when an issue came up that had to be dealt with. A lot of people in the country know Arlo Looking Cloud and they remember how active a supporter he was of the American Indian Movement. Arlo's father's name is Johnny Looking Cloud. Johnny Looking Cloud is the traditional treaty chief among our Lakota treaty headmen.... Johnny and Arlo Looking Cloud are the descendants of American Horse, and he's another of our traditional Lakota chiefs. So when we talk about Arlo Looking Cloud, we're not just talking about, as AIM has suggested, some drunk Indian, who doesn't have a clue, we're talking about a descendent of our Lakota headmen (voice breaks) and if you'll forgive me, we're talking about a war chief.
I'm here today to address the issue of my brother's involvement in the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. From the time of the murder and up until today, Arlo Looking Cloud has been associated with this case, and it's also been clear to me that Arlo Looking Cloud, that there's no doubt in my mind, that he was involved in the murder of Anna Mae. He has always stated to me, consistently over the years, that he was only acting on orders. He further states, if people want to know more about where those orders came from, how they came about, then they need to talk to the AIM leadership. So, I, my brothers, my sisters, and the relatives of Arlo Looking Cloud support him in his position, and we stand beside him in trying to bring this case to a resolve.
Over the past year, Mr. Robert Branscombe and I have provided ample opportunities for American Indian Movement leadership to come forward and help our families resolve this case. They've responded with denial and finger pointing. Given the history of this case and the interest of the Native families involved, given that it is a common knowledge among many Native people that AIM leadership clearly had it out for Anna Mae for their various reasons, given that there are hundreds of grassroots Native people who know the truth of this case and given that there has been a consistent effort on the part of American Indian Movement leadership to misdirect, confuse and avoid their role in the murder of Anna Mae and given that the families of the victim, desire, deserve at the very least the honor and dignity of knowing the truth, I am formally challenging American Indian Movement leaders, Russell Means, Vernon Bellecourt, Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, Carter Camp, John Trudell to come forward and own their part in this case. That's the essence of the statement that I would like to go out. So if you have questions, I can answer those.
Minnie Two Shoes - How did you evolve the list of the AIM leadership that you just put forward?
Richard Two Elk -The list is, the individuals who shared in making the call, to go ahead and do the hit. I know this from my associations within the American Indian Movement and from my conversations with Arlo Looking Cloud. So those are the people that I know were critically and centrally involved in making the call. There were other people peripherally involved which I didn't name. Does that help?
Brian Wright McLeod - You say there were no direct orders, but how does that tie into the Anna Mae killing?
Richard Two Elk - It ties in with Anna Mae killing in that, what happened with the Anna Mae killing was that there was no direct command given from one individual to Arlo to go out and do the hit. By the time that word came down, there had already been at least two or three different types of interrogations of different types of Indian people who had been suspected or accused of being an informant. That was often a rationale that was put forward against somebody who didn't buy into the program. It ties into the Anna Mae case in that, when Arlo got word that this had to be done and he and John Boy knew that they were the ones who were going to have to carry it through, it wasn't somebody who said, Arlo and John Boy go and do this, first do this and then do that and then do this other, it was more like it was a common consensus among the members of Denver AIM and AIM members in general that Anna Mae was under suspicion, and so they were essentially looking for somebody to take that to another level. They had already gotten Leonard Peltier, Butler and Robideau to do an interrogative process with Anna Mae and, but they needed somebody who was cleaner and not associated with the whole process. So what they did is, they passed word through the moccasin telegraph, that this had to be taken care of, and Arlo was chosen and selected and John Boy was chosen and selected by Troy Lynn Yellow Wood out of Denver to complete the process. They were chosen because of their allegiance to those people, Troy Lynn and some of the others, and they felt that they could be secured enough and not let anybody know.
Brian Wright McLeod - But why Anna Mae?
Richard Two Elk - They felt, Vernon Bellecourt suspected Anna Mae's involvement with the FBI since the Trail of Broken Treaties. In my conversations with him, and in fact I did an interview with him and I didn't talk about the FBI or AIM in that way, but I did talk about the history of AIM and it became apparent to me in my conversations with him both on the record and off the record, that Anna Mae was one of the people that he suspected clear back to the Trail of Broken Treaties as possibly being an FBI informant. O.K? The other element was, that Dennis Banks was notorious for processing women if you will. I say it that way because of the way things happen. He was notorious for getting young Indian women involved and getting involved with some of the women who came around to support AIM and our different actions. One of the women that he was involved with was Anna Mae, and in essence, he had arrived at that point where he basically threw her away. That's the best way I could describe it. And so, it was a shared call and of all the people that were in the American Indian Movement, Anna Mae's name kept consistently coming up over a period of years, particularly with Vernon Bellecourt. That's how I figured she got involved in so crucial a point. She wasn't alone, there were a lot of other people who were almost at the same standing as she was. They didn't get taken out because she got taken out. If she would have gotten taken out and it had been successfully done with no press, no media coverage, no attention, then there would have been others. And there probably were others that never got any attention, that nobody every talked about, so.....
Paul DeMain - How early on were you aware of the accusations of Anna Ma. You said you were aware of the Farmington interrogation by Leonard Peltier. Were you aware of that when it was taking place?
