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John Graham
Native American activist

John Graham

John Graham
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Native American activist
Is Activist
From Canada United States of America
Field Activism
Gender male
Birth 1954
Age 68 years
The details (from wikipedia)


John Graham is a Canadian former Native American activist. He is perhaps best known for being the person who shot and killed fellow American Indian Movement activist Anna Mae Aquash.

Early life

Graham was born in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada and is a member of the Southern Tutchone Champagne and Aishihik First Nations ethnic group. One source indicates that Graham is from Haines Junction, Yukon.

Graham's birth year falls somewhere between the years of 1954 and 1957. In 1974, when Graham participated in the Native People's Caravan in 1974, he was 17 years, meaning he was either born in 1957, or would be turning 18, and thus born in 1956 and 1957. Several sources also identify Graham as being 55-years-old at the time the guilty verdict was read. This would place his year of birth at 1954 (if he was 55-year-olds, and going on 56) or 1955 (if he had turned 55-years-old).

Personal life

John Graham is a father of eight who was living in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Graham had spent many years in the capacity of an activist. He was known to participate in Lakota resistance for traditional territories, and protesting uranium mining Northern Saskatchewan.

In 1974, when Graham was 17, he participated in the Native Peoples' Caravan from Vancouver to Ottawa, an unauthorized occupation event in which 300 participants from the Caravan moved into the abandoned Carbide Mill building on Victoria Island, behind the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, for 5 months. Graham was also active in protest throughout other Canadian provinces. In Vancouver, Graham also participated as a member the Beothuck Patrol, a First Nations group which conducted street level monitoring of police harassment.

In June 1980, the Caravan for Survival, which included Graham as a protester, consisted of who drove from Regina, Saskatchewan, the capital city of Saskatchewan, to the northern Saskatchewan uranium boom town of La Ronge to protest the opening of government-operated Key Lake Uranium Mine Board of Inquiry.

Following the conclusion of the Native Peoples' Caravan, Graham partook in his first armed occupation when he traveled to the state of New York group to provide support (as general security) to the Mohawk land re-occupation at Ganienkeh, also known as Eagle Lake.

During the summer 1981, the AIM Survival Group, which included John Graham, opened the Anne Mae Aquash Survival Camp near the community of Pinehouse, located in northern Saskatchewan, on the Key Lake road, which was done to create a forum in which Native rights issues and the problems of the uranium industry could be openly discussed (it is said that Graham named the camp in honor of Anna Mae).

During the months of May and June in 1984, John Graham spoke throughout Europe, which was organized by European anti-nuclear, native rights and environmental groups to raise understanding and awareness of on native rights and the environmental problems of uranium mining in Canada faced by the First Nations people.

Legal history

Murder of Anna Mae Aquash

Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash was a prominent voice and female activist within the ranks of the American Indian Movement.

On 12 December 1975, Aquash was forced out of the home of Denver AIM Troy Lynn S. Yellow Wood despite the latter's objection that something bad would happen to Aquash, and she was taken to an apartment in Rapid City owned by Russell Means' brother, where she was interrogated and, prosecutors charge, raped by Graham.

Looking Cloud, one of Graham's and Nelson-Clark's accomplices, said he heard Graham and Aquash "having sex" in the bedroom of a Rapid City apartment (whose ownership is attributed to Thelma Rios and her mother); the prosecution charges that Graham raped Aquash. Looking Cloud waited outside of the room while Graham raped Aquash, and Graham acknowledged in a taped interview/interrogation that Looking Cloud waited outside of the room Anna Mae was imprisoned inside of.

Aquash was then forcefully moved to the Rosebud Indian Reservation where AIM supporters refused to house her. Looking Cloud, along with Theda Nelson Clarke and Graham, forced Aquash into the back of a car and drove her to a remote part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where Aquash was shot execution style in the back of the head and left to die. Her body was located nearly two months later on 24 February 1976 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at the bottom of a ravine located in close proximity to an isolated highway. Aquash was revealed to have been murdered with a firearm, as the autopsy showed that the muzzle of the gun had been pressed into the back of her neck. The coroner's report indicated that in addition to the fatal gunshot wound, exposure caused the death of Aquash, as her body was frozen by the time it was discovered.

Graham indicated that he and his family were visited several times in the Yukon during the 1990s, and allegedly threatened to charge him with murder if he did not falsely identify AIM leadership for the murder.


On 30 March 2003, Graham was charged with the 1975 first-degree murder/pre-meditated murder of Anna Mae in the United States. Because Graham was a resident of Vancouver at the time, the case required Graham's extradition. On 1 December 2003, Graham was arrested in Vancouver for the murder of Pictou-Aquash, and his bail was set at $50,000.00.

