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American Indian Movement

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(American Indian Movement full article)




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 Native American affirmation, treaty issues, spirituality, and leadership while simultaneously addressing incidents of police harassment and racism against Natives forced to move away from reservations and tribal culture by the Indian Termination Policies. AIM's paramount objective is to create "real economic independence for the Indians".


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 Richard Oakes, a Mohawk activist. In October 1972, AIM and other Indian groups gathered members from across the United States 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 United States government officials focused on proposals intended to enhance United States–Indian relations.


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 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.


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. One faction is the AIM-Grand Governing Council based in Minneapolis. The other faction is AIM-International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters, based in Denver Colorado.


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 1971, 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 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.


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.


Further Materials:

Trail of Broken Treaties 20 Point Position Paper Preamble:


We need not give another recitation of past complaints nor engage in redundant dialogue of discontent. Our conditions and their cause for being should perhaps be best known by those who have written the record of America's action against Indian people. In 1832, Black Hawk correctly observed: You know the cause of our making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it.


The government of the United States knows the reasons for our going to its capital city. Unfortunately, they don't know how to greet us. We go because America has been only too ready to express shame, and suffer none from the expression - while remaining wholly unwilling to change to allow life for Indian people.


We seek a new American majority - a majority that is not content merely to confirm itself by superiority in numbers, but which by conscience is committed toward prevailing upon the public will in ceasing wrongs and in doing right. For our part, in words and deeds of coming days, we propose to produce a rational, reasoned manifesto for construction of an Indian future in America. If America has maintained faith with its original spirit, or may recognize it now, we should not be denied. Press Statement issued: October 31, 1972


Reading


Lakota Woman -- Mary Crow Dog -- Mary Brave Bird grew up fatherless in a one-room cabin, without running water or electricity, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rebelling against the aimless drinking, punishing missionary school, narrow strictures for women, and violence and hopeless of reservation life, she joined the new movement of tribal pride sweeping Native American communities in the sixties and seventies. Mary eventually married Leonard Crow Dog, the American Indian Movement's chief medicine man, who revived the sacred but outlawed Ghost Dance.
Originally published in 1990, Lakota Woman was a national best seller and winner of the American Book Award. It is a unique document, unparalleled in American Indian literature, a story of death, of determination against all odds, of the cruelties perpetuated against American Indians, and of the Native American struggle for rights. Working with Richard Erdoes, one of the twentieth century's leading writers on Native American affairs, Brave Bird recounts her difficult upbringing and the path of her fascinating life. (from the book jacket)


Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee -- Paul Chaat Smith & Robert Allen Warrior -- It's the mid-1960s, and everyone is fighting back. Black Americans are fighting for civil rights, the counterculture is trying to subvert the Vietnam War, and women are fighting for their liberation. Indians were fighting, too, though it's a fight too few have documented, and even fewer remember. At the time, newspapers and television broadcasts were filled with images of Indian activists staging dramatic events such as the seizure of Alcatraz in 1969, the storming of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building on the eve of Nixon's re-election in 1972, and the American Indian Movement (AIM)-supported seizure of Wounded Knee by the Oglala Sioux in 1973. Like a Hurricane puts these events into historical context and provides one of the first narrative accounts of that momentous period.

Unlike most other books written about American Indians, this book does not seek to persuade readers that government policies were cruel and misguided. Nor is it told from the perspective of outsiders looking in. Written by two American Indians, Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane is a gripping account of how for a brief, but brilliant season Indians strategized to change the course and tone of American Indian-U.S. government interaction. Unwaveringly honest, it analyzes not only the period's successes but also its failures. Smith and Warrior have gathered together the stories of both the leaders and foot soldiers of AIM, conservative tribal leaders, top White House aides, and the ordinary citizens caught up in the maelstrom of activity that would shape a new generation of political thought. Here are insider accounts of how local groups coalesced to form a national movement for change. Here, too, is a clear-eyed assessment of the period's key leaders: the fancy dance revolutionary Clyde Warrior, the enigmatic Hank Adams, and AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means. The result is a human story of drama, sacrifice, triumph, and tragedy that gives a ground-level view of events that forever changed the lives of Americans, particularly American Indians. (from the book jacket)


Black Elk Speaks -- Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of The Oglala Sioux -- Nicholas Black Elk, as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow) -- Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, as a history of a Native nation, or as an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable.(from the book jacket)


Film/Video:

Doc on AIM (70's)

Short Doc on AIM