Traditional justice or clemency in Aquash case not justified, for now

Interview conducted By Christine Graef
News From Indian Country

Paul DeMain, Ojibwe/Oneida, is managing editor of News From Indian Country published on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin and President of the Navajo Times Publishing Company Board of Directors.

A former Indian Country policy liaison with Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Earl’s administration, he holds positions in the Great Lakes Big Drum Society at Lac du Flambeau and the Chief’s Drum at Lac Courte Oreilles. DeMain is a member of the Medicine Lodge, a tribal court counselor and former president of the Native American Journalists Association.

Here DeMain addresses the call by some individuals for using a traditional system of justice to remedy several murders that are currently under investigation or prosecution.

A long time ago, a traditional forum for judging someone who murdered a community member may have meant that you take the person out and execute them or banish them outside of the country with no weapons, or whatever else the person needs to survive on their own, DeMain said. That was a long time ago, when the world was wide open.

“That doesn’t work nowadays,” he said. “You don’t go to a sweat lodge or tepee and say oops, I’m sorry we killed your mother. We’re sorry. Oh, well, everything is forgiven. Oops, we killed the wrong person. We thought she was an informant but she wasn’t.”

A traditional punishment has nothing to do with the case of Annie Mae Pictou in the context of the fact that during 1975, some leadership members of the American Indian Movement allegedly conspired and had young security members execute a woman. There’s a process for clemency that’s in place that will work for those people who earn it, said DeMain.

“This needs to go through the current judicial system, a system that we understand, has transparency and we can follow in the public,” he said.

Arlo Looking Cloud will face his first preliminary review parole hearing in 2008 and another full fledged one around 2012.

“When he goes to his first parole hearing and if somebody like Dennis Banks or Russell Means goes there asking for clemency for him, nothing’s going to happen, that won't help him,” said DeMain.

“He needs Denise and Deborah Maloney, Annie Mae’s daughters. He needs Robert Mandel, the prosecutor. He needs somebody friendly from the FBI or someone like Robert Ecoffey who investigated this case and who is from the Indian community. He needs those people who have worked to bring this case to a form of justice at the table.

looking_cloud.jpg “So far, Arlo hasn’t done anything to deserve that from what I can see, because I think he is still holding back on information he knows. Neither has John Graham. He has taken the position that anyone who says John Graham may have been involved is a traitor, is a pig, is a liar, that they’re framing him, that they work for the FBI. That is contrary to what he has told other AIM members and people who have since decided to cooperate.”

Bringing Graham to the states will open documents and testimonies we have not seen to date, and perhaps move truth forward to the next level of mid-tier conspiracy, leading to the leadership who ordered Pictou’s murder, he said.

“If I look at polling we did earlier this year on the question of whether or not Graham should be extradited to the United States, they said overwhelmingly, yes he should be, some 70 percent or more,” he said.

There was a small group of people within the context of that, who voted that Looking Cloud and Graham should be pardoned because of mitigating circumstances.

“I think before someone’s pardoned, you need to see people come to the table and say ‘I admit I did this. I admit I did that. This is who told me this. I ask for forgiveness because I’m telling the truth.’ The public, Indian Country needs to see that.” DeMain said.

There has been no remorse shown. Arlo continued to appeal his trial and send mixed messages to different people. No one’s going to deal with him from a context of “we’ll forgive you or provide clemency based on what he has done so far,” DeMain said.

“Looking Cloud went to a Grand Jury after his conviction, apparently because he was going to testify,” he said. “Terry Gilbert, his attorney at the time, advised him not to say anything but his name because of his upcoming appeal, so that is what he did. Later Gilbert, who by the way got involved in the case at the encouragement of Vernon Bellecourt, turned that around at the Graham extradition hearings by signing an affidavit saying Looking Cloud would not testify against Graham. True in part, but it’s not what Looking Cloud had in mind – sending an affidavit that makes no real difference in the extradition case, but looked good in the press for those supporting Graham.

Looking Cloud didn't sign affidavit
“To my knowledge, Looking Cloud never signed an affidavit saying he would not testify against Graham, just his attorney did, and considering Gilbert’s long relationship with Bellecourt, I can understand why they tried to use the affidavit to derail Graham’s extradition.

In the end, it makes no difference, because the Canadian judges could see the distinction of not knowing what will happened when Looking Cloud is brought into the court room. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, but I await the day to see what he actually does do.

“That’s not being helpful to resolve the case or bring truth to light. I think there’s federal prosecutors and FBI agents who are going to remember that he refused to cooperate which means that those guys are done offering him anything if they ever offered anything to him in the first place. I think you usually get to see what the goods are before you start trading for them.

“It’s going to have to be Arlo Looking Cloud who brings whatever it is, whatever he has to the table.”

