American Indian Movement

Flag of the American Indian Movement.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a Native American activist organization in the United States. AIM gained international press when it seized the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1972, and in 1973 had a standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. AIM was founded in 1968 by Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, Herb Powless, Clyde Bellecourt, Harold Goodsky, Eddie Benton-Banai, and a number of others in Minneapolis' Native American community.[1] Russell Means was another early leader. The early organization was formed to address various issues concerning the Native American community including poverty, housing, treaty issues, and police harassment [2]. From its beginnings in Minnesota, AIM soon attracted members from across the United States (and Canada). It was also involved in the Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton). Charles Deegan Sr. was involved with the AIM patrol.

In the decades since AIM's founding, the group has led protests advocating indigenous American interests, inspired cultural renewal, monitored police activities, and coordinated employment programs in cities and in rural reservation communities across the United States. AIM has often supported indigenous interests outside the United States as well. By 1993 AIM had split into two main factions, with the AIM-Grand Governing Council based in Minneapolis and affirming its right to use the name and trademarks for affiliated chapters.


[edit] Background

[edit] Pre-AIM: The Early Years

One champion of the pre-AIM period was Robert Burnett. The early to mid 1960s did not go well for tribes. In congress, the Democratic chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, James Haley championed Indians but with his own twist. He believed Indians should participate more in –policy matters– but –the right of self-determination is in the Congress as a representative of all the people.– [3]

Burnett, a former Rosebud (South Dakota) tribal chairman would prove to be a central figure in the development of the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972. But in the 1960s he met with presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and pressed for Indian self-determination and control in transactions over land. One such struggle was the fight over long-term leasing.[4] Non-Indian businesses and banks said they could not invest in leases of 25 years, even with generous options. Relieving the long-term poverty on most reservations through business partnerships was seen as infeasible. A return to the 19th Century 99-year leases was seen as a possible solution. Even when used –sparingly– as recommended in the discussions, the Interior Department memo said, –a 99-year lease is in the nature of a conveyance of the land.– These battles over land had their beginnings in the 1870s when wholesale taking not leases, was on the president–s table. In the 1950s, leases were a way onto Indian land.

Another champion was Wallace "Mad Bear" Anderson, a Tuscarora leader in the 1950s. The rotund and highly outspoken Anderson travelled to Cuba and talked with Castro but found his defining moment in a struggle with the renowned New York planner Robert Moses. The struggle ended in a bitter compromise.[5] (See also Wikipedia Tuscarora Reservation).

[edit] The initial AIM movement

AIM was founded at a time of continuing social change and protest following achievement of national legislation of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. The tactics AIM adopted were based on its leaders' perceptions that Indian activists had failed to achieve enough results at the time of its founding. AIM believed that advocates for Indian interests who had worked within the American political system had not been effective. The political system simply ignored Indian interests. The AIM leadership decided at its founding that a more aggressive approach had to be adopted in order for their voices to be heard. Up to this time, Indian advocacy had worked within the system by lobbying activities with the US Congress and the state legislatures.[6]

[edit] Early AIM protests

AIM used the American press and media to present its own unvarnished message to the United States public. It did so by ensuring an event which the press would want to cover. If successful, news outlets would seek out AIM spokespersons for interviews and receive its message. Instead of relying on traditional lobbying efforts, like other activist groups, AIM sought to control its message to the American public. AIM was always on the look out for an event that would result in publicity. Sound bites such as the "AIM Song" were often caught on camera and quickly became associated with the movement.

[edit] Protest marches

During ceremonies on Thanksgiving Day 1970, commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims– landing at Plymouth Rock, AIM seized the replica of the Mayflower. In 1971, members occupied Mount Rushmore, in 1972, they marched the "Trail of Broken Treaties" and took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, D.C. for seven days during which they delivered a twenty point manifesto to the government. AIM–s occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1973, and other events during the 1970s were designed to achieve this goal of gaining attention. They ensured AIM would be noticed to highlight its belief that the rights of Indian people had eroded.[7]

The twenty points were clear and potent reminders of the lack of faith set in motion in the early 1950s by Harry Truman–s BIA Commissioner Dillon Myer. The twenty points laid out the movement's grievances against the federal government, including twelve points that directly or indirectly address treaty responsibilities in which the protesters believed the U.S. government had failed to fulfill.

