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Remembering Anne Mae and the Terrible Price of a Movement

Indian Country Today had this interview with John Trudell about the death of Anne Mae Aquash, a young, idealistic Micmac woman from Nova Scotia who came to the Pine Ridge reservation in the 1970's to help the people and was murdered. It is believed that she was murdered for being "jacketed" by the FBI as an informant. In other words, they painted this big-hearted woman and mother as an informant in order to protect their real informant which led to her death at the hands of the people she tried to help.

I still remember as a young girl in Denver at the Indian Center when they did a dance for her and everyone stood up and honored her memory. They also did that for all the Wounded Knee participants. Her death and the decline of AIM and the movement for human rights for all indigenous people has always been linked in my heart since then. She is in our movement history canon of saints. Of people who tried to make a difference. I will always honor her spirit in my heart as I look at the pictures of her always young face full of purpose and meaning and hope. Aren't these the sort of people we should be trying to grow? Like beautiful grass that grows long like the hair on our mother's head. So Anna Mae is reborn from the land where she last laid her head every spring on the Great Plains. In those endless fields of tall sweet grass waving, filling the air with sweetness, reminding us that life is meant for so much more. And it is sweet.
"Theory of the planted operative: 'A jacket was created for Annie Mae'
Part two
Editors' note: In a running conversation with Indian Country Today's Senior Editor Jose Barreiro, John Trudell seeks to address lingering issues in the dissolution of the early American Indian Movement leadership and to comment on the case of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, the Micmac activist murdered in South Dakota during the winter of 1975 - '76. Part two of the series covers Trudell's perspective on the issues of violence in the activist movement. The renowned poet-apostle of Indian activism proposes his theory of a government operative deeply embedded to discredit the movement, during a time of rogue government infiltration programs that sometimes stimulated violence in social and political organizing. Trudell discussed the shootout at Oglala, S.D., in 1975 that resulted in the deaths of one Indian activist and two FBI agents, and other incidents from those tempestuous times. Next week, Trudell addresses his own shift from direct political activities to musical poetics of stage and film."
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Labor Day & U. Utah Phillips

I wanted to do a post honoring our Labor history. I got my first clue of what that past was like when I was given a tape of some labor union songs by my friend Jane Blume's husband, Phil. The songs "Joe Hill" and "Pie in the Sky" with lyrics like "don't mourn-- organize!"-- and "Work all day, live on hay, you'll get pie in the sky when you die-- now, that's a lie," opened my eyes to a past of workers who gave everything, their lives, their bodies to fight for better working conditions in this country. Things that we take for granted, the eight-hour day, the forty-hour work week, even weekends were fought for, not given by the powers that be.

This "American way" was fought for by immigrants, men and women, who faced off policemen with billy clubs, deportation and imprisonment and violent death. The Blumes didn't have to tell me any history, because it was all right there in the songs. That's why I recommend this Labor Day to take some time from hitting the sales, or the bbq and go out and buy this album, Fellow Workers featuring the storytelling and songs of the labor movement and sung by U. Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco. I was fortunate to get to know and listen to the stories of U. Utah Phillips when I lived in Nevada City, California, where he lives. It was an amazing education about our history.

In a review by, reviewer Richard Marcus says:
They are the stories of the men and women who fought for the right to work only eight hours a day, for safe working conditions, and for the dignity of working men and women across the United States. From the textile mills of Laurence Maine to the lumber camps of Spokane Washington the strikes and personal stories are recounted with reverence and dignity.

He tells us of Mother Jones, who at 83 was named the most dangerous woman in America by Teddy Roosevelt. She spent her whole life agitating for a better life for the miners of Kentucky and all the other coal producing states. We hear how when the Governor of Colorado sent out the militia to disburse the miners she went out on her own to face them down and won.

We learn about the young women who were sold into near slavery in the textile mills of Laurence; girls shipped over from France and the low countries in Europe who could speak no English and who were wedded to the looms. How that during an awful strike they had to send their children away to homes as far off as New York to ensure that they would be fed. That during the walk to the train station they were attacked by the militia in an attempt to break their spirit.

We are told of the attempts to silence Union organizers in the logging camps out in Washington by passing ordinances prohibiting public speaking. And how in response the unions gathered all the workers and lined them up for blocks and each one would climb up a soap box and start to speak only to be arrested. The cost of feeding four thousand workers proved too great so they had to rescind the law.

Utah's story telling is magnificent, his enthusiasm for the subject matter combined with an imposing gift for narrative make this collection both entertainment and an education. At times the musical accompaniment is appropriate, during the occasional song for instance("Pie In The Sky" is a hilarious send up of "The Sweet Bye and Bye" and the version on this c.d. is particularly good) but I'd have preferred they had left Utah's stories to stand on their own.

