American Indian Movement
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The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a Native American advocacy group in the United States, founded in July 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. AIM was initially formed to address American Indian sovereignty, treaty issues, spirituality, and leadership, while simultaneously addressing incidents of police harassment and racism against Native Americans forced to move away from reservations and tribal culture by the 1950s-era enforcement of the U.S. federal government-enforced Indian Termination Policies originally created in the 1930s. "As independent citizens and taxpayers, without good education or experience, most 'terminated' Indians were reduced within a few years to widespread illness and utter poverty, whether or not they were relocated to cities," from the reservations. The various specific issues concerning Native American urban communities like the one in Minneapolis (disparagingly labeled "red ghettos") include unusually high unemployment levels, overt and covert racism, police harassment and neglect, epidemic drug abuse (mainly alcoholism), crushing poverty, domestic violence and substandard housing. AIM's paramount objective is to create "real economic independence for the Indians."
While government-directed Indian termination policies were enforced during the Eisenhower administration, hastily-executed uranium mining contracts to permit it (even sanctioning it as "economic progress") preceded the imposition of unprecedented-scale government-sanctioned commercial uranium extraction operations from various parts of traditional Indian western North American tribal lands (not so named under the ancient land-use and resource-sharing ways of indigenous former inhabitants) and the uranium mining was permitted. However, the uranium mining contracts were signed without tribal permissions.
By executing eminent domain legalistic land reassignment practices, vast federally-managed formerly tribal pastoral areas were deemed suitable for coal strip mining and commercial strip mine operators were allowed to capitalize on the products of unprecedented large-scale mineral extraction for the benefit of what Eisenhower described as the military-industrial complex. These corporate forces were directly opposed to AIM's objectives, as the movement came to realize.
The original founders of AIM included Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, Herb Powless, Clyde Bellecourt, Vernon Bellecourt, Harold Goodsky, Eddie Benton-Banai, and a number of others in the Minneapolis Native American community. Russell Means, born Oglala Lakota, was an early leader in 1970s protests.
AIM participated in the Rainbow Coalition organized by the civil rights activist and urban leader Fred Hampton, who was elected as Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panthers shortly before his assassination at the hands of rogue Chicago police in Chicago on December 4, 1969. Charles Deegan, Sr. was involved with the AIM Patrol.
Like an urban American Indian version of the Black Panthers formed by African American social activists, AIM initially addressed civil rights violations, but later broadened its scope to address human rights violations. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also spoke eloquently on human rights issues, reached out to the Indian movement during the planning stage of his Poverty Campaign a few weeks before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Likewise, Robert F. Kennedy had met with Black Panther representatives in California and met with Indian movement representatives and visited reservations in Montana, New York, and elsewhere before his televised assassination on June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles during his presidential campaign. RFK's son David A. Kennedy was given the tribal-inspired honorary name Yellow Dove after his father's death and before his own.
Malcolm X often referred to the human rights struggles of Native Americans in his speeches and in his autobiography, and was actively attempting to introduce a condemnation motion at the United Nations shortly before his assassination.
From November 1969 to June 1971, AIM participated in the occupation of the abandoned federal penitentiary known as Alcatraz, organized by seven Indian movements, including the Indian of All Tribes and by Richard Oakes, a Mohawk who was afterwards murdered in Santa Clara, CA, on September 20, 1972. In response to Oakes's murder and "to demand protection of Indians against the widespread vigilante action that had been inspired by AIM's insistence on Indian treaties," various Indian protest groups aligned to march on Washington as Richard Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign was underway.
In October 1972, AIM and other Indian groups gathered members from across the country for a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the "Trail of Broken Treaties." According to public documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), advanced coordination occurred between Washington, D.C.-based Bureau of Indian Affairs (the BIA staff) and the authors of a twenty-point proposal drafted with the help of the AIM for delivery to the U.S. government officials focused on proposals intended to enhance U.S.-Indian relations.
After the final draft was ready, a four-mile-long cross-country automobile caravan carrying it departed from Seattle, Washington and arrived in Washington, D.C.. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Harrison Loesch, overseeing both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and BIA, suddenly cancelled all coordinated plans, including planned visitor housing accommodations for tribal chiefs traveling with the caravan.
While awaiting housing for the chiefs, protestors began an impromptu sit-in protest and suddenly at six o'clock p.m., "Riot squads start busting down the doors trying to evict us, and they grab one of our guys and beat the hell out of him."
On the eve of the 1972 presidential election and after the then-undetected Watergate break-in, a paramilitary-stye standoff ensued for five days. Although AIM gained national attention with the Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs building takeover, other difficulties began. "After the Trail of Broken Treaties, government support through the Office of Economic Development was withdrawn from the AIM survival schools in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, then later partially reinstated. AIM was classified as an 'extremist organization' by the FBI, and on January 8, 1973, the leaders of the Trail were added to the Bureau's list of 'key extremists'." Later, the 20-point proposal was formally rejected by Nixon's White House on January 11, 1973.
