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1968: American Indian Movement (AIM)
"Somewhere, these young men started the American Indian Movement. And they came to our reservation and they turned that light on inside. And it's getting bigger, now we can see things" an Oglala Elder.

The "somewhere" this elder speaks of in in the prisons of Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1968. "These men" refer to Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, and George Miller, three of the men prominent in the founding of AIM (American Indian Movement), an activist American Indian group concerned with the civil rights of American Indians. These three Ojibwa ex-cons were sick of the perpetual poverty and despair their fellow brothers and sisters were facing.

As AIM began to grow many Indian people came to understand and appreciate the important cultural and spiritual heritage they embodied. They quickly began to realize that the Indian people's two greatest strengths were their spiritual heritage and their connection to the land. The group claims to be oriented towards their native religion. This is why the members aren't bona fide until they participate in the Sun Dance ritual which takes place on the Pine Ridge. This spiritual strength is part of the reason one would see big drums and peace pipes whenever AIM is involved in an event. However AIM doesn't impose any views on the different communities, rather it tries to adapt itself to the different communities it visits. As Leonard Paltier says, "We have never gone any place without being asked by the chiefs and elders; we have never gone any place without the medicine man." (AIM history website)

At first, their movement was based on many white, urban political groups that existed. AIM began to place pressure on the "War on Poverty" bureaucracy to ensure more Indian representation in political decision-making, and to help Native Americans to protect themselves against the police and federal abuse.

Historically, AIM was widely involved with tribal affairs. Many people disclaimed affiliation with the movement because it was known to provoke confrontation. When AIM was first started their philosophy was strongly geared towards the preservation of their land. AIM didn't see nature as being set apart from people. Embodying this philosophy, AIM began its action in the Sioux countries in 1969. First they were active in helping the Sioux people stand up to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA insisted that the old pagan Indian traditions, "everything from religion to hairstyle" must go. Later, AIM was called to help when two elderly Indian men were tortured by whites because of racism. In both cases no legal justice was granted, so the local Indian people asked AIM to come in and help to get justice. Soon after these occurrences was when AIM was asked to come out to help the Sioux people at Pine Ridge.

AIM's initial reaction was that they were going to stay out of local politics and policies of the Sioux nation. However, shortly after they learned that the fight was between the Sioux people and the US government (which was represented by the BIA) and they were willing to help.

There are many misconstrued images of AIM as a result of the mass media. A common image is a mass of gun-firing Indians looking for a fight. In fact, the AIM approach seeks to find solutions through negotiation and peaceful means. But AIM members f eel strongly that they must defend themselves, and all the Indian people, from unjust treatment. For this reason, AIM security insists on a no drug, no alcohol or loose weapons rule at any Indian event where AIM has taken responsibility.

Some of the events AIM is most popularly known for include: the occupation of Alcatraz island during the Nixon administration, the takeover of the BIA office in 1972, and 71 day takeover of Wounded Knee in 1973. Following the Wounded Knee incident the FBI intensified its efforts to calm much of the Indian dissent. Eventually AIM found itself isolated as a result of the provocation of undercover agents to act against their interests.

Social activism and consciousness raising of the 1960's had a profound effect on education in our country. After AIM was founded many mainstream universities added American Indian studies to their course offerings. This was a huge step for the American Indian community and leaders because it meant that they no longer had to accept an education that meant losing their identities, or to be satisfied with the way whites operate their American Indian programs.

Virgil Kills Straight, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation coined AIM very eloquently in 1993 when he said, "The American Indian Movement is then, the Warrior Class of this century, who are bound to the bond of the Drum, who vote with their bodies instead of their mouths.Štheir business is hope."

Today, American Indian activist groups continue to organize protests and demonstrations to protect the rights of all Native Americans, however they fail to recapture the sympathetic audiences they once had during the peak of their cultural rebellion.



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