Book Review: The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country by Steve Hendricks
The United States has been at war with people living within its borders since the day the country was founded. Systematically the government has stripped them of their land, denied them of basic human rights, and tried to steal the very language they have spoken for thousands of years from their tongues. When they or allies have had the nerve to protest they are declared enemies of the state and treated as such.
If you thought acts committed under the auspices of Homeland Security were new, its only because the majority of the population of the United States has not been subject to them before. Welcome to a small taste of what it's like to be a Native American in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Only a small taste however, the government isn't quite stupid enough to think that the majority of people would tolerate being treated like they still treat Indians today. Heck they never even treated the Blacks this bad - but of course they were an essential ingredient in keeping the economy going, slave labour to pick the cotton and minimum-wage slave labour to keep the service industry turning over.
But what damn good is an Indian, they don't make good slaves 'cause they just die, which why we had to import the Africans in the first place, and you can't teach him to be civilized either - look at how long we tried with residential schools. Not them, nope they'd rather keep speaking their own heathen languages no matter how much we beat, raped, or generally abused them. Well if the stubborn bastards don't want anything do with our way of life than screw 'em is what I say, and let them rot on their reservations.
That might not be written down anywhere as official government policy, but it's certainly been the way the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have conducted themselves when it comes to their treatment of American Indians and their supporters. The Unquiet Grave: The FBI And The Struggle For The Soul Of India Country by Steve Hendricks is the latest book to try and wake the American public to the criminal behaviour of their government toward its first citizens.
Published by Thunder Mouth's Press an imprint of Avalon books and distributed by Publishers Group Canada and Publishers Group West. It joins Dee Brown's Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and Peter Matthiessen's In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse as attempts to counter the lies and bullshit that have been propagated as the truth about events of the last thirty years and beyond.
For organizations who claim to have nothing to hide concerning their dealings with American Indians, and in particular people who were involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1970s, both the FBI and the BIA were and are, very reluctant to release documents to Hendricks under the Freedom Of Information Act as required by Congress. In fact in an effort to research this book, he has had to sue both agencies (with some cases still in the courts) on a number of occasions to gain access to the files he requested.
For his investigation into the recent history of the American Indian, he starts with the biggest mystery that still surrounds events that took place thirty years ago on Pine Ridge Lakota Reserve in South Dakota - the death of Anna Mae Aquash. Anna Mae was a member of AIM who was found dead on a back road in South Dakota. Right from the discovery of her body, the FBI did their best to distort the facts. They even refused to come clean on how many agents showed up at the scene after the crime was reported.
Hendricks recounts the story again in all its sordid detail: how her hands were cut off and sent to Washington for fingerprinting, because nobody supposedly recognised her. How the first autopsy said she died of exposure even though there was bullet wound in the back of her neck leaking blood and the bullet could be clearly seen as a protuberance through her face. Thirty years later rumours and accusations are still flying on all sides about who killed her and why.
She wasn't the only AIM member or supporter to be killed or die under mysterious circumstances and whose real killers may never be found out. They may find the person who pulled the trigger, but those who labelled her an informer and sealed her death will never be known. Standard operating procedure for the FBI was to seed dissent among groups like AIM by spreading rumours via agency informants that key members were selling the group out. Therefore, it remains a very real possibility that they pulled the strings that resulted in the death of Anna Mae Aquash by convincing AIM she was as an informer.
Anna Mae isn't the only scab the Steve Hendricks picks at, some won't sit well with supporters of AIM, but their hands got dirty, and the less they attempt to cover it up the better it will be for them in the long run. Suspicion and paranoia seemed to be the normal state of affairs for the leadership of AIM. Not without justification as there were continual threats on the lives of Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and others. Still that doesn't excuse what were tantamount to summary executions of people suspected to be informers.
People may say, if Hendricks was so interested in helping Indians, why did he have to go and say things that throw the leadership of AIM in a negative light. In my mind that establishes the credibility of all the other information he unearths in his book. We've already enough history books that are written that cover up inconvenient truths, do we really want more of the same no matter whose side they favour?
According to the United States Army the virtual execution of over three hundred men, women, and children at Wounded Knee Creek on December 28th 1890 by Hotchkiss gun was and is a glorious victory for the Seventh Calvary. Any attempt to pay even the least amount of compensation to the victim's families has been fought tooth and nail by the United States Army in their continued denial of an almost universally accepted truth. Supporters of Native Americans cannot reasonably condemn the American government for propagating a recidivist version of history if they are willing to do the same.
In the long run no matter how bad the leadership of AIM might come across at times, their actions will always pale in comparison to the activities of the FBI, the BIA, and various American administrations, up to and including the current one, in regards their treatment of American Indians. Books like Unquiet Grave and men like Steven Hendricks are necessary if we are ever going to find out the truth of what happened and what continues to happen in the war the government of the United States is waging against the American Indians.
You might not like everything he has to say, but unlike the official versions of these events, he has told the truth as much as he is able to based on what people have been willing and able to tell him. The story continues to unfold at his web site as he wins access to more and more information. Even since the book was published in 2006 he has added more to the story via that address.
For anybody doubting the veracity of his claims pages 383 to 474 of Unquiet Grave cites his sources for all his information, including excerpts from documents prised away from the FBI under the Freedom Of Information Act. It's all there, from their falsification of information in order to ensure Leonard Peltier's extradition from Canada for his alleged role in the killing of FBI agents, to the contradictory statements about Aquash's death.
Unquiet Grave: The FBI And The Struggle For The Soul Of Indian Country by Steven Hendricks should cause outrage and shock because of its revelations about the FBI and the BIA, but it will be lucky to attract any attention at all. We continue to wash our hands of any responsibility for the "Indian problem" or claim it doesn't exist. Hendricks answers those who would argue that it's not our responsibility what happened hundreds of year ago with these words about the land stolen from the Lakota,"If we know of the theft, as we do, yet do not right it, we are as guilty as our forbearers".
The same can be said about the FBI and the BIA. If, as according to this book they are, they are aware of the guilt of previous agents and agency heads, and do nothing to rectify it, they are just as guilty as those who committed those acts. It's high time that those two bureaus were held accountable for their crimes against the American people, and Steven Hendricks has provided sufficient evidence to justify just such an investigation.
Unquiet Grave is an unusual history book in that it attempts to tell the truth without favouring one side over another. It lays out the story in language anybody can understand without ever oversimplifying or assuming the reader already knows anything. This important book should be included on every high school's history curriculum in Canada and the United States as an example of what the truth looks like. It's not necessarily pretty, nor is it necessarily nice, but its reality and its about time eyes were opened to it. Only then can the long, overdue, process of redressing wrongs begin.
(Originally posted September 2007)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.