(Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. APTN/File photo)
APTN National News
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says he’s sorry for the pain caused to the daughter of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash by his recent call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to bring up the case of imprisoned American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier when he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama this week.
Aquash’s daughter Denise Maloney Pictou released a statement Tuesday expressing outrage over Bellegarde’s statement in support of Peltier. Pictou believes Peltier protected Aquash’s killers and was involved in events that led to her death.
“Our family and community are heartsick about this,” said Pictou, in the statement. “It was our hope that a (murdered and missing Indigenous women) inquiry would mean healing and continued justice for our MMIW families, this conflict and contradiction has thrown salt back into the wounds.”
Pictou released the statement after Bellegarde told CBC News Monday he’d like to see Trudeau to bring up the Peltier case during a Washington D.C. visit this week.
Bellegarde said he was sorry for hurting the family and that he is planning on speaking with Pictou later Wednesday.
“I regret that my statement caused some hurt and pain and I apologize for the pain I caused her and her family,” said Bellegarde. “That wasn’t my intent.”
Bellegarde said he still would like to see Peltier freed. He said the case is a separate issue from AIM’s execution of Aquash.
“I called for that (Peltier’s release) because there is an injustice there,” said Bellegarde. “So I will continue to advocate for that.”
Bellegarde said two previous AFN national chiefs have made the same call which is also backed by Amnesty International and prominent individuals like the Dalai Lama.
Peltier was extradited from Canada to the U.S. in December 1976. He was eventually convicted in connection with the killing of two F.B.I. agents who were gunned down during a 1975 a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota.
Warren Allmand, Canada’s solicitor general at the time of Peltier’s extradition, has since stated the F.B.I submitted false information to have Peltier extradited. One of the false pieces of evidence included an affidavit from a mentally unstable woman who claimed to have been Peltier’s girlfriend.
Aquash’s daughter said in the statement that Peltier interrogated Aquash at gunpoint and knew who was behind her killing.
Former AIM members Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were convicted of killing Aquash. U.S. authorities believe the two men were likely acting on orders that came from the AIM hierarchy which believed Aquash was an informant.
Aquash’s body was found at the bottom of an embankment near the Pine Ridge reservation on Feb. 24, 1976, by a rancher. She had been shot in the back of the head at close range, execution-style. She is buried in Sipeknekatik, a Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia. Aquash was 30 at the time of her death.