Vigilante actions and human rights violations against traditional Indians and AIM members escalated both in urban American Indian communities and on Indian reservations. In January 1973, after businessman Darold Schmidt was charged with involuntary manslaughter after stabbing Wesley Bad Heart Bull to death on the Pine Ridge reservation, the victim's mother asked AIM to help with investigative authorities. A subsequent meeting at the Custer Courthouse on February 6 was rescheduled without notice while more than 200 Indians arrived for meetings. Sarah Bad Heart Bull, the victim's mother, was beaten on the courthouse steps while trying to enter into talks with authorities, after which the courthouse erupted into a riot between police and American Indians. Ensuing charges made against the Indians involved in the Custer Courthouse Riot, the illegal invasion of tribal lands by federal marshals, and a 'reign of terror' led by tribal chairman Dickie Wilson in support of uranium and coal mining interests, activated additional numbers tribal members and human rights organizations.
On February 27, 1973, at large public meeting of 600 Indians at Calico Hall organized by Pedro Bissonette of Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) and addressed by AIM leaders Banks and Russell Means. Demands were made for investigations into vigilante incidents and for hearings on their treaties, and permission given by the tribal elders to make a stand at Wounded Knee. The day after occupying a building, "Wounded Knee was surrounded... by the FBI, the U.S. Marshal Service, and the BIA police" including "a makeshift federal army of civilian law enforcement officers in paramilitary units" equipped with "armored personal carriers, automatic weapons, and enough ammunition (133,000 rounds for the M-16 rifles alone) to wipe out every Indian in the Dakotas." This later became a 71-day armed standoff with federal forces at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The continued escalation of vigilante murders and additional AIM disruption policies embraced by the federal government and acted upon by the FBI led to the June 26, 1975, shooting deaths of one Indian, Joe Stuntz, and two FBI agents, Ron Williams and Jack Coler, during an illegal invasion of armed government forces onto reservation lands. Afterwards, AIM member Anna Mae Pictou, previously threatened by FBI agent David Price, was executed and then buried unidentified as 'Jane Doe' after her hands had been severed and taken by FBI agent William Wood. AIM members Bob Robideau and Dino Butler were found not guilty of the FBI agents' murders due to self-defense on July 16, 1976. Subsequently, the government's case focused on Leonard Peltier, who was extradicted from Canada on December 16, 1976, upon the basis of a fraudulent affidavit from Myrtle Poor Bear, and later convicted of the FBI agents' murders with fabricated ammunition casing shell evidence from an AR-15 not associated with the shoot-out, while evidence from the earlier Robideau-Butler trial was ruled inadmissible. The murder of Joe Stuntz was never investigated.
Leonard Peltier, due to judicial misconduct in several trials, his absence of a previous criminal history before being incarcerated in maximum security Marion Penitentiary, and the murder attempt on his life while incarcerated, is still considered one of America's most recognized political prisoners.
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. The other faction is AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters, based in Denver
- 1 Background
- 2 Events
- 3 History
- 4 Work at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
- 5 International Indian Treaty Council
- 6 Ideological differences within AIM
- 7 Notes, references
- 8 External links
Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson both made efforts to reform the damage done to Indian nations. On March 6, 1968, Johnson signed Executive Order 11399, establishing the National Council on Indian Opportunity (NCIO). President Johnson said “the time has come to focus our efforts on the plight of the American Indian,” and NCIO’s formation would “launch an undivided, Government-wide effort in this area.” While knowing little of the American Indian issues, Johnson tried to connect the nation’s trust responsibility to the tribes and nations to civil rights, an area with which he was much more familiar.
In Congress, the Democratic chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, James Haley from Florida, supported Indian rights; for example, he thought Indians should participate more in “policy matters,” but “the right of self-determination is in the Congress as a representative of all the people.” In the 1960s Haley met with president Kennedy and then-vice-president Johnson, and pressed for Indian self-determination and control in transactions over land. One struggle was over the long-term leasing of American Indian land. Non-Indian businesses and banks said they could not invest in leases of 25 years, even with generous options, as the time was too short for land-based transactions. Relieving the long-term poverty on most reservations through business partnerships by leasing land was seen as infeasible. A return to the 19th century 99-year leases was seen as a possible solution. But, an 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 federal policy often related to wholesale taking, not leases. In the 1950s, many Native Americans believed that leases were too frequently a way for outsiders to control Indian land.
Wallace "Mad Bear" Anderson was a Tuscarora leader in New York in the 1950s. He struggled to resist the New York City planner Robert Moses' plan to take tribal land in upstate New York for use in a state hydropower project to supply New York City. The struggle ended in a bitter compromise.
As had civil rights and antiwar activists, AIM used the American press and media to present its message to the United States public. It created events to attract the press. If successful, news outlets would seek out AIM spokespersons for interviews. Rather than relying on traditional lobbying efforts, AIM took its message directly to the American public. Its leaders looked for opportunities to gain publicity. Sound bites such as the "AIM Song" became associated with the movement.
