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Murder suspect has local support

Yukon News
December 24, 2003

By Juliann Fraser, News Reporter

John Graham, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation man charged with the decades-old murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, was denied bail in a BC Supreme Court yesterday.

The 48-year-old native rights activist from Haines Junction will remain in a Vancouver jail until a hearing date can be set January 28 for extradition to the US.

American authorities have charged him with first-degree murder in the killing of Pictou-Aquash in 1975.

Graham and the 30-year-old woman were both Canadian activists with the American Indian Movement and were involved in struggles in South Dakota with police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations around the time of her killing.

Two FBI agents were killed during a bloody shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. More than 60 natives, mostly Lakota Indians from the reserve, were also killed during an extended period of confrontations with US authorities.

Graham’s friends and family in Whitehorse believe the former AIM member is a scapegoat and worry he won’t get a fair hearing.

“The relationship between the FBI and the American Indian Movement is not what you’d call justice,” said Matthew Lien, a friend of Graham’s for nearly 20 years.

Lien, who is well known in the Yukon both as a singer and a human rights activist, said Graham’s countless stories about the AIM years included fond memories of Pictou-Aquash, a Mi’qmak from Nova Scotia who, like many other Canadians, including Graham, headed south to join an exploding rights movement.

The man who talked about her so lovingly couldn’t possibly be her executioner, said Lien.

Pictou-Aquash was shot in the back of the head, execution style. AIM members claim someone took her from Denver to Rapid City, and then to the Pine Ridge reservation to kill her.

The tensions with US authorities at the time, not to mention how they handled her death, has raised much suspicion about the FBI’s involvement in her death.
Graham and his co-accused, Arlo Looking Cloud, as well as Pictou-Aquash, have also been rumoured to be FBI informants.

After her frozen body was discovered on the reservation, FBI agent David Price was one of the first to examine the body. He claimed he could not identify her, despite having interviewed her weeks before.

Price ordered her hands cut off and sent to Washington for fingerprinting. Her body was then buried as a Jane Doe. Price said there was no need for a criminal investigation.

The doctor who examined her body said she died of exposure. Only after a public inquiry did another coroner do an autopsy and found the bullet in her head.
Graham’s supporters are all too familiar with these troubling facts.

“Why did the pathologist miss the bullet hole?” asked Lien. “Why an anonymous grave? Why were her hands cut off? Why couldn’t the FBI agent identify her…? We’re talking about a trained FBI agent.”

Another reason Graham and anyone connected with AIM have had reasons to doubt the US justice system is that another Canadian AIM activist was unjustly extradited in 1976 for the murders of the two FBI agents.

By now it is a well-known fact Leonard Pelletier was sent to the US under false circumstances.

Amnesty International is watching the Graham extradition hearing closely because of the Pelletier case.

The John Graham Defense Committee says the tactics used to extradite Pelletier have already been used on Graham.

Before moving to Vancouver two years ago, Graham lived in Whitehorse with his longtime companion, Viola Papequash, and their eight children. Here, he was visited four times by FBI agents.

“They would suddenly appear with no warning,” said Lien.

Graham was fixing his roof one day when he looked down the ladder and saw them standing there, he said.

They wanted him to give them the name of Pictou-Aquash’s killer in exchange for immunity, said Lien.

“If you ask me, that’s not justice, that’s manipulation and coercion.”

Graham was an easy target in Pictou-Aquash’s murder because he admitted being the last AIM member to see her alive.

In past interviews, he said she came to him afraid, after being harassed by US authorities, so he dropped her off at a safe house.

He has consistently denied killing Pictou-Aquash, including in 2000 during an interview with CBC’s The Fifth Estate.

Graham was a low-level security guard with AIM along with his co-accused during the 1970s.

Looking Cloud, 49, will stand trial in February, where he is expected to point the finger at Graham.

Lien’s group worries Looking Cloud is vulnerable to the FBI’s coercive tactics because he has been chronically drunk and homeless for years.

The Yukon’s MP, Larry Bagnell, visited Graham last week in his holding cell in Port Coquitlam. Bagnell also wants to make sure the native Yukoner is treated fairly.

Graham was arrested by police in Vancouver on December 1, nine months after he was indicted to the US for first-degree murder.

Lien said his friend was not hiding there, but left the Yukon to protect his family from constant harassment.

The legal team taking on Graham’s extradition case include highly respected criminal lawyers Terry Laliberte and Lyn Crompton, who also has expertise in indigenous law.

Lien is encouraging anyone who wishes to support Graham, or who wants more information on his case, to visit www.grahamdefense.org.

“I would hope the Yukon community will look deeper into this matter,” said Lien.

“John is someone the Yukon should be proud of, not someone they should presume is guilty.”

© Copyright 2003 Yukon News