The murder of American Indian Movement legend Anna Mae Aquash almost three decades ago is now casting its considerable shadow over the workings of the Canadian Justice Department. To the pained puzzlement of Aquash's family, one of those charged in her killing, Canadian John Boy Patton, aka John Graham, is still walking the streets - many say of Vancouver. Federal authorities have neither arrested nor extradited him, and getting a handle on where they're putting their efforts and who exactly is on his trail is proving as mysterious as everything else in this case.
The attorney general of South Dakota is especially bewildered by the fact that his accused has not materialized, given that Graham's co-accused, Arlo Looking Cloud, heads to court in Rapid City on September 30. "A request for Mr. Graham's arrest and extradition was made (to Canadian authorities) some time ago," he says. "The only thing I've been told is that Canadian authorities are having difficulty locating him."
If indeed that is the problem, it's surprising that federal justice reps aren't sharing their progress with Aquash's Nova Scotia-based family, who after all have suffered from both the tragedy and lack of judicial closure.
According to a spokesperson for the family, Catherine Martin, director of the NFB film The Spirit Of Annie Mae, Canadian officials have been anything but helpful. "In spite of several requests," she says, "there's only been a letter stating that, due to the nature of the case, they can neither confirm nor deny that there is an extradition process in place."
Frank Campbell, spokesperson for the RCMP in Whitehorse (Graham-Patton originally hails from the Yukon), says the force there is no longer actively seeking him. "We have made some inquiries among family and friends, but there's no indication he's in the area," he says. He speculates that the RCMP in Vancouver, where Graham-Patton spent the last several years, is probably in more active pursuit.
But a call to Corporal Pierre Lamaitre of the Vancouver RCMP's E Division reveals that officers there have never heard of Aquash or John Boy. Even Vancouver police rep Anne Drennan hasn't been alerted to the case. After hearing the information, she says she has "put an inquiry out to our major crimes section to see if anyone is even aware of this investigation."
All this is just one more riddle in a case full of intrigue and botched processes. Since Aquash's decomposing body was found one February morning in 1976 at the bottom of a ravine on the Rosebud Reserve, she has become an enduring symbol of aboriginal rights and bureaucratic wrongs. The local pathologist called in by the FBI at the time concluded that the then unidentified woman had died of exposure. There was, he wrote, no sign of violent death.
Upon learning of her death, her family in Nova Scotia hired an attorney who immediately had her body exhumed. An independent pathologist performed a second autopsy that took only minutes to find the .32-calibre bullet lodged in her brain.
"This is a pretty ugly thing that happened to my mother," says a statement written by Aquash's daughter, Denise Maloney Pictou, following the March indictments of Looking Cloud and Graham-Patton, both former AIM foot soldiers. "This was not about one person against another. This was about dissension within a movement, within a nation."
Dissension was indeed rife within the native communities of mid-1970s South Dakota. Following AIM's siege at Wounded Knee and a state of near civil war among native factions on the Pine Ridge reservation, the FBI saturated the Indian rights movement with undercover agents and informers.
Long-time observers believe the AIM leadership had Aquash killed because they believed she was an FBI informer, an allegation the agency flatly denies. Others suggest that some of AIM's highest-ranking members had her killed because she knew they were government spies.
For many years, aside from family, friends and the native rights movement, no one seemed to care. Then, in 1998, following an in-depth inquiry of their own, her family identified three people they believe killed her, including Graham and Looking Cloud. U.S. investigators took renewed interest and came to the same conclusion.
"Patton-Graham is not far," says Martin. The accused, she says, is well known to many First Nations people in Vancouver. "We think he has found refuge with people who may also be trying to protect themselves. It's such a tangled web."
On all levels, it appears. When NOW asks Justice Department spokesperson Patrick Charette why there's been no arrest, he makes no mention of the problems apprehending Patton-Graham. Rather, he refers to procedural matters.
"Normally, we don't speak on matters ongoing," says Charette. "There are procedures to be followed. We have to make sure the documents are in order and all the dots are connected, and when you have a case that occurred so long ago it takes even longer."