Government officials promised Arlo Looking Cloud a deal if he'd help them solve one of the most notorious murders in Native American history. So what's he doing in prison?
Anna Mae Aquash's daughter Denise remembers the last time she saw her mom. It was a weekend, September 1974. Denise was 11 and her sister, Debbie, was 9. That Friday, before the girls went to school, Jake Maloney, their father and Aquash's first husband, informed them they would meet their mother later that day at a nearby relative's in Nova Scotia. He instructed them to tell no one about the visit. Aquash was then a prominent AIM activist and a fugitive in the United States.
Maloney tried to hide that part of his ex-wife's life from the girls, so they wouldn't worry or be put in harm's way. Aquash, though, had already revealed her risky AIM business to Denise. "She didn't believe in lying," says Denise, now 38 years old and living in Nova Scotia. "And she told me things because I was the big sister." When Denise was 9, Aquash showed her a steamer trunk full of guns and ammunition. "She said they were taking them to this place where people were trying to hurt people, and they were taking the [guns] in so people could defend themselves," Denise says. "She was on her way to Wounded Knee."
Aquash always exuded a calm confidence in front of her daughters, except for that last time together. At the end of a weekend filled with joyous chatter and adult whispers, Aquash pulled her girls aside. "She got down on her knees," Denise says. "She had tears in her eyes as she said goodbye. We kept asking when she was going to come and get us. And she looked at me and told me that because I was the elder that it was my responsibility to look after my sister."
Seven months later, Maloney called his daughters in from playing. "They found a body," he told them. "We don't have all the information in yet, but we think it's her." Maloney didn't mention that the first medical examiner had determined Aquash died of "exposure," and that it was only after her family demanded a second autopsy that another pathologist noted the obvious bullet hole in her head. Maloney didn't bring up the rumors spreading through Indian Country: Some people were saying the first autopsy was an FBI attempted cover-up, that Aquash had been killed by corrupt federal agents. Other people whispered that AIM leaders got rid of Aquash because she was an informant. Instead, Maloney broke the news to the girls in the most general terms. He figured it was the gentlest way. Besides, truth be told, he didn't fully understand the perilous life his ex-wife had been leading. He only knew the Anna Mae he'd married.
She was Anna Mae Pictou, a Micmac Indian, a daughter of migrant workers, raised on the tribe's impoverished reservation in Nova Scotia. She and Maloney, also a full-blood Micmac, met at the Indian Day School, and before graduating the teenage couple moved to Boston to escape the impoverished life on the "rez." They married, moved into a small apartment, and the girls were born.
They found decent jobs in the big city - Maloney became a laborer, Aquash worked as a factory packer and a barmaid - but they also confronted a harsh reality in 1960s Boston: Like African-Americans, Native Americans were treated as second-class citizens. At her barmaid job Aquash watched Indian men try to drown their depression with booze. She met a Micmac chief who became her mentor; he taught her that the Micmacs were the first native people to encounter the "European white invaders" and that Micmac had trusted the whites until the British governor offered a bounty for every Indian "savage" scalp.
Aquash channeled her festering rage into action. Change and volatility were in the air. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the peaceful civil-rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr. morphed into the black-power of the Black Panthers, and Native Americans imitated their African-American peers by establishing urban activist groups like Boston's Indian Council. Aquash joined the council, where she encouraged her people to be proud of their heritage, and she helped establish an Indian recreation center.
In November 1971, the Indian Council invited a group calling itself the American Indian Movement to town. On Thanksgiving Day, AIM leaders orchestrated a rally at Boston Harbor. Activists climbed aboard a replica of the Mayflower, hung an AIM banner, and declared Thanksgiving a national day of mourning. It was a turning point for Aquash, who was in the crowd with her two daughters. It seemed to her that this group was destined to do more than just build rec centers; they were out to rebuild an Indian nation.
The Mayflower rally also was a pivotal moment for Aquash's marriage. Although Maloney was all for Indian rights, he felt his and his wife's foremost duty was to focus on their family. Aquash, however, was now convinced she owed it to her girls to fight for Indian equality. Her commitment to the cause drove a wedge between the couple. They separated, and Aquash began a new life. As she wrote to her sister in Nova Scotia: "These white people here in the United States, they think this country belongs to them. But they're only in charge right now because there are more of them than there are of us. This whole country changed with only a handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over in the 1500s, and it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to become one of those raggedy-ass Indians."