1.Restoration of treaty making (ended by Congress in 1871).

2.Establishment of a treaty commission to make new treaties (with sovereign Native Nations).

3.Indian leaders to address Congress.

4.Review of treaty commitments and violations.

5.Unratified treaties to go before the Senate.

6.All Indians to be governed by treaty relations.

7.Relief for Native Nations for treaty rights violations.

8.Recognition of the right of Indians to interpret treaties.

9.Joint Congressional Committee to be formed on reconstruction of Indian relations.

10.Restoration of 110 million acres of land taken away from Native Nations by the United States.

11.Restoration of terminated rights.

12.Repeal of state jurisdiction on Native Nations (Public Law 280).

13.Federal protection for offenses against Indians.

14.Abolishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

15.Creation of a new office of Federal Indian Relations.

16.New office to remedy breakdown in the constitutionally prescribed relationships between the United States and Native Nations.

17.Native Nations to be immune to commerce regulation, taxes, trade restrictions of states.

18.Indian religious freedom and cultural integrity protected.

19.Establishment of national Indian voting with local options; free national Indian organizations from governmental controls

20.Reclaim and affirm health, housing, employment, economic development, and education for all Indian people.[8]

[edit] The Longest Walk and The Longest Walk 2

The Longest Walk was an American Indian Movement led spiritual walk to support tribal sovereignty and bring attention to 11 pieces of anti-Indian legislation that would among things have abrogated Indian Treaties, quantified and limited water rights, etc. It started on February 11th, 1978 with a Ceremony on Alcatraz where a Sacred Pipe was loaded with tobacco and that Pipe was carried the entire distance. This 3,200 mile Walk's purpose was to educate people about the United States government's continuing threat to Tribal Sovereignty and served as a rallying point for many thousands of Indian People representing many Indian Nations throughout the United States and Canada. Most significantly, traditional spiritual leaders from many tribes came and ran Ceremonies, and even international spiritual people, primarily from Japan, also supported the Walk.

On July 15, 1978, "The Longest Walk" walked into Washington D.C. with several thousand Indian People and a number of non-Indian supporters. The traditional elders led the Walk into D.C. to the Washington Monument, where the Pipe carried across the country was smoked. Over the following week a number of rallys were held at various locations around Washington D.C. addressing various issues including the 11 pieces of legislation, American Indian political prisoners, forced relocation at Big Mountain, Navajo Nation etc. Some well known non-Indian supporters included American boxer Muhammad Ali, American Senator Ted Kennedy and actor Marlon Brando. The bill abrogating Indian Treaties was not passed. During the ensuing week of arrival, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed. President Jimmy Carter refused to meet with representatives of The Longest Walk.

On July 11, 2008, an 8,200-mile walk, which had started from the San Francisco Bay area, for the protection of American Indian Sacred sites, the commemoration of The Longest Walk and its support for Tribal Sovereignty, environmental protection, and to stop global warming, reached Washington, D.C after starting on February 11th on Alcatraz. There were two routes a Southern Route and a Northern Route. The Northern Route generally followed the route of the original Longest Walk and was led by veterans of that original Walk. Participants crossed 26 states on the two different routes. The Longest Walk 2, consisting of over 100 American Indian nations also had other Indigenous Peoples such as Maori from Aotearoa a number of non-Indigenous, including international people, who also walked. The Southern Route picked up more than 8,000 bags of garbage on their way to Washington, D.C. In Washington, the Southern Route delivered a 30-page manifesto, "The Manifesto of Change", and a list of demands, including mitigation for climate change, environmental sustainability plans, protection of sacred sites, and renewal of improvement to Native American sovereignty and health. The Northern Route chose a different way of asserting its issues, relying on the Sacred staffs and promoting the message of support for the protection of Sacred sites for Indigenous Peoples, Traditional Tribal Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples, the protection of Children (the Northern Route was led by a Children;s Staff), and native prisoners. This Walk commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the original Longest Walk.[9]