During ceremonies on Thanksgiving Day 1970 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, AIM seized the replica of the Mayflower in Boston. In 1971, members occupied Mount Rushmore for a few days, as it was created in the Black Hills of South Dakota, long sacred to the Lakota. This area was within the Great Sioux Reservation as created by the US Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. After the discovery of gold, the federal government took the land in 1877 and sold it for mining and settlement to European Americans.
Also in 1971, AIM began to highlight and protest problems with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which administered programs and land trusts for Native Americans. The group briefly occupied BIA headquarters in Washington, DC. A brief arrest, reversal of charges for “unlawful entry” and a meeting with Louis Bruce, the Mohawk/Lakota BIA Commissioner, ended AIM's first event in the capital. In 1972, activists marched across country on the "Trail of Broken Treaties" and took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), occupying it for several days and doing millions of dollars in damage.
AIM developed a 20-point list to summarize its issues with federal treaties and promises, which they publicized during their occupation in 1972. Twelve points addressed treaty responsibilities which the protesters believed the U.S. government had failed to fulfill:
- Restore treaty-making (ended by Congress in 1871);
- Establish a treaty commission to make new treaties (with sovereign Native Nations);
- Provide opportunities for Indian leaders to address Congress directly;
- Review treaty commitments and violations;
- Have unratified treaties reviewed by the Senate;
- Ensure that all American Indians are governed by treaty relations;
- Provide relief to Native Nations as compensation for treaty rights violations;
- Recognize the right of Indians to interpret treaties;
- Create a Joint Congressional Committee to reconstruct relations with Indians;
- Restore 110 million acres (450,000 km2) of land taken away from Native Nations by the United States;
- Restore terminated rights of Native Nations;
- Repeal state jurisdiction on Native Nations (Public Law 280);
- Provide Federal protection for offenses against Indians;
- Abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
- Create a new office of Federal Indian Relations;
- Remedy breakdown in the constitutionally prescribed relationships between the United States and Native Nations;
- Ensure immunity of Native Nations from state commerce regulation, taxes, and trade restrictions;
- Protect Indian religious freedom and cultural integrity;
- Establish national Indian voting with local options; free national Indian organizations from governmental controls; and
- Reclaim and affirm health, housing, employment, economic development, and education for all Indian people.
In 1973 AIM was invited to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to help gain justice from border counties' law enforcement and to moderate political factions on the reservation. They became deeply involved and led an armed occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1973. Other events during the 1970s were designed to achieve the goal of gaining public attention. They ensured AIM would be noticed to highlight what they saw as the erosion of Indian rights and sovereignty.
The Longest Walk and The Longest Walk 2
"The Longest Walk" (1978) was an AIM-led spiritual walk across the country to support tribal sovereignty and bring attention to 11 pieces of anti-Indian legislation; AIM believed that the proposed legislation would have abrogated Indian Treaties, quantified and limited water rights, etc. The first walk began on February 11, 1978, with a ceremony on Alcatraz Island, where a Sacred Pipe was loaded with tobacco. The Pipe was carried the entire distance. This 3,200-mile (5,100 km)-Walk's purpose was to educate people about the US government's continuing threat to Tribal Sovereignty; it rallied thousands representing many Indian Nations throughout the United States and Canada. Traditional spiritual leaders from many tribes participated, leading traditional ceremonies. International spiritual leaders, primarily from Japan, also supported the Walk.
On July 15, 1978, "The Longest Walk" entered Washington, D.C., with several thousand Indians and a number of non-Indian supporters. The traditional elders led them to the Washington Monument, where the Pipe carried across the country was smoked. Over the following week, they held rallies at various sites to address issues: the 11 pieces of legislation, American Indian political prisoners, forced relocation at Big Mountain, the Navajo Nation, etc. Non-Indian supporters included the American boxer Muhammad Ali, US Senator Ted Kennedy and the actor Marlon Brando. The US Congress voted against a proposed bill to abrogate treaties with Indian Nations. During the week after the activists arrived, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which allowed them the use of peyote in worship. President Jimmy Carter refused to meet with representatives of The Longest Walk.
Thirty years later, AIM led the Longest Walk 2, which arrived in Washington in July 2008. This 8,200-mile (13,200 km)-walk had started from the San Francisco Bay area. The Longest Walk 2 had representatives from more than 100 American Indian nations, and other indigenous participants, such as Maori. It also had non-indigenous supporters. The walk highlighted the need for protection of American Indian sacred sites, tribal sovereignty, environmental protection and action to stop global warming. Participants traveled on either the Northern Route (basically that of 1978) or the Southern Route. Participants crossed a total of 26 states on the two different routes.
The Northern Route was led by veterans of that action. The walkers used Sacred staffs to represent their issues; the group supported the protection of sacred sites of indigenous peoples, traditional tribal sovereignty, issues related to native prisoners, and the protection of children. They also commemorated the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk.
