A Canadian man and a U.S. woman have been charged in the 1975 slaying of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, an American Indian Movement activist from Nova Scotia.

Pictou-Aquash, a Mi'kmaq from Pictou, N.S., was shot in the head on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her body was found 33 years ago in the Badlands near Wanblee, S.D.

Prosecutors in Rapid City, S.D., said Thursday that John Graham, of the Champagne and Asihihik First Nation in the Yukon, is charged with:

  • One count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping.
  • One count of felony murder in relation to rape.
  • One count of premeditated murder in the slaying.

What is AIM?

  • AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of Indians and to demand the government honour its treaties with Indian tribes.
  • The group grabbed headlines in 1973 when it took over the village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, leading to a 71-day standoff with federal agents that included the exchange of gunfire.

Thelma Rios, 64, in whose apartment Pictou-Aquash was allegedly raped, is charged with one count of felony murder in relation to kidnapping and one count of premeditated murder, said chief state prosecutor Marty Jackley and Pennington County state's attorney Glenn Brenner.

All charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Jurisdictional issues complicate case

Graham, 54, was supposed to stand trial with former AIM member Richard Marshall in Federal Court, but two courts ruled the U.S. government lacked jurisdiction to try Graham because neither he nor Pictou-Aquash are American Indian. The federal government has jurisdiction over American Indian-related crimes.

There are no jurisdictional issues in Marshall's case, and the charges against him still stand. The federal case is on hold pending an appeal of the jurisdictional rulings on Graham.

Another former AIM member, Arlo Looking Cloud, was convicted of murder in 2004 for his role in Pictou-Aquash's death and was sentenced to life in prison. He is now a government witness.

Prosecutors believe Pictou-Aquash was killed because AIM leaders suspected her of being a government informant. Prosecutors and government witnesses have said she was not.

It took prosecutors decades to press charges in Pictou-Aquash's killing because for a long time, investigators were unable to get enough key witnesses to co-operate.

That changed in 2003, when a federal grand jury heard enough evidence to indict Graham and Looking Cloud.