Dennis Banks, the American Indian Movement
Posted by Zig Zag
by Delphine Red Shirt, Lakota Times, November 2, 2017
What many people don’t know is that the activism that Dennis Banks and others became involved in started in the period from 1953 to 1954 when the U.S. engaged in a policy known as termination. Where Congress decided to dismantle the reservation system.
Granting states the right to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction on Indian reservations. And providing for the transfer of Indian health and education services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to other federal agencies and to the states. Lastly, opening the possibility of states being allowed to tax Indian lands.
Termination did enormous cultural and economic damage to tribes across the country where in 1954, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin and the Klamath Tribe of south –central Oregon were terminated by this act of Congress. The Coquille Indians and 42 other tribes from western Oregon were terminated, as well.
Termination lead to the loss of 862,000 acres of land and decades of financial and cultural hardships. In 1955, the Spokan (Spokane) Indians fought back and unlike many other tribes who had tried to avoid termination, the Spokan were successful. Their victory increased their solidarity as a tribe.
Opposition form Native Americans and State governments forced the U.S. government to stop implementing the termination policy adopted in 1953. What was helpful was the fact that 16,000 Native Americans served in WWI (1914-1918); 44,500 served in WWII (1939-1945); and 29,700 served in the Korean conflict (1950-1953); as well as 61,100 in the Vietnam War (1955-1975).
In 1960, the total Native American population of the United States was listed as 524,000, an increase of 52.8 percent since 1950. In 1950, the number of Indians living in urban areas had climbed by 161% to 146,000. By comparison, the urban population, in the rest of the U.S. in general, increased by only 29%.
It was no surprise then, that the Red Power movements began in urban areas. As Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote in 1974, in Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence: “The power movements which had sprung up after 1966 now began to affect Indians, and the center of action was the urban areas on the West Coast, where there was a large Indian population”
The American Indian Movement (AIM) began in 1968 in Minneapolis, when the first meeting of Concerned Indians of America (CIA) met. The name was later changed to American Indian Movement (AIM).
A founding member, Dennis Banks, born on April 12, 1937, attended Pipestone Indian School, run by the BIA, 400 miles from Leech Lake Reservation. In 1953, Banks joined the Airforce. In 1964, served a year for burglary; other arrests and time in Stillwater Prison. In 1967 while confined to 9 months in solitary confinement, Banks began reading about Civil Rights and the anti-Vietnam war movement, and Indian treaties.
Banks is 1/64 blood quantum Ojibway. While in prison, he went on a hunger strike. A friend, Eddie Benton convinced him to learn about his Ojibway culture and religion. In 1968 Banks attended the first AIM meeting. He became the first chairman, leading the new group. AIM’s causal direct action style was effective in the streets of Minneapolis, MN which had a large native population.
In 1969, in a meeting in San Francisco, leaders of AIM met Russell Means. Born in 1939 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Means grew up in Vallejo, California. A scholar, Robert Warrior writes, “Because Means was Sioux, his mere presence changed AIM from a local to a national outfit”. Warrior writes, “An air of danger followed Russell Means wherever he went and everyone knew it”.
In his book, Like a Hurricane, author Robert Warrior, assesses Means and the Lakota:
“The Sioux held a privileged spot in the national consciousness, dating back more than a century. Apaches and Comanches were featured in many Hollywood films, and the Shawnee leader Tecumseh-who had led a confederation of Indian nations against the U.S.. Expansion in the early 1800’s- was arguable a more important leader than any Lakota, but no tribe had a more compelling mix of history and myth than the Sioux. Also, they had a history of drawing a national spotlight toward Indian organizations and were a source of enduring fascination for whites” (Warrior 134).
Banks, Means, and AIM impacted most, the Lakota people, at Pine Ridge. In 1972 AIM lead 1,000 followers into Gordon, NE to protest the failure to arrest two white murderers of Raymond Yellow Thunder. Other activism included the 1972 Trial of Broken Treaties caravan that arrived in Washington, DC. They brought a 20-points petition to ask the federal government to abolish the BIA. Many Lakota were present when AIM occupied the BIA headquarters building for 6 days, where protestors confiscated files that showed the mishandling of mineral rights on Indian lands.
Finally, in 1973 AIM began on February 28, a 71-day siege at Wounded Knee, ending on May 8, 1973. The longest and most serious armed conflict between Native Americans and the federal government since the 1800’s.
Today, October 30, 2017, Dennis Banks died. Every action Banks and members of AIM, took in the period 1968 to 1973, a short fiveyear period, set the stage for major positive reforms in government policy; largely because of their actions. Including the granting in 1978 of religious freedom to American Indians. Dennis will be remembered in American Indian history for living a fearless life.