Walkers along the Southern Route picked up more than 8,000 bags of garbage on their way to Washington. In Washington, the Southern Route delivered a 30-page manifesto, "The Manifesto of Change", and a list of demands, including mitigation for climate change, a call for environmental sustainability plans, protection of sacred sites, and renewal of improvement to Native American sovereignty and health.
Connection to other people of color
AIM's leaders spoke out against injustices against their peoples, as had the African-American leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. 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.
With its provocative events and advocacy for Indian rights, AIM attracted scrutiny from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used paid informants to report on AIM’s activities and its members.
In February 1973, AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks worked with Oglala Lakota people and AIM activists to occupy the small Indian community of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. They were protesting its corrupt government, federal issues, and the lack of justice from border counties. The FBI dispatched agents and US Marshals to cordon off the site. Later a higher-ranking DOJ representative took control of the US government's response. Through the resulting siege that lasted for 71 days, twelve people were wounded, including an FBI agent left paralyzed; in April a Cherokee and a Lakota activist died of gunfire (at this point, the Oglala Lakota called an end to the occupation.) Afterward, 1200 American Indians were arrested. Wounded Knee drew international attention to the plight of American Indians. AIM leaders were tried in a Minnesota federal court. The court dismissed their case on the basis of governmental prosecutorial misconduct.
AIM opposes national and collegiate sports teams using figures of indigenous people as mascots and team names, such as the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins, and has organized protests at World Series and Super Bowl games against these teams. Protesters held signs with slogans such as "Indians are people not mascots," or "Being Indian is not a character you can play."
Although sports teams had ignored such requests by individual tribes 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 have negotiated with the tribes whose names or images they had used for permission for continued use and to collaborate on portraying the mascot in a way that is intended to honor Native Americans.
Goals and commitments
AIM has been committed to improving conditions faced by native peoples. It 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.
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 in 1877 by the United States federal government, in violation of its earlier 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The protest began to publicize the issues of the American Indian Movement. In 1980, the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had illegally taken the Black Hills. The government offered financial compensation, but the Oglala Sioux have refused it, insisting on return of the land to their people. The settlement money is earning interest.
Work at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Border town cases
In 1972, Raymond Yellow Thunder, a 51-year-old Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge Reservation, was murdered in Gordon, Nebraska, by two brothers, Leslie and Melvin Hare, younger white men. After their trial and conviction, the Hares received the minimal sentence for manslaughter. Members of AIM went to Gordon to protest the sentencing, as it was part of a pattern of law enforcement in border counties that did not provide justice to Native Americans. In the winter of 1973, Wesley Bad Heart Bull, a Lakota, was stabbed to death at a bar in South Dakota by Darrell Schmitz, a white male. The offender was jailed, but released on a $5000 bond and charged with second degree manslaughter. In protest of the charges, a group of AIM members and leaders from Pine Ridge Reservation and leaders went to the county seat of Custer, South Dakota, to meet with the prosecutor. Police in riot gear allowed only four people to enter the county courthouse. The talks were not successful, and tempers rose over the police treatment; AIM activists caused $2 million in damages by attacking and burning the Custer Chamber of Commerce building, the courthouse, and two patrol cars. Many of the AIM demonstrators were arrested and charged; numerous people served sentences, including the mother of Wesley Bad Heart Bull.
1973 Wounded Knee Incident
In addition to the problems of violence in the border towns, many traditional people at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were unhappy with the government of Richard Wilson, elected in 1972. When their effort to impeach him in February 1973 failed, they met to plan protests and action. Many people on the reservation were unhappy about its longstanding poverty and failures of the federal government to live up to its treaties with Indian nations. The women elders encouraged the men to act. On February 27, 1973, about 300 Oglala Lakota and AIM activists went to the hamlet of Wounded Knee for their protest. It developed into a 71-day siege, with the FBI cordoning off the area by using US Marshals and later National Guard units. The occupation was symbolically held at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. The Oglala Lakota demanded a revival of treaty negotiations to begin to correct relations with the federal government, the respect of their sovereignty, and the removal of Wilson from office. The American Indians occupied the Sacred Heart Church, the Gildersleeve Trading Post and numerous homes of the village. Although periodic negotiations were held between AIM spokesman and U.S. government negotiators, gunfire occurred on both sides. A US Marshal, Lloyd Grimm, was wounded severely and paralyzed. In April, a Cherokee from North Carolina and a Lakota AIM member were shot and killed. The elders ended the occupation then.
After about a month, the Department of Justice excluded the press from access to Wounded Knee. (Before that, they were frequently interviewing Indian spokesmen and the event was receiving international coverage.) The Academy Awards ceremony was held in Hollywood, where the actor Marlon Brando, a supporter of AIM, asked an Apache actress, Sacheen Littlefeather, to speak at the Oscars on his behalf. He had been nominated for his performance in The Godfather and won. Littlefeather arrived in full Apache regalia and read his statement that, owing to the "poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry," Brando would not accept the award. In interviews, she also talked about the Wounded Knee occupation. The event grabbed the attention of the US and the world media. The movement considered the Awards ceremony publicity, together with Wounded Knee, as a major event and public relations victory, as polls showed that Americans were sympathetic to the Indian cause.