[edit] Connection to other minorities

AIM's leaders spoke out against similar disadvantages the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were opposed to. AIM leaders talked about high unemployment, slum housing, and racist treatment, fought for treaty rights and the reclamation of tribal land, and advocated on behalf of urban Indians whose situations bred illness and poverty. They opened the K-12 Heart of the Earth Survival School in 1971, and in 1972, mounted the Trail of Broken Treaties march on Washington, D.C. They took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), in protest of its policies, and demanded reforms. With its provocative events and advocacy for Indian rights, AIM attracted scrutiny from the FBI and Department of Justice.[10] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used paid informants to report on AIM–s activities and its members.[11] In February, 1973 AIM leader Russell Means as well as others took over a small Indian community of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. They were protesting because of its supposedly corrupt government. When FBI agents were dispatched to remove the AIM occupiers, a standoff ensued. Through the resulting siege that lasted for 71 days, two people were killed, twelve wounded, and twelve hundred arrested. Wounded Knee was a seminal event, drawing worldwide attention to the plight of American Indians. AIM leaders were later tried in a Minnesota court and, after a trial that lasted for eight months, were acquitted of wrongdoing[12].

[edit] History

[edit] AIM protests

AIM has opposed the use of caricatures of indigenous people as mascots for national and collegiate sports teams, such as the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Redskins. AIM organized protests at World Series and Super Bowl games involving those teams. Protesters held signs with slogans such as "Indians are people not mascots," or "Being Indian is not a character you can play.[13]

Although such requests were ignored for years, AIM received attention in the mascot debate. NCAA schools such as Florida State University, University of Utah, University of Illinois and Central Michigan University negotiated with the tribes whose names or images they used for permission and to collaborate on portraying the mascot in a way that honors Native Americans.

[edit] Goals and commitments

AIM has been committed to improving conditions faced by native peoples. They founded institutions to address needs, including the Heart of The Earth School, Little Earth Housing, International Indian Treaty Council, AIM StreetMedics, American Indian Opportunities and Industrialization Center (one of the largest Indian job training programs), KILI radio, and Indian Legal Rights Centers.[14]

In 1970, several members of AIM, including Dennis Banks and Russell Means, traveled to Mt. Rushmore. They converged at the mountain in order to protest the illegal seizure of the Sioux Nation–s sacred Black Hills by the United States Federal Government. The protest brought the issues of the American Indian Movement to the attention of the media.[2]

In 1972 at Gordon, Nebraska, an American Indian, Raymond Yellow Thunder, was murdered by two white men, Leslie and Melvin Hare. After their trial, the Hares received the minimal sentence of manslaughter. Members of AIM went to Gordon to protest the sentencing. [15] In the winter of 1973, Wesley Bad Heart Bull was stabbed to death at a bar by a white male, Darrell Schmidt. The offender was jailed, but was quickly released on a $5000 bond. He was charged with second degree manslaughter. In protest of the charges, a group of American Indian Movement members traveled to Custer, South Dakota. AIM leaders Dennis Banks, Russell Means and David Hill held negotiations with the judge in the case, but the talks were not successful. In response to this, the Custer Chamber of Commerce building, two patrol cars, and a sign were burned down. Many of the AIM demonstrators were jailed due to the protest. [2]

[edit] 1970s Wounded Knee FBI stand-off at Pine Ridge Reservation

In February 1973, a group of AIM members took part in a seventy-one day long siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota [2]. The occupation was in response to the 1890 massacre of at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children by the U.S. Seventh Calvary at a camp near Wounded Knee Creek [16] During the siege, the American Indians occupied the Sacred Heart Church and the Gildersleeve Trading Post. Although periodic negotiations were held between AIM spokesman and U.S. government negotiators, there was shooting from both sides. There were two AIM members killed at Wounded Knee and numerous others were wounded [17].

During the stand-off Marlon Brando asked a Native American woman, Sacheen Littlefeather to speak at the Oscars on his behalf, refusing the Oscar for his performance in The Godfather. She appeared in full Apache clothing. She stated that owing to the "poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry" Mr. Brando would not accept the award. The event grabbed the attention of the US and the world media. This was considered a major event and victory for the movement by its supporters and participants.

