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?
After the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972, AIM found itself in the midst of a civil war. It started the moment Means and the Pine Ridge contingent rolled back onto the rez. The newly elected president of the tribal government, Dick Wilson, issued an injunction preventing Means or any AIM member from speaking at or even attending public meetings. After all, if AIM were able to abolish the BIA, it would almost certainly end Wilson's reign and the patronage he doled out to friends and family. While the average annual per capita income on the rez was less than $1,000, Wilson gave his brother a $25,000 per year job heading the tribal planning office, Wilson's wife was director of the local Head Start program, and Wilson tripled his own salary to $15,500.
Means ignored the president's decree and was temporarily incarcerated. Meanwhile, Wilson's federally subsidized, heavily armed lackeys, who proudly called themselves "GOONs," as in Guardians Of the Oglala Nation, did their worst to prevent other AIM leaders from making public addresses. Even the most patient Indian elders on the rez had become frustrated by the Wilson administration's perceived malfeasance. They were tired of the nepotism. They were incensed because Indians who'd challenged Wilson and the BIA had their homes firebombed or ended up dead. The injunction imposed on Means, an Indian who had gone to D.C. and demanded change, only galvanized support for AIM and energized a campaign to oust Wilson. In February 1973, four months after the Broken Treaties protest, the elders demanded an impeachment hearing. Incredibly, the BIA allowed Wilson himself to appoint the tribal judge who presided over the proceeding; not surprisingly, Wilson was exonerated.
The elders turned to AIM. Days after the impeachment hearing, a 54-car caravan with as many as 200 AIM supporters pulled into the town of Wounded Knee, where decades earlier the U.S. Army had slaughtered at least 300 of their ancestors. AIM planned to stage a press conference. Means and fellow leader Dennis Banks notified the media and prepared a statement demanding congressional hearings on the Laramie Treaty, BIA abuses, and Wilson's regime. The document stated that, "The only two options to the United States of America are: 1) They wipe out the old people, women and children, and men, by shooting and attacking us. 2) They negotiate our demands." Within hours, dozens of federal agents, U.S. military personnel, Wilson, and his GOONs surrounded the dirt-road town, armed with 17 armored personnel carriers, 130,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition, 24,000 flares, 41,000 rounds of M-1 ammunition, 12 M-79 grenade launchers, 600 cases of C-S gas, and 100 rounds of M-40 explosives.
AIM members grabbed whatever weapons they could and holed up in a small, white, clapboard church on a hill. The siege at Wounded Knee had begun. For the next 71 days and nights, AIM and the feds exchanged gunfire while U.S. helicopters and Phantom jets swooped low. Despite booby traps set by the U.S. forces, AIM members snuck to and from the church with weapons, food, and messages. Aquash arrived from Boston with her trunk of guns and ammo. Along with other female AIM members, she dug bunkers, served as a courier, even picked up a rifle and walked the treacherous night patrol.
The standoff ended on May 7, 1973. Two Indians had been killed, at least five wounded. The settlement: Federal negotiators guaranteed "high-level" U.S. officials would meet with Indian chiefs. At the meeting 11 days later, a Lakota chief stood before nearly a dozen mid-level U.S. officials and asked a simple question: "Can we be reinstated back to the 1868 Treaty?" He got a simple answer: "No."
Inside the compound during the siege, the life-and-death reality fostered a surreal celebratory sense of carpe diem. Acquaintances became friends. Friends became lovers. And two lovers - Nogeesik Aquash and Anna Mae Pictou - married. He was an artist as well as an activist. Their romance had begun back east, after Aquash's divorce from Maloney. Nogeesik was a reputed ladies' man and heavy drinker, and their relationship thus far had been a volatile one; one minute he was making her laugh, the next he was punching her in a corner.
In a photograph of the ceremony, the groom, tall and slender, wearing a black fedora and a waist-length corduroy jacket, is hugging the medicine-man officiate; Anna Mae, petite with long, flowing, black hair, an angelic face, wide brown eyes, and clad in a poncho and jeans, stands by smiling tepidly. Her apparent lack of enthusiasm might have come from a recognition that she married during extreme circumstances and prophetically assumed the relationship would not last. Weeks after the siege, the newlyweds returned to Boston and separated. Another failed marriage, however, would be the least of her worries.