Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a Micmac Indian rights activist, was born on March 27, 1945 in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, the third daughter of Mary Ellen Pictou and Francis Thomas Levi. In 1949 her mother married Noel Sapier, the son and brother of traditional Micmac chiefs, and the family moved to Pictou’s Landing where the family was raised in poverty. Anna lived in a house with no heat, water, or electricity and subsisted largely on the wild turnips and potatoes harvested by her family. Although Anna’s stepfather was unable to improve his daughters’ financial lot, he provided them with other resources that Anna would treasure for the rest of her life. He taught the girls to value discipline and, most important, instructed them about the traditional ways of their people.
In 1962 Anna married fellow tribesman Jake Maloney and moved to Boston. She found work in a factory and gave birth to two daughters, Denise and Deborah. Pictou began to volunteer her time at the Boston Indian Council, and organization that provided support and services to Indians living in the city. Some of these new city dwellers had difficulty coping, especially when they were unable to find jobs or fell victim to drug and alcohol abuse. She counseled these troubled youths and, placed them in jobs or treatment programs. In the early 1970’s, she taught at the Teaching and Research in Bicultural Education (TRIBE) in Maine. This program provided Indian dropouts with a second chance at an education. Pictou helped develop a curriculum that aimed to instill confidence and cultural pride in the students by teaching them about Indian traditions and history. Anna enrolled in the New Careers Program at Wheelock College in Boston, and worked at the Ruggle’s Street Day Care Center in Roxbury. It was then that she was offered a scholarship to Brandeis University, because of her commitment to both her classroom and community, but she turned it down in order to care for her two daughters.
Despite her responsibilities, Pictou found the time to become involved in the growing Indian right movement. Composed of young urban Indians inspired by the African-American civil rights movement of the early 1960’s. This movement advocated a renewed respect for Indian traditions and sought to make the U.S. government live up to the treaty promises it had made to Indians throughout the country. Anna’s increasing interest in activism was shared by her boyfriend Nogeeshik Aquash, a Chippewa artist from Ontario, Canada. The couple traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1972 to participate in the Trail of Broken Treaties, a protest march that brought hundreds of angry young Indians to the capital. The demonstration drew national attention to their grievances with the federal government.
The most dramatic protest took place early the next year on the Sioux’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The reservation’s tribal chairman, Dick Wilson, had been accused of corruption and of ordering violent attacks on his political opponents, many of who were elders dedicated to keeping old traditions alive. These traditionalists asked for help from the American Indian Movement (AIM), the most prominent organization in the Indian rights movement. AIM’s young leaders staged an armed takeover.
When Anna and her husband heard of the Wounded Knee occupation, they rushed to Pine Ridge to join the protest. By the time they arrived, the site was swarming with FBI agents, who were blocking all routes into the area. They hoped to force the demonstrators out by cutting off their access to supplies. To help the protesters, the couple spent days hiking through the hills and evading agents armed with rifles before they were able to sneak into the Indian camp with food ad medicines. While in the protesters’ camp, she married Aquash. For Anna, the Wounded Knee wedding was a public declaration of her commitment to the fight for Indian rights.
The Aquashes escaped from the camp and returned to Boston after several weeks, but the occupation continued. AIM surrendered after seventy-one days. AIM had won a clear moral victory. Through the publicity surrounding the event, the organization and its leaders succeeded in gaining substantial public sympathy for their cause. This support outraged the FBI, which felt humiliated by the standoff. Its