John Graham says Native chiefs under FBI spell

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An East Vancouver Native man has criticized MPs and Canadian aboriginal leaders for not speaking out forcefully against his looming extradition to the United States on a first-degree murder charge. During a jailhouse interview with the Georgia Straight in the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, John Graham denied killing celebrated Canadian Native activist Anna Mae Aquash, whose body was found in a ravine in South Dakota in February 1976.

"First of all, I'm not guilty of this crime," Graham insisted. "Second of all, they have no evidence. All of their witnesses are contradicting each other. If they extradite me on a case where they have no evidence, they are again undermining our Charter of Rights. The U.S. is undermining our Charter of Rights as Canadians. If they can do it to me, they can do it to you."

Graham compared his situation to that of Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement activist who was extradited from Canada in 1976 partially on the basis of perjured testimony and eventually convicted of murdering two FBI agents in South Dakota. He said that MPs should be highlighting his case in the House of Commons and that Canadian aboriginal leaders should also be raising their voices in defence of his human rights.

"They, too, are falling for the theories of the FBI," he claimed. "I'm really ashamed of them for not standing up for their people."

On June 26, the B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously upheld a 2004 extradition order by B.C. Supreme Court justice Elizabeth Bennett. Under Canada's Extradition Act, the attorney general of Canada, Robert Nicholson, must approve the transfer of an inmate to the U.S. to face trial following the court process.

Graham described the U.S. Justice Department as a "criminal organization" and insisted that his constitutional rights will never be protected as long as Stephen Harper is prime minister. "With the Conservatives, he is allowing the United States to colonize Canada the same way Canada colonized the Indians," Graham said. "He is jumping right into bed with Bush."

A jury in South Dakota convicted Arlo Looking Cloud, a former American Indian Movement activist, in 2004 in the murder of Aquash. During Graham's extradition hearing, the Crown stated that Looking Cloud was expected to testify that he, Graham, and Theda Clarke took Aquash from Denver to Rapid City, South Dakota, and then drove her to the side of the road, where she was shot with a small silver .32-calibre revolver. Bennett's decision noted that Looking Cloud's lawyer filed an affidavit, which was presented in the extradition hearing, stating that he would not testify against Graham. Bennett noted that even if Looking Cloud refused to testify, it didn't mean that his evidence might not still be presented before the court.

Aquash's daughter Denise Maloney Pictou told the Straight in a phone interview from Nova Scotia that someone who called himself Arlo Looking Cloud confessed to the crime in a phone conversation with her in 2003. "He wept on the phone," Pictou said. "He said, 'It should have been done a long time ago, and I'm sorry I didn't do it before.' He was someone looking for absolution, as far as I was concerned, and I believed him."

Pictou said she also doesn't see any similarity between Graham's extradition and Peltier's extradition except that they are both Native men. Last May, Pictou, along with Aquash's other daughter, Deborah Maloney Pictou, issued a news release stating that Looking Cloud provided a videotaped confession naming Graham as the man who shot their mother. The sisters also stated that 23 witnesses testified about the case in Looking Cloud's trial.

"Through 31 years of delays, our family has held fast to the understanding that these delays provide every opportunity for those accused, those indicted and those under investigation to have each and every step of the case handled with the greatest scrutiny to ensure that 'their rights' are considered," they stated in the news release. "Anna Mae did not have that opportunity before she was delivered a death sentence."

Graham told the Straight that Looking Cloud was not permitted to fire his court-appointed lawyer during the trial. Graham also said that a judge refused Looking Cloud's attempt to get a psychiatric evaluation. "You read the Arlo Looking Cloud trial transcript," Graham said. "There are no two witnesses who said the same thing or relayed the same story."

He added that one witness was paid US$42,000 to testify against Looking Cloud. "If you read his transcripts, the whole thing was not about Anna Mae, it was about Leonard Peltier," he alleged.

In addition, Graham said that the FBI offered him immunity in the late 1980s if he would testify that he was ordered to execute Aquash. "They wanted me to finger any AIM leader that would have given an order to kill Anna Mae," he claimed. "I said I would not do that. It never happened."

Graham, a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in the Yukon, has lived in Vancouver since 1999, according to an affidavit he swore in court. He suggested that his arrest on a first-degree-murder charge has been very difficult for his family because he hadn't told his kids about his past as an American Indian Movement activist in the 1970s. "The kids are taking it extra hard," he said.