“There’s all kinds of excuses coming out of these guys,” said DeMain. “That’s why Graham needed to be extradited, because it’s going to open the can of worms to the next level and the public has a right to examine the quality of the evidence that has been out of sight over the course of 32 years.”

graham-for_web.jpg DeMain said that the only reason Graham wouldn’t have a trial is if he decides to sit down and say, “ok, I’ve got a few cards left and that’s my cooperation. It’s time to get it over with. If that occurred, I can guarantee you that there would be people who say ok, it’s the 11th hour and maybe we’ll think about this clemency thing, this sense of remembering the environment of the 70s in which different groups battled each other, and the need to look at what forgiveness in a traditional sense means.

“But he has the right to plead not guilty and have a trial as well, I would not mind seeing what is produced by both the prosecution and the defense - and I would have to be the first to admit that right now I have an element of doubt. But having heard so much over the years I would convict if the testimony and evidence gives credibility to what has been said so far. But I don't think you fight extradition for four years, while telling people you are ready and anxious to prove your innocence and clear yourself of charges - he better have something pretty good like a surprise witness who saw somebody else do it, and even then, if that person is not able to sustain their credibility, it could back fire.”

It’s seems most likely that Arlo is going to spend the rest of his life in prison, DeMain said.

“I don’t see any reason why anyone would go to his parole hearing from the prosecution's side and say he needs to have clemency,” he said. “If he came out today and said he intends to testify against Graham or be a witness for the prosecution, it might change the dynamics of how a whole lot of people in the system now say, let him sit where he’s sitting... including myself.”

DeMain said at times he has no empathy for Looking Cloud because, though he is a heredity descendant of famous Lakota Chief, American Horse, and a candidate or right to be a chief. “He’s not acting like one in my opinion. Chiefs have integrity because their word is trusted.

“Right now he’s flip-flopping and seems to be saying, maybe I should do this, maybe I should do that. He has touched the edge of remorse in his letters and conversations, but I would think he does not know who to trust and it makes it that much more difficult to judge him.

“Same thing Peltier’s doing on the Pictou murder case. Maybe I should be over here and support Graham. Maybe I should have someone denounce him, but when his cousin Bob Robideau does, he fires him in a big publicity stunt. He seems to be trying to figure where this thing is going to finally come down, and so far its been a let down when Peltier could have made a difference in bringing this case to a resolve.

“Peltier’s actions lead me to believe he may have something more to worry about.”

“I think KaMook (Ecoffey) and (John) Trudell need to be complimented for wanting to do the right thing in bringing this case to justice.”

Looking Cloud is implying the same thing as Peltier and others, DeMain said. “We don’t snitch, we don’t rat on each other, we’re not traitors, we did ceremonies where we smoked the pipe and said we were not going to tell on each other or ‘my Indian people kind of thing.’

“Well Leonard, you know, you’ve thrown one key to your cell away because there are a lot of people who could support you if they saw remorse about what occurred during that time,” DeMain said.

“If he took responsibility for his actions, especially with people saying publicly that he bragged about shooting one of the agents, that’s not very helpful toward getting him out of prison. That’s where he’s going to be unless he changes the dynamics of his approach to this thing. We don’t rat on each other, I can help myself but I’m not going to do it. I’m going to help cover it up. I’m going to help finger people as traitors and pigs.

“KaMook Nichols, or John Trudell have turned on us – they are rats and maybe agents... KaMook Nichols has ‘stabbed me in the back,’ that is what he said. No, sometimes I really think these guys are right where they deserve to be and there’s some people who deserve to be right there sitting with them.

“I think KaMook and Trudell need to be complimented for wanting to do the right thing in bringing this case to justice.”

32 Years of Constitutional Rights

The justice system has worked for 32 years in favor of the rights of AIM leadership, he said.

“They can get in front of the media and exercise their first amendment rights to say whatever lie it is they want to, David Price killed Annie Mae, the FBI killed her, Jumping Bull was a botched FBI job. Dennis Banks launches an investigation, Russell Means launches an investigation into the Aquash case and they come back and announce ‘we didn’t do it,’” said DeMain. “Then years later change the whole analogy of what happened to fit the next stage of revelations.”

They have exercised every single judicial right in the United States and Canada that protects them, DeMain said. They have that right to evade going into a court of law. If an FBI agent showed up and wanted to talk, they said get out of here. They have a right not to cooperate. They have a right not to incriminate themselves. They have a right to go and spin the greatest tale or alibi for one author, create another alibi for another, but these things can’t be all true when you compare the record and I and Richard LaCourse and other Native journalists did just that.

“The Aquash case is not a mystery,” DeMain said. “It’s a murder case not brought to justice because people refused to talk about it to the police. People were scared. People are talking nowadays because of conscience, sometimes because of peer pressure, and maybe now because some of them may be facing prison. This thing has eaten a hole in the heart and soul of a lot of people inside AIM for many years.”

There’s going to be people in leadership who say “hey how can I make a deal when their time comes up,” because that’s how they’ve always been, he said.

“They’ve always served their own interests first and when they know the pressure is on, I think you’re going to find them willing to give everything up to save their own butt,” he said. “I think they’re willing to sacrifice anyone, just like they sacrificed Looking Cloud and Graham.

“It’s not AIM, it’s a handful of people who seized the leadership, have held onto it and steered the Movement in a direction nobody at the grassroots ever agreed too.”


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