The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
The John Graham Saga
an Activist, or Victim of an FBI Witch Hunt?
One of the most explosive historical flashpoints in the frequently
violent relationship between the U.S. government and First Nations is
once again in the limelight because of a Vancouver resident under house
arrest in Vancouver while awaiting a hearing March 1 that could see him
extradited to the United States to face a murder trial.
John Boy Graham has been accused of the murder of Anna Mae Pictou
Aquash, a shocking charge since Aquash's unsolved murder 29 years ago
has long been considered the work of her enemies, which include the FBI
and a goon squad which terrorized residents of the Pine Ridge reserve
in South Dakota. In Canada, a group of supporters materialized quickly
and is lobbying Ottawa not to allow Graham's extradition.
They see a repetition of the experience of Leonard Peltier, a militant
in the American Indian Movement who was himself extradited from Alberta
in 1976 and who is still incarcerated at Leavenworth prison in Kansas.
This is despite the expose of the evidence that convicted him as being
perjured and worldwide demands for a new trial.
His supporters consider the charge against Graham politically
motivated. They say it is ludicrous that Graham would ever murder
Aquash, a close friend and fellow AIM activist. More likely, they say,
the enemies of First Nations struggle are seeking to cast a different
light on a case that has long held the U.S. justice system up to
unfavourable world scrutiny.
"Anna Mae was being hunted by the FBI and her life had been threatened
by the FBI," said Graham in an interview at the house of a Vancouver
supporter. "They're hoping to destroy Leonard's case and clear
themselves on Anna Mae's case, like they want to destroy AIM and the
indigenous peoples' struggle."
Graham and Aquash were both Canadians – he from the Champagne Aishihik
band in the Yukon, she a Mi’qmak from Nova Scotia – who worked with AIM
in trying to prevent the loss and environmental destruction of Lakota
lands. The area was targeted for its rich uranium deposits that were
eventually transferred illegally to mining interests by band chief
Dickie Wilson in 1975.
Both were on the scene shortly after the infamous "Incident and Oglala"
in which armed police led by the FBI had a gunfight with members of an
encampment on private property at Pine Ridge. Two FBI agents and an AIM
member died in that battle, which ensued after an attempt to arrest a
man for petty theft. Later that year Aquash, who had been questioned
and fingerprinted by the FBI and unsuccessfully pressured to give
evidence against her friends, was found dead and frozen on the prairie.
The extradition attempt centres on the testimony of an alleged friend
of Graham, Arlo Looking Cloud. A homeless man and an alcoholic, Looking
Cloud had reportedly told the FBI that he was with Graham when he
executed Aquash on the grounds that she was informant. According to
Graham's supporters, Looking Cloud was not proving to be a reliable
witness, so the FBI came looking for Graham.
Graham was visited four times by the FBI while he lived in Whitehorse
during the late Eighties and Nineties. "The first time, in 1988, they
said they were investigating Anna Mae's murder. I suggested David Price
(the FBI agent who interrogated and subsequently investigated Aquash's
death) and paid informant Douglas Durham. They claimed it was someone
"They offered me witness protection if I'd go down and testify against
the AIM leadership. I said I didn't need immunity; I'd done nothing to
get immunity for.
"They told me they'd pin all this on me if I didn't cooperate, and
that's what they're doing."
The bizarre facts around Aquash's death have been the subject of many
books and investigative articles. Agent Price claimed he couldn't
identify Aquash's body; she was buried as a Jane Doe, but not before
her hands were cut off for fingerprint identification. An exhumation
and second autopsy revealed the gunshot wound to the head that had
killed her, something supposedly missed by the initial autopsy.
In a parallel to Graham's case, Aquash was also asked to give testimony
to convict two men around the killings of the FBI agents in the Pine
Ridge shootout. "Anna Mae wouldn't cooperate with them. They took the
killings of those two agents very, very personal. They were swearing to
get everyone involved." Aquash feared for her life, a fear that was
tragically borne out.
Graham thinks his case is the FBI's way of undermining persistent
efforts by supporters to free Leonard Peltier, who was extradited from
Canada where he'd fled in 1976 on perjured testimony. Graham said
Peltier obviously did not receive a fair trial, and he fears the same
for himself if the extradition is successful.
Graham has been under house arrest after several weeks’ incarceration
and recently beat an attempt to put him back into jail.
For several years Graham continued his activities, working variously in
the United States on Peltier's defense committee and organizing
opposition to uranium mining in Saskatchewan. In 1981, he was involved
in the founding by the AIM leadership of the Anna Mae Aquash Survival
Camp in Pinehouse, Saskatchewan. In more recent years he worked on
construction in Whitehorse and in Greater Vancouver.
Bob Newbrook was the RCMP officer who arrested Peltier in Hinton,
Alberta. He didn't give it another thought, he says, until the
documentary Incident at Oglala changed his mind and started years of
investigation in Peltier's case. Now a financial planner and activist
with Amnesty International, he has worked for years to see Peltier
freed. He has written several key officials in the US and Canada for
several years, including, most recently, federal Justice Minister Irwin
Cotter, urging an above board, fair extradition hearing. Regarding the
Peltier case, "I think it's all about feeling vindictive. I think they
want Graham because he's the last loose end."
Tom Kozar is a retired BC trade unionist who's been a member of the
Peltier Defence committee for more than 20 years. He says the US is
using its highly controversial Patriot Act, enacted in the wake of
9-11, in extradition cases. Coupled with Canada's Anti-Terrorism bill,
it could mean Graham's extradition case might be based on hearsay
evidence, which the Patriot Act allows.
"Every Canadian has the obligation not to let what happened to Leonard
Peltier happen again," says Kozar, who wants the Canadian Labour
Congress to try for intervener status in the case.
Graham also sees links between the climate of 9-11 and his situation.
"There's no such thing as getting a fair trial in a country that
doesn't live by the rule of the law. If they'll lie about Iraq and
Palestine, they'll lie about Pine Ridge."