[edit] 1980s support of Nicaraguan Miskito Indians

During the Sandinista/Indian conflict in Nicaragua of the mid-1980s, Russell Means sided with Miskito Indians opposing the Sandinista government. The Miskito charged the government with forcing relocations of as many as 8,500 Miskito. This position lost AIM some support from certain US left-wing organizations in the U.S. who opposed Contra activities and supported the Sandinista movement. The complex situation included Contra insurgents' recruiting among Nicaraguan Indian groups, including some Miskitos. Means recognized the difference between opposition to the Sandinista government by the Miskito, Sumo, and Rama on one hand, and the Reagan administration's support of the Contras, dedicated to the overthrow of the Sandinista regime.[18]

[edit] AIM protests and contentions

Many AIM chapters remain committed to confronting government and corporate forces that they allege seek to marginalize indigenous peoples.[19] They have challenged the ideological foundations of national holidays, such as Columbus Day[20] and Thanksgiving. AIM argues that Thanksgiving should be a National Day of Mourning, and protests what it perceives to be the continuing theft of indigenous peoples' territories and natural resources.[21][Need quotation to verify][22][Need quotation to verify][23][Need quotation to verify] AIM has helped educate people about the full history of the US and assert the Native American perspective in U.S. history. Its efforts are recognized and supported by countless institutional leaders in politics, education, arts, religion, and media.[24]

[edit] The 2000s

In April 2003, AIM chapters met at a conference with the founder of the Center for the SPIRIT (Support and Protection of Indian Religions and Indigenous Traditions) to discuss plans to protect and maintain Native American religious rights.[25] In June of that year, United States and Canadian tribes joined together internationally to pass the "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality." SPIRIT teamed up with the AIM to declare war against all "plastic Indians." They felt they were being exploited by those marketing the sales of replicated Native American spiritual objects and impersonating sacred religious ceremonies as a tourist attraction. AIM delegates are working on a policy to require tribal identification for anyone claiming to represent Native Americans in any public forum or venue.

In February 2004, AIM gained more media attention by marching from Washington D.C. to Alcatraz Island. This was one of many occasions when Indian activists used the island as the location of an event since the non-AIM student Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. Their 2004 march was in support of Leonard Peltier, whom they felt was wrongly imprisoned and who has become a symbol of spiritual and political resistance for Native Americans.[25]

In December 2008, a delegation of Lakota Sioux including Talon Becenti delivered a declaration of secession from the United States to the U.S. State Department. Citing many broken treaties by the U.S. government in the past, and the loss of vast amounts of territory originally awarded in those treaties, the group announced its intentions to form a separate nation within the U.S. known as the Republic of Lakotah.[26]

[edit] Other Native American organizations

Other Native American rights activists have created groups such as WARN (Women of All Red Nations), NATIVE (Native American Traditions, Ideals, Values Educational Society), LISN (League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations), Mexica Movement, EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), and the IPC (Indigenous Peoples Caucus).[25] Although each group may have its own specific goals or focus, they are all fighting for the same principles of respect and equality for Native Americans.

[edit] International Indian Treaty Council

The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) was established in June 1974 by the American Indian Movement. The AIM gathering, which occurred in Standing Rock, South Dakota was attended by delegates of ninety-eight Indigenous Nations. The sacred pipe serves as a symbol of the Nations –common bonds of spirituality, ties to the land and respect for traditional cultures–. The IITC focuses on issues such as treaty and land rights, rights and protection of indigenous children, protection of sacred sites, and religious freedom.

[edit] Campaigning goals

In order to effectively reach their goals the IITC uses networking, coalition building, technical assistance, and coalition building. In 1977, the IITC became a Non-Governmental Organization with Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The organization concentrates on involving Indigenous Peoples in U.N. forums. In addition, the IITC strives to bring awareness about the issues concerning Indigenous Peoples to non-Indigenous organizations [27].

[edit] The United Nations Adoption of Indigenous Peoples Rights

On September 30, 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the –Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.– There were 144 states or countries that voted in fair. Four voted against it while 11 countries/states abstained. Those four that voted against it were the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Their main reason for voting against it was because they felt as if it –goes too far.– The importance of this Declaration is that the Indigenous Peoples have the chance to have their rights recognized. Some of their rights include rights to self-determination, traditional lands and territories, traditional languages and customs, natural resources and sacred sites. [28].

