Anna Mae Pictou Aquash Whose Spirit is Present Here and in the Dappled Stars

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash was born on March 27,1945 in a small Indian village just outside the town of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Canada. She spent her early years in an atmosphere of poverty and uncertainty. After her fathers death she attended an off-reserve school where she faced a tremendous amount of racism. She continued her education into high school until one day Aquash and her siblings came home to find that their mother had abandoned them. She then dropped out of school and turned to the only profession she knew, working the potato and berry harvest.

Aquash began working at an early age to oppose prejudice, discrimination and oppression. In 1968, Natives were calling for equal rights, cultural recognition, and the fulfillment of promises made in treaties. Aquash worked as a volunteer in the Boston Indian Council’s headquarters while holding down a factory job. Her council work centered on helping young, urban Natives develop self-esteem, a technique that seemed to help them avoid alcohol abuse. It was a topic close to her own life after seeing first hand the effects that alcohol had on the lives of people close to her. She became active in AIM (American Indian Movement) protesting not only for American Indian rights but also for the negative image in which they are portrayed in American history.

Aquash then began to work in the Teaching and Research in Bicultural Education School Project (TRIBES). Her daughters attended the school and she taught. The curriculum there consisted of traditional subjects as well as Indian history, values, and beliefs to foster pride in the students. Although the project was successful, it was closed in 1972, when funding was cut.

She continued to be active by participating in the march on Washington, D.C., called Trail of Broken Treaties. Originating with AIM, the march included Natives from all over the country that converged on the capital to draw attention to Indian issues. The group took over and occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and then presented a list of 20 civil rights demands. After a week of occupation, the government promised to review their demands, point by point, a great victory and the first time a national organization of American Indians had faced a confrontation as a united people. Aquash played a great role in this victory and made a significant impact in paving the way for a more humane social order.

Aquash was found murdered on the Pine Ridge Reservation during a time of tremendous social and political upheaval; she has become a symbol of the movement for Indian rights. She was an active American Indian Movement (AIM) member, as well as mother, wife, social worker, and day care teacher; her image is powerful as much for her untimely death as for her life’s work
(California State University Fresno “Peace Garden”).

Anna Mae: Gun in Her Mouth

For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, Whose Spirit Is Present Here and in the Dappled Stars

(For we remember the story and must tell it again so we may all live) 

By Joy Harjo

Beneath a sky blurred with mist and wind,
I am amazed as I watch the violet
heads of crocuses erupt from the stiff earth
after dying for a season,
as I have watched my own dark head
appear each morning after entering
the next world to come back to this one,
It is the way in the natural world to understand the place
the ghost dancers named
after the heart breaking destruction.
Anna Mae,
everything and nothing changes.
You are the shimmering young woman
who found her voice,
when you were warned to be silent, or have your body cut away
from you like an elegant weed.
You are the one whose spirit is present in the dappled stars.
(They prance and lope like colored horses who stay with us
through the streets of these steely cities. And I have seen them
nuzzling the frozen bodies of tattered drunks
on the corner.)
This morning when the last star is dimming
and the busses grind toward
the middle of the city, I know it is ten years since they buried you
the second time in Lakota, a language that could
free you.
I heard about it in Oklahoma, or New Mexico,
how the wind howled and pulled everything down
in righteous anger.
(It was the women who told me) and we understood wordlessly
the ripe meaning of your murder.
As I understand ten years later after the slow changing
of the seasons
that we have just begun to touch
the dazzling whirlwind of our anger,
we have just begun to perceive the amazed world the ghost dancers
crazily, beautifully.


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