Pine Ridge Reservation violence
AIM members continued to be active at Pine Ridge, although Wilson stayed in office and was re-elected in 1974 in a contested election. Violent deaths rose, and more than 60 political opponents of his died violently during the next three years. In June 1975 in what has been called the "Pine Ridge shootout", two FBI agents were killed near Jumping Bull Ranch, and found to have been shot execution style. Three AIM members were eventually indicted for the murders: Darryl Butler, Robert Robideau and Leonard Peltier, who had escaped to Canada. Darryl and Robideau were tried in 1975 and acquitted. After extradition, Peltier was tried separately and convicted in 1976. He is serving two consecutive life sentences.
Informants true and false
In late 1974, AIM leaders discovered that Douglas Durham, a prominent member who was by then head of security, was an FBI informant. They confronted him and expelled him from AIM at a press conference in March 1975. With some members in fugitive status after the Pine Ridge shootout, suspicions about FBI infiltration remained high. For various reasons, Anna Mae Aquash, the highest-ranking woman in AIM, was mistakenly suspected of being an informant. According to testimony at trials in 2004 and 2010 of men convicted of her murder, she was interrogated in the fall of 1975. In mid-December she was taken from Denver, Colorado, to Rapid City, South Dakota, and interrogated again, then taken to Rosebud Reservation and finally to a far corner of Pine Ridge Reservation, where she was killed by a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Her body was not found until February 1976. Low-level AIM members Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were convicted of her murder, but many people believed that higher-ranking leaders had ordered it. Dissension over this issue contributed to the 1993 split in the AIM organization.
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 Marxist 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.
AIM protests and contentions
Many AIM chapters remain committed to confronting government and corporate forces that they allege seek to marginalize Indigenous peoples. They have challenged the ideological foundations of US national holidays, such as Columbus Day 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. AIM has helped educate people about the full history of the US, and advocates for the inclusion of Indigenous American perspectives in U.S. history. Its efforts are recognized and supported by many institutional leaders in politics, education, arts, religion, and media.
Professor Ronald L. Grimes wrote that "In 1984 the Southwest chapter of the American Indian Movement held a leadership conference that passed a resolution labeling the expropriation of Indian ceremonies (for instance, the use of sweat lodges, vision quests, and sacred pipes) a "direct attack and theft." It also condemned certain named individuals (such as Brooke Medicine Eagle, Wallace Black Elk, and Sun Bear and his "tribe") and criticized specific organizations such as Vision Quest, Inc. The declaration threatened to "take care of" those abusing sacred ceremonies.
In June 2003, United States and Canadian tribes joined together internationally to pass the "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality." 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 Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, led by the United Indians of All Tribes, a student group from San Francisco. The 2004 march was in support of Leonard Peltier, whom many believed had not had a fair trial; he has become a symbol of spiritual and political resistance for Native Americans.
In December 2008, a delegation of Lakota Sioux, including Talon Becenti, delivered to the U.S. State Department a declaration of separation from the United States 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.
- 1968- MINNEAPOLIS AIM PATROL: created to monitor police treatment of urban American Indians and their treatment in the justice system.
- 1969- INDIAN HEALTH BOARD of Minneapolis founded. This was the first American Indian, urban-based health care provider in the nation. The San Francisco-based United Indians of All Tribes and the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupied ALCATRAZ ISLAND, a former federal prison site, for 19 months. They reclaimed federal land in the name of Native Nations. The first American Indian radio broadcasts — Radio Free Alcatraz — were heard in the Bay Area. |Some AIM activists joined them.
- 1970- LEGAL RIGHTS CENTER: created in Minneapolis to assist American Indians. (As of 1994, over 19,000 clients have had legal representation, thanks to AIM's work.) AIM takeover of abandoned property at the naval air station near Minneapolis focuses attention on Indian education and leads to early grants for Indian education.
- 1971- CITIZEN'S ARREST OF JOHN OLD CROW: Takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' headquarters in Washington, D.C., to publicize improper BIA policies. Twenty-four protesters arrested for "trespassing" and released. BIA Commissioner Louis Bruce shows his AIM membership card at the meeting held after the release of protesters. FIRST NATIONAL AIM CONFERENCE: 18 chapters of AIM convened to develop long-range strategy for the movement. TAKEOVER OF WINTER DAM: AIM assists the Lac Court Oreilles (LCO) Ojibwe in Wisconsin in taking over a dam controlled by Northern States Power, which had flooded much of their reservation land. This action gained support by government officials and an eventual settlement with the LCO. The federal government returned more than 25,000 acres (100 km2) of land to the LCO tribe for their reservation, and the Power company provided significant monies and business opportunities to the tribe.