[edit] Ideological differences within AIM

In 1993, AIM split into two factions, each claiming to be the authentic inheritor of the AIM tradition. One group is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and associated with leadership by the Bellecourts, is known as the AIM-Grand Governing Council. AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters is led by Russell Means and others.

In 1993 the latter group issued its "Edgewood Declaration", citing organizational grievances and complaining of authoritarian leadership by the Bellecourts. Ideological differences were growing, with the Grand Governing Council (GGC) taking a spiritual, perhaps more mainstream, approach to activism. The GGC tends toward a more centralized, controlled political philosophy.

The autonomous chapters group argues that AIM has always been organized as a series of decentralized, autonomous chapters, with local leadership accountable to local constituencies. The autonomous chapters reject the assertions of central control by the Minneapolis group as contrary both to indigenous political traditions and to the original philosophy of AIM[29].

[edit] Notes, references

  1. ^ Dennis Banks, Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), pp. 62 & 64.
  2. ^ a b c d Miner, Marlyce. "The American Indian Movement"
  3. ^ Clarkin, Federal Indian Policy in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, 1961-1969, p. 157
  4. ^ "The Tortured Americans - An Account of the American Indian's long fight against corruption, exploitation and oppression" by Robert Burnett "Good Leader" of the Rosebud Sioux. Published by Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1971. Contains 176 page, index and A Portfolio of Photographs by Richard Erdoes.
  5. ^ Wilson, Edmund. Apologies to the Iroquois. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1959. 310p. The famous literary critic on the Tuscaroras' fight with Robert Moses and the State Power Authority (including Mad Bear Anderson and the Clinton Rickard family),
  6. ^ Banks, pp. 62-63 & 105.
  7. ^ Banks, pp. 108-113; Leonard Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men (New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1996), pp. 170-171; Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, Lakota Woman (New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1990), p. 88.
  8. ^ American Indian Movement (web site: for the complete text of the Twenty Points – property of the American Indian Movement, not for use without permission.
  9. ^
  10. ^ See general Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of repression: the FBI's secret wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, Boston, MA: South End Press, 1988.
  11. ^ Banks, pp. 266-283; See also, U. S. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. Revolutionary activities within the United States: the American Indian Movement: report of the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary. 94th Cong., 2nd sess., September 1976kj.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Activists Protest Indian as Mascot", The Herald of Arkansas State, 12 Jan 2006, Arkansas State University, accessed 8 Apr 2009
  14. ^ AIMovement.
  15. ^ Sanchez, John and Stuckey E. Mary. "The Rhetoric of American Indian Activism in the 1960s and 1970s." Communication Quarterly (2000): 120-136
  16. ^ Wounded Knee
  17. ^ Crow Dog, Mary and Richard Erdoes. Lakota Woman. New York: Harper Perennial , 1990.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Westword.
  20. ^ Transform Columbus Day.
  21. ^ WSDP.
  22. ^ Black Mesa Water Coalition
  23. ^ Gwichin SC.
  24. ^ Kubal, Timothy. 2008. Cultural Movements and Collective Memory: Christopher Columbus and the Rewriting of the National Origin Myth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  25. ^ a b c Meyer, John M., ed. American Indians and U.S. Politics, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Grounp, Inc., 2002.
  26. ^ Bill Harlan (2007-12-21). "Lakota group secedes from U.S.". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  27. ^ International Indian Treaty Council
  28. ^
  29. ^ Whittstock, Laura, and Elaine Salinas. "A Brief History of the American Indian Movement ." Portland Independent Media Center. 28 Feb 2004. Web. 9 Nov 2009. <>

Weyler, Rex (1982). Blood of the Land. The Government and Corporate War Against the American Indian Movement. Random House. ISBN 0394717325. 

[edit] External links

  • The Owen Luck Photographs Collection, 1973-2001 is open for research at Princeton University. Luck was present at the incident at Wounded Knee in 1973 and the Menominee Warrior Society occupation of the Alexian Brothers Novitiate in Gresham, Wisconsin in 1975 and took a total of 66 photographs. Images include Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, and Russell Means.

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