Although, Loafer's Glory, his old radio show on KVMR, the local community radio station in Nevada City is no more-- it lost it's sponsorship, you can order copies of his tapes from his website.

Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with Unlikely 2.0 in 2005:
"GR: Anyone familiar with your work is aware of the wealth of knowledge you possesses about the history of this country. The stuff that isn't taught in any high school textbook. What compelled you to seek out this information, collect it, and share it with other people?
UP: The world that I inhabit, the one that I have created for myself, is built out of speakers and listeners. I'm more comfortable in that world. I learn more easily from sitting in front of somebody and asking them questions and listening to what their answers than I do from books. I respect books. I have many of them around me. But I keep them in their place. The people that I've sought out lived extraordinary lives that just can't be lived again. And most of my great teachers were born in the century before last. I met many of them when they were my age now, seventy. Those were the immigrant workers, the industrial workers. They were the people working down at the bottom, in the forest, in the mines, in the wheat harvest. Old Jack Miller, who ran the Citizen's Center up in Seattle, Washington, once said, 'When we started in the forest, we spoke two different languages, and most of us had never been to school, and we couldn't read or write. We lived in our emotions, and we were comfortable there. We made decisions in our lives for which there is no language. We made commitments to change, to struggle for which there are no words. But those commitments carried us through fifty or sixty years of struggle. You show me people who make the same commitments intellectually, and I don't know where they'll be next week.' And then he added to that hardest of all things, he said that, 'We, speaking all those languages, hardly speak to each other. Armed only with our degradation as human beings, we came together and changed the conditions of our labor and the conditions of our lives. You young people, with all you've got, why can't you do that?' Now, that's a very serious charge to lay at our feet."
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In Navajo country, racism rides again

I was surprised to see this article as the lead piece on It was nice to see a Navajo face in a fairly white on-line publication. The story however was not so great. Apparently, in Farmington, the "Selma, Ala. of the Southwest" more hate crimes against Navajos are occuring.
This all started with a beating in Farmington in June. A 47-year-old Navajo man who was offered a ride by three white teenagers in Farmington was driven to the outskirts of town, beaten with a stick and punched and kicked. He said they used racial slurs as they pummeled him.

The beating reminded everyone of the 1970s, the heyday of "Injun rollin'," where white youths in the border towns beat up Navajos (usually sleeping alcoholics they could easily "roll" around) as a rite of passage. In April 1974, when three white Farmington youths tortured, mutilated and bludgeoned three Navajo men, tossing their burned and broken bodies into a canyon, the Navajo Nation organized weeks of peaceful protests in Farmington. When marchers were denied a permit the day after the murderers were sentenced to reform school, clashes with police led to dozens of arrests.

The June beating could hardly compare to the torture murders of years ago. But six days after the beating, a 21-year-old Navajo man was killed by a police officer responding to a call about a domestic dispute at a Wal-Mart parking lot. When Farmington police declared the shooting a justifiable homicide and the FBI declined to investigate -- the agency is now reconsidering its decision -- Navajo leaders announced they would set aside $300,000 for the man's family to file a wrongful death suit against Farmington, and for an investigation of border-town racism.

Whether or not things will change or not is unknown. Navajos are planning more peaceful protest led by Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie, who lost his right arm to racist violence. He picked up a white hitchhiker in 1978 who shot off his arm and then got only five years in prison for it.
Since the latest incidents, white leaders in Farmington, a plain little city (population 40,000) that is 63 percent white, 17 percent Native American and 17 percent Hispanic, have repeatedly denied that Navajos are singled out. They've also pointed out that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, in a 2005 report examining Farmington 30 years after the torture murders, noted marked improvements in attitudes toward the Navajo.

But that report also concluded that major challenges remain. This summer's incidents are the latest in a long string of border-town attacks on Navajos since the infamous murders. To name a few, in 2001, a 16-year-old Navajo youth was murdered in Colorado by a Farmington man in what police called either a gay hate crime or an Indian hate crime, or both. In 2000, a 36-year-old Navajo woman, Betty Lee, was bludgeoned to death by two Farmington men who were also charged with killing a Navajo man. One of the suspects, Robert Fry (now on death row for Lee's murder), remains a suspect in at least three other brutal Navajo murders and has been implicated in the disappearance of a tribal man.

Navajos keep disappearing, tribal members say. The tribe does not have the numbers, but organizers of the peace walk are hoping relatives of the missing will come out so that they could be counted. Many people here believe that the missing must be victims of Indian rolling whose bodies are somewhere in the vast canyons of the desert, yet -- or never -- to be found.
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