Richard Two Elk - I was aware of it in '75 and '76, when I guess we set up the AIM house in Denver on Emerson Street and I was an active part of Denver AIM and the Colorado Warrior Society with Frank Dillion and Arlo Looking Cloud and John Boy, there were others but those were the primary people that we can name now. And the question in Denver, because Anna Mae came into Denver quite a few times with Nogesik over the period since Wounded Knee, and she'd come to the office and they'd give them money and there was an association there so some of what was happening had a lot to do with the women in the community in Denver at that time. There was and is still an incredible level of jealousy that exists within women in AIM in Denver, not only jealousy in terms of attention of the leadership but jealousy in the ability to influence actions and decisions and to be a part of AIM in an tangible way, so what happened when Anna Mae came in was I would say, one of the things that we've always had as a problem as Indian people is we have some people that have what the Lakota might call, Chuntay Washtay, it's a good heart, and the good hearts do what they do because it's something that they believe in and they're such a good heart that they're almost naive about that maybe somebody doesn't want them to do that. The good heart believes that we all share the same values and ambitions and purpose and so they go forward to do something and they share their ideas and they offer their ideas in such a way that they do that very freely and openly. That's how Anna Mae was. She come into the community and she had a million ideas about how to do this or how to do that, and because she was pretty, the AIM leadership and a lot of the guys had an interest in trying to hook up with her or be her friend. None of the foot soldiers or little guys ever really entertained that, but the AIM leadership was constantly toying with it. As a result of their attention that they gave to Anna Mae, they pissed off some of the other women in Denver. And some of the women had the capacity to rally opinion within the group against Anna Mae. So that was essentially what happened that took it beyond a level of suspicion and put it into a realm of danger in Denver.
Paul DeMain - In other interviews that I've conducted, it's been said that those women include Lorelie DeCora, Madonna Gilbert, Troy Lynn and to some extent, Theda, though Theda is quite a bit older. Are those names some of the names that are affiliated with your scenarios?
Richard Two Elk - Yeah, I would say that's pretty much on the money. Theda had a more direct involvement because being the older woman she was able to exert a significant amount of influence and control, not only over the women that were there but also over the young men, and I know for a fact that she was very closely associated and influenced very heavily the actions of Arlo and Frank.
Paul DeMain - The person that oversaw the [Emerson Street] house [in Denver] and stayed at the house most regularly, from my knowledge was Rod Skenendore?
Richard Two Elk - That's right, Rod Skenendore lived at the top floor of the AIM house of Emerson Street and he was in essence the on site over watch in the house. He was the older individual and everyone else in the house was my age and that would have been in the early twenties at that time, and so he, everything basically had to go through him and he had knowledge about everything that went on within the Emerson Street facility. And so, one of the statements that was given to me was that, this young woman had come into the house unexpectedly, looking for someone ... when they opened the back door, the people in the room, started yelling at them and trying to stop them from going through that door, but they managed to open that door a little bit and they saw a woman back there and she was tied up and she was gagged. But all they caught was a glimpse, but they recognized her and they knew it was Anna Mae. But right away the people in that room closed that door and they hurried that girl out. So she left and she never said anything about it and that's kind of how it is with Indian people and that's why I say there's hundreds of witnesses out there in the grassroots community who know what happened and so it isn't a case of having to prove something. Maybe for the FBI and maybe for charges, it has to be proven and evidence comes to play, but these were some of the things that were told to me and my personal recollections were that Skenendore was there and he had an active involvement in the abduction and murder of Anna Mae Aquash, not only because of his presence and his awareness as an older member who was in charge of things at the time. But, after Arlo was taken into custody in '94 and interrogated by the FBI in reference to this case, I began to actively challenge people within Denver AIM concerning this case and that was before I ever went public. On the moccasin telegraph I put the word out that I knew what had happened and that I was taking an active interest in the case. Within a week of my putting the word out, Rod Skenendore came to my house. He came from Montana or Wyoming to visit me. He invited me in essence to come back in the fold. He asked me why I had to go out there and do things on my own and why couldn't I work with the other people within Denver AIM. And I told him very clearly, that there was a distinction in my mind and in my heart between my brother and the other people in Denver AIM and the truth in the case of Anna Mae. At that point he started arguing with me and challenging me in my house, in front of my children and my family and my son Jeremy witnessed that. I then invited him to leave and I told him again that I wasn't going to go away from this case and I wasn't going to break from it and that he and the others needed to get ready because we were going to move in on them.... That's why I know, from his reaction to me hitting buttons, he came all the way from Wyoming to personally counsel me and he relied on his personal association with me and other people within Denver AIM to basically get me to back off and be quiet.
Richard LaCourse - Richard I want to again turn the pages back a little bit. In all the review of records and interviews and including the Wounded Knee papers, I have never, ever seen Anna Mae's being bad jacketed with the informer thing clear as far back as November 1972.... Do you think Anna Mae was suspect at that time, because it's the very first time, and since you'd talked to Vernon about it, what did she do that turned on Vernon's warning lights? This is really early for being fingered.
Richard Two Elk - I think what happened with Vernon was that he at the time didn't have a suspicion of her. He acquired and developed this suspicion in retrospect, because....
Richard LaCourse - Excuse me, and this was not something that she was ever aware of herself?
Richard Two Elk - Right, she was never, never aware of, until probably within 6 months of her death she was not aware of the magnitude of the allegations against her and it wasn't until 6 months of her death, and from the summer of '75, that she started to begin to realize that it's real, that she was highly suspected and knowing, that's why she made the statement she did, because she...
END OF TAPE ONE.