- 1972- RED SCHOOL HOUSE: the second survival school to open, offering culturally based education services to K-12 students in St. Paul, Minnesota. HEART OF THE EARTH SURVIVAL SCHOOL (HOTESS): a K-12 school established to address the extremely high drop-out rate among American Indian students and lack of curricula that reflected American Indian culture. HOTESS serves as the first model of community-based, student-centered education with culturally correct curriculum operating under parental control. TRAIL OF BROKEN TREATIES: a pan-Indian march across country to Washington, DC, to dramatize failures in federal policy. Protesters occupied the BIA national headquarters and did millions of dollars in damages, as well as irrevocable losses of Indian land deeds. The protesters presented a 20-point demand paper to the administration, many associated with treaty rights and renewed negotiations of treaties.
- 1973- LEGAL ACTION FOR SCHOOL FUNDS: In reaction to the Trail of Broken Treaties, the government canceled education grants to three AIM-sponsored schools in St. Paul and Milwaukee. AIM files legal challenges, and the US District Court orders the grants restored and government payment of costs and attorney fees. WOUNDED KNEE '73: AIM was contacted by Oglala Lakota elders of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for assistance in dealing with failures in justice in border towns, the authoritarian tribal president, and financial corruption within the BIA and executive committee. Together with Oglala Lakota, armed activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee for 71-days against US armed forces.
- 1974- INTERNATIONAL INDIAN TREATY COUNCIL (IITC): an organization representing Indian peoples throughout the western hemisphere was recognized at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. WOUNDED KNEE TRIALS: Eight months of federal trials of participants in Wounded Knee took place in Minneapolis. It was the longest Federal trial in the history of the United States. As many instances of government misconduct were revealed, the US District judge Fred Nichol dismissed all charges due to government "misconduct" which "formed a pattern throughout the course of the trial" so that "the waters of justice have been polluted."
- 1975- FEDERATION OF SURVIVAL SCHOOLS: created to provide advocacy and networking skills to 16 survival schools throughout the US and Canada. HUD chose AIM to be the primary sponsor of the first American Indian-run housing project, LITTLE EARTH OF UNITED TRIBES.
- 1977- MIGIZI Communications founded in Minneapolis. The organization is dedicated to producing Indian news and information, and educating students of all ages as tomorrow's technical work force. INTERNATIONAL INDIAN TREATY COUNCIL: establishes Non-government organization status at United Nations offices in Geneva; attends the International NGO conference and presents testimony to the United Nations. AMERICAN INDIAN LANGUAGE AND CULTURE LEGISLATION: AIM proposes legislative language which is passed in Minnesota, recognizing State responsibility for Indian education and culture. This legislation was recognized as a model throughout the country.
- 1978- FIRST EDUCATION PROGRAMS FOR AMERICAN INDIAN OFFENDERS: AIM establishes the first adult education program for American Indian offenders at Stillwater Prison in Minnesota. Programs later established at other state correctional facilities modeled after the Minnesota program. CIRCLE OF LIFE SURVIVAL SCHOOL established on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. The school receives funding for three years of operation from the U.S. Department of Education. RUN FOR SURVIVAL: AIM youth organize and conduct 500-mile (800 km) run from Minneapolis to Lawrence, Kansas, to support "The Longest Walk." THE LONGEST WALK: Indian Nations walk across the US from California to DC to protest proposed legislation calling for the abrogation of treaties with Indian nations. They set up and maintain a tipi near the White House. The proposed legislation is defeated.
- 1979- LITTLE EARTH HOUSING PROTECTED: an attempt by the US HUD to foreclose on the Little Earth of United Tribes housing project is halted by legal action; the US District Court issues an injunction against HUD. AMERICAN INDIAN OPPORTUNITIES INDUSTRIALIZATION CENTER (AIOIC): creates job-training schools to alleviate the unemployment issues of Indian people. More than 17,000 Native Americans have been trained for jobs since AIM created the AIOIC in 1979. ANISHINABE AKEENG Organization is created to regain stolen and tax-forfeited land on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
- 1984- FEDERATION of NATIVE CONTROLLED SURVIVAL SCHOOLS: presents legal education seminars at colleges and law schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma for educators of Indian students. National conference held in San Jose, California, concurrent with the National Indian Education Association Convention.
- 1986- SCHOOLS LAWSUIT: Heart of the Earth and Red School House successfully sue the U.S. Department of Education, Indian Education Programs for ranking the schools' programs below funding recommendation levels. The suit proved discriminatory bias in the system of ranking by the Department staff.
- 1987- AIM PATROL: Minneapolis AIM Patrol restarts to protect American Indian women in Minneapolis after serial killings committed against them.
- 1988- ELAINE STATELY INDIAN YOUTH SERVICES (ESIYS): developed to create alternatives for youth in Minneapolis as a direct diversion to gang-involvement of Indian youth. FORT SNELLING AIM ANNUAL POW WOW: AIM establishes an annual pow-wow to recognize its 20th Anniversary, at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. The event becomes the largest Labor Day Weekend event in any Minnesota state park.