Graham resisted extradition, and despite being put under house arrest in December 2003, he filed an appeal within British Columbia to keep the case from moving forward. On 23 June 2006, the presiding judge extended Graham's bail to 23 June 2006, giving Graham's lawyer, Terry LaLiberte time to file an appeal following the British Columbia Supreme Court's decision to extradite Graham. Graham lost the appeal, had his bail revoked and he was taken to jail to await extradition, which happened on 6 December 2007.

United States v. Graham

John Graham was charged in the United States on 30 March 2003 with the 1975 first-degree murder/pre-meditated murder of Anna Mae. After protracted litigation in the federal courts, the federal premeditated murder charge was dismissed in United States v. Graham, 572 F.3d 954 (8th Cir.2009).

State of South Dakota v. Graham

However, before Graham could return to Canada, he was indicted by a Pennington County grand jury on state charges of premeditated murder and felony murder.  The underlying felony was alleged to be the kidnapping of Aquash.

On 2 December 2010, South Dakota Judge John Delaney forbade any mention of a finding in the first autopsy report for Aquash that suggests she may have had sex shortly before her death to jurors, a finding which prosecutors said originated from Graham allegedly raping Aquash during her kidnapping.

On 3 December 2010, Nichols-Ecoffey testified that an AIM activist later convicted of killing two FBI agents made an "incriminating" statement in front of her and Aquash, who was later shot and killed. The "incriminating" statement referred to Peltier's admission by "shooting the motherf***** that was begging for his life, and still shooting him." Ecoffey, the former common-law wife of AIM leader Dennis Banks, was forbidden by Circuit Court Judge John Delaney from telling jurors exactly what she alleges group member Leonard Peltier told her six months before Aquash was killed. The judge deemed it hearsay. But under questioning from prosecutors, she was allowed to say that Peltier made an "incriminating" statement.

Graham was convicted of felony murder on 10 December 2010 after jurors heard evidence that he aided in the abduction of Aquash from Denver in December 1975. Graham was sentenced to minimum mandatory life in prison for the murder.

2012 Appeal

Graham continued to maintain his innocence and attempted to secure an appeal that would grant him a release from prison. The South Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding his 2010 conviction on 19 March 2012 in Vermillion, South Dakota. Graham's attorney, John Murphy, argued that the government should not have had the authority to transfer his case from federal to state jurisdiction following his extradition to the US, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the state was within its rights to prosecute Graham, there was sufficient evidence to convict Graham, and his life-sentence imprisonment without parole was commensurate with the crime committed. The South Dakota Supreme Court thus dismissed the John Graham Appeal. Graham is currently incarcerated at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

2018 Appeal

On 30 March 2018, Graham appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on the premise that, "the court lacked jurisdiction over him because he is a Canadian citizen whose extradition allegedly violated a treaty,". Graham's legal defense argued that his 2011 conviction in South Dakota was for felony murder, a crime which does not exist in Canada, and a crime that was not mentioned his extradition request. However, the Eighth Circuit ultimately upheld Graham's conviction, and his appeal was denied. The three-judge panel concurred that felony murder was not written in the original extradition request authored by the United States. However, the subsequent waiver issued by Canada expanded the authority of the extradition, and, based on the Eight Circuit Court's opinion, it is beyond the Eight Circuit's jurisdiction to interpret Canadian laws.


Graham's trial and sentencing have been the subject of both scrutiny and controversy.

There are accounts which indicate that 'John Graham' and 'John Boy Patton' are not the same person. The "John Boy Patten" in question is the nephew of Theda Nelson Clarke (Patten's mother, Corky Nelson Patten, is the sister of Theda Nelson Clarke), is around the same age as Graham, and bears a striking resemblance to Graham. This view is corroborated by Graham's attorney, Terry LaLiberte, who indicated that the U.S. was looking for a Caucasian male, 188 cm tall (approximately 6 ft. 2 in), weighing 87 kg (approximately 192 lbs.), and that "the guy they [the U.S.] want is six inches taller than Mr. Graham, and there is a problem with the weight and the racial description." Additionally, LaLiberte has disputed that his client was known by the name John Boy Patton. "Also known by whom? We have requested that they clarify these points, and they have not proffered that evidence."

There are also factions which claim Graham's imprisonment was the result of a corporate cover-up. Around the time Graham's appeal against extradition was denied, Cash Minerals Ltd., a Canadian-based company whose objective was to further uranium exploration in the Yukon, discovered uranium near Graham's property.

Following Graham's extradition to the United States, the John Graham Defense Committee was formed. The organization's intent is to prove his innocence. Despite Looking Cloud's plea bargain which involved testifying against John Graham in exchange for a reduction in his prison sentence, the Graham Defense Committee indicated that it would help Looking Cloud form a legal appeals team. According to a representative from the Graham Defense Committee, in addition to Looking Cloud's conviction being based on a lack of forensic evidence, they also indicated that, "Yet the Graham Defense committee will help form a legal appeals team for Looking Cloud. Why help him when he implicated John? We don't believe he intended to implicate John."

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 29 Oct 2021. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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