- 1989- SPEARFISHING: AIM is requested to provide expertise in dealing with protesters at boat landings. American Indian spearfishing continues despite violence, arrests, and threats from whites. Senator Daniel Inouye calls for a study on the effects of Indian spearfishing. The study shows only 6% of fish taken are by Indians. Sports fishing accounts for the rest.
- 1991 PEACEMAKER CENTER: AIM houses its AIM Patrol and ESIYS in a center in the heart of the Indian community, based on Indian spirituality. SUNDANCE RETURNED TO MINNESOTA. With the support of the Dakota communities, AIM revives the Sundance at Pipestone, Minnesota. Ojibwe nations have helped make the Minnesota Sundance possible. The Pipestone Sundance becomes an annual event. In 1991, some self-appointed leaders of the Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne and other nations declare independence from the United States. The group establishes a provisional government to develop a separate national government. Elected leaders and council members of the nations do not support this action. NATIONAL COALITION ON RACISM IN SPORTS AND MEDIA: AIM organizes this group to address the issue of using Indian figures and names as sports team mascots. AIM leads a walk in Minneapolis to the 1992 Super Bowl. In 1994, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune agrees to stop using professional sports team names that refer to Indian people unless these have been approved by the tribes.
- 1992- THE FOOD CONNECTION: organizes summer youth jobs program with an organic garden and spiritual camp (Common Ground) at Tonkawood Farm in Orono, Minnesota.
- 1993- EXPANSION OF AMERICAN INDIAN OIC JOB TRAINING PROGRAM: the Grand Metropolitan, Inc. of Great Britain, a parent of the Pillsbury Corporation, merges its job training program with that of AIOIC and pledges future monies and support in Minnesota. LITTLE EARTH: after AIM's 18-year struggle, the HUD secretary Henry Cisneros rules that Little Earth of United Tribes housing project shall retain the right to preference for American Indian residents when considering applicants for the project. WOUNDED KNEE ANNIVERSARY: At the 20th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Incident at Pine Ridge Reservation, the elected Oglala Sioux Tribe president, John Yellow Bird Steele, thanked AIM for its 1973 actions.
Due to continuing dissension, AIM splits: AIM Grand Governing Council (AIMGGC) is based in Minneapolis and still led by founders. AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters is based in Denver, Colorado.
- 1996- April 3–8, 1996 - As a representative of the AIM Grand Governing Council and special representative of the International Indian Treaty Council, Vernon Bellecourt, along with William A. Means, President of IITC, attends the preparatory meeting for the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism (IEHN), hosted by the Emiliano Zapata Liberation Movement (EZLN), held in LaRealidad, Eastern Chiapas, Mexico, July 27 - August 3, 1996. The second meeting for the IEHN in 1997 is hosted by the EZLN and attended by delegates of the IITC and AIM.
- 1998- February 12, 1998 - AIM is charged with Security at the Ward Valley Occupation in Southern California. The occupation lasts for 113 days and results in a victory for the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) against the plan to use the area for the disposal of nuclear wastes. February 27, 1998 - 25th Anniversary of Wounded Knee, an Oglala Lakota Nation resolution establishes February 27 as a National Day of Liberation. July 16–19, 1998 - 25th Annual Lac Courte Oreilles "Honor the Earth" Homecoming Celebration to honor the people who participated in the July 31, 1971, takeover of the Winter Dam and the beginning of the "Honor the Earth" observance. August 2–11, 1998 - 30th Anniversary of the AIM Grand Governing Council; Sacred Pipestone Quarries in Pipestone, Minnesota. Conference commemorating AIM's 30th Anniversary.
- 1999- February 1999 - Three United States activists working with a group of UÕwa Indians in Colombia are kidnapped by rebels. Ingrid Washinawatok, 41 (Menominee), a humanitarian; Terence Freitas, 24, an environmental scientist from Santa Cruz, California; and LaheÕenaÕe Gay, 39 of Hawaii, are seized near the village of Royota, in Arauca province in northeastern Colombia on February 25 while preparing to leave after a two-week on-site visit. On March 5, their bullet-riddled bodies are discovered across the border in Venezuela.
- 2000 - July 2000 - AIM 32nd Anniversary Conference on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Nation Reservation in northern Wisconsin. October 2000 – AIM founded commission to seek justice for Ingrid Washinawatok and companions.
- 2001 - March 2001 – Reps of the AIM GGC attend the Zapatista Army of National Liberation March for Peace, Justice and Dignity, Zocolo Plaza, Mexico City. July 2001 – 11th Annual Youth & Elders International Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota. August 2001 – Five "anti-wahoo" demonstrators with AIM bring civil lawsuit for false arrest against the city of Cleveland, Ohio. November 2001 – The American Indian Forum on Racism in Sports and Media is held at Black Bear Crossing, St. Paul, Minnesota.
- 2002 - August 2002, 12th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2003 - May 2003- Quarterly Meeting of the AIM National Board of Directors, Thunderbird House, Winnipeg, Manitoba. August 2003 – 13th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2004 - August 2004 - 14th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2005 - May 2005 – First Annual Clyde H. Bellecourt Endowment Scholarship Fund and Awards Banquet, Minneapolis, Minnesota. July 2005 – 15th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota.
- 2006 -May 2006 – Second Annual Clyde H. Bellecourt Endowment Scholarship Fund and Awards Banquet, Minneapolis. July 2006 - 16th Annual International Youth & Elders Cultural Gathering and Sundance, Pipestone, Minnesota
Other Native American organizations
Other Native American rights activists have created groups such as Women of All Red Nations (WARN), NATIVE (Native American Traditions, Ideals, Values Educational Society), LISN (League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations), EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), and the IPC (Indigenous Peoples Caucus). 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. The Northwest Territories Indian Brotherhood, the Committee of Original People's Entitlement were two organization that spearheaded the native rights movement in northern Canada during the 1960s.
International Indian Treaty Council
AIM established the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) in June 1974. It invited representatives from numerous indigenous nations, and delegates from 98 international groups attended the meeting. 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.
The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) uses networking, 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.
The United Nations Adoption of Indigenous Peoples Rights
On September 13, 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” A total of 144 states or countries voted in favor. Four voted against it while 11 abstained. The four voting against it were the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, whose representatives said they believed the declaration “goes too far.”
The Declaration announces rights of Indigenous Peoples, such as rights to self-determination, traditional lands and territories, traditional languages and customs, natural resources and sacred sites.
Ideological differences within AIM
In 1993, AIM split into two factions, each claiming to be the authentic inheritor of the AIM tradition. The AIM-Grand Governing Council is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and associated with leadership by Clyde Bellecourt and his brother Vernon Bellecourt (who died in 2007). The GGC tends toward a more centralized, controlled political philosophy.
The AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters, based in Denver, Colorado, was founded by thirteen AIM chapters in 1993 at a meeting in Denver, Colorado. The group issued its "Edgewood Declaration", citing organizational grievances and complaining of authoritarian leadership by the Bellecourts. Ideological differences were growing, with the AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters taking a spiritual, perhaps more mainstream, approach to activism. 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.
Accusations of murder
At a press conference in Denver, Colorado on 3 November 1999, Russell Means accused Vernon Bellecourt of having ordered the execution of Anna Mae Aquash in 1975. The "highest-ranking" woman in AIM at the time, she had been shot execution style in mid-December 1975 and left in a far corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation after having been kidnapped from Denver, Colorado and interrogated in Rapid City, South Dakota as a possible FBI informant. Means implicated Clyde Bellecourt in her murder as well, and other AIM activists, including Theresa Rios. Means said that part of the dissension within AIM in the early 1990s had related to actions to expel the Bellecourt brothers for their part in the Aquash execution; the organization split apart.
Earlier that day in a telephone interview with the journalists Paul DeMain and Harlan McKosato about the upcoming press conference, Minnie Two Shoes had said, speaking of the importance of Aquash,
"Part of why she was so important is because she was very symbolic, she was a hard working woman, she dedicated her life to the movement, to righting all the injustices that she could, and to pick somebody out and launch their little cointelpro program on her to bad jacket her to the point where she ends up dead, whoever did it, let’s look at what the reasons are, you know, she was killed and lets look at the real reasons why it could have been any of us, it could have been me, it could have been, ya gotta look at the basically thousands of women, you gotta remember that it was mostly women in AIM, it could have been any one of us and I think that’s why it’s been so important and she was just such a good person."
McKosato said, "...her [Aquash's] death has divided the American Indian Movement..." On 4 November 1999, in a follow-up show on Native American Calling the next day, Vernon Bellecourt denied any involvement by him and his brother in the death of Aquash.
At Federal grand jury hearings in 2003, the Indian men Arlo Looking Cloud and John Graham were indicted for shooting Aquash in December 1975. In February '04, Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted of murder in Rapid City. He named as the gunman John Graham, who was in the Yukon. After extradition, John Graham was convicted, in 2010 in Rapid City, of the murder. In both trials, hearsay testimony about the motive for the murder included statements that Aquash heard Leonard Peltier say he killed the FBI agents at Oglala in June 1975, and fear that Aquash could be working with the FBI. Peltier was convicted in 1976 of murder for the Oglala killings, on other evidence.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to American Indian Movement.|
- AIM Grand Governing Council homepage
- American Indian Movement of Colorado
- Cleveland American Indian Movement Cleveland AIM is the oldest urban AIM organization and a member of the International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters of AIM.
- International Confederation of Autonomous chapters of AIM
- AIM's "Background on US Government War Against AIM"
- Articles about A.I.M. by Ward Churchill and others.
- Jason Heppler, Framing Red Power: The American Indian Movement, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Politics of Media, digital history project.
- List of incidents attributed to the American Indian Movement on the START database
- 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.