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On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 200 Sioux Native Americans, led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupy Wounded Knee, the site of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. The AIM members, some of them armed, took 11 residents of the historic Oglala Sioux settlement hostage as local authorities and federal agents descended on the reservation.
AIM was founded in 1968 by Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and other Native leaders as a militant political and civil rights organization. From November 1969 to June 1971, AIM members occupied Alcatraz Island off San Francisco, saying they had the right to it under a treaty provision granting them unused federal land. In November 1972, AIM members briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to protest programs controlling reservation development. Then, in early 1973, AIM prepared for its dramatic occupation of Wounded Knee. In addition to its historical significance, Wounded Knee was one of the poorest communities in the United States and shared with the other Pine Ridge settlements some of the country’s lowest rates of life expectancy.
READ MORE: When Native American Activists Occupied Alcatraz Island
The day after the Wounded Knee occupation began, AIM members traded gunfire with the federal marshals surrounding the settlement and fired on automobiles and low-flying planes that dared come within rifle range. Russell Means began negotiations for the release of the hostages, demanding that the U.S. Senate launch an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and all Sioux reservations in South Dakota, and that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings on the scores of Indian treaties broken by the U.S. government.
The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents and several more were wounded. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after officials promised to investigate their complaints. Russell Means and Dennis Banks were arrested, but on September 16, 1973, the charges against them were dismissed by a federal judge because of the U.S. government’s unlawful handling of witnesses and evidence.
Violence continued on the Pine Ridge Reservation throughout the rest of the 1970s, with several more AIM members and supporters losing their lives in confrontations with the U.S. government. In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native man were killed in a shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In the trial that followed, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. With many of its leaders in prison, AIM disbanded in 1978. Local AIM groups continued to function, however, and in 1981 one group occupied part of the Black Hills in South Dakota.
Congress took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims. Russell Means continued to advocate for Native rights at Pine Ridge and elsewhere and in 1988 was a presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. In 2001, Means attempted to run for the governorship of New Mexico, but his candidacy was disallowed because procedure had not been followed. Beginning in 1992, Means appeared in several films, including Last of the Mohicans. He also had a guest spot on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. His autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread, was published in 1997. Means died on October 12, 2012, at age 72.
Leonard Peltier remains in prison, although efforts to win him pardon continue.
READ MORE: Why Native Americans Have Protested Mt. Rushmore
Richard M. Nixon: ‘Self-Determination Without Termination’
Editor’s note: Voters this year will elect the 45th president of the United States. This is the 37th in a series of 44 stories exploring past presidents’ attitudes toward Native Americans, challenges and triumphs regarding tribes, and the federal laws and Indian policies enacted during their terms in office.
Richard Milhous Nixon is perhaps best known for being the only U.S. president to resign from office, but the man forever linked to the Watergate scandal also transformed federal Indian policy.
Eighteen months into his first term, Nixon delivered to Congress a landmark address on Indian Affairs, unveiling policies that ushered in the era of self-determination. In his July 8, 1970, address, Nixon called for a new policy of “self-determination without termination,” instigating lasting changes in federal-Indian relationships.
“The first Americans—the Indians𠅊re the most deprived and most isolated minority group in our nation,” he said. “On virtually every scale of measurement𠅎mployment, income, education, health—the condition of the Indian people ranks at the bottom.”
Nixon’s remarks came 17 years after Congress approved House Concurrent Resolution 108, which called for an end to Indians’ “status as wards of the United States” and officially launched the termination era. During the next 10 years, the federal government terminated its relationship with more than 100 tribes, severing tribes’ rights to land, sovereignty and special protections.
Nixon called for congressional action to overturn House Concurrent Resolution 108. Indian policy too often was “ineffective and demeaning,” he said. Instead, it should “recognize and build upon the capacities and insights” of Indians themselves.
In his address, Nixon unequivocally rejected termination policy, claiming it was based on false premises and its practical results were 𠇌learly harmful.” Instead, the special relationship between Indians and the federal government was based on “solemn obligations” or treaties.
“To terminate this relationship would be no more appropriate than to terminate the citizenship rights of any other American,” Nixon said. The United States “must make it clear that Indians can become independent of federal control without being cut off from federal concern and federal support.”
Nixon also outlined nine specific changes in federal policy, including restoration of some Native lands, funding for reservation-based health care programs, expansion of programs for urban Indians and creation of a cabinet-level position for an assistant secretary of Indian Affairs.
𠇋oth as a matter of justice and as a matter of enlightened social policy, we must begin to act on the basis of what the Indians themselves have long been telling us,” he said. “The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.”
Nixon began fulfilling his promises by the end of 1970 when he signed a bill returning the sacred Blue Lake in New Mexico to the Taos Pueblo. Six decades earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt grabbed the lake and 48,000 surrounding acres for the newly created Carson National Forest.
When he signed Public Law 91-550 in December 1970, Nixon restored Native access to a site the Taos Pueblo considered the heart of its culture. The law also set a precedent of self-determination for all Native Americans, Nixon said.
“This is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done,” he said. “In signing the bill I trust that this will mark one of those periods in American history where, after a very, very long time, and at times a very sad history of injustice, that we started on a new road𠅊 new road which leads us to justice in the treatment of those who were the first Americans.”
Courtesy National Archives
President Richard M. Nixon signs a bill to return the sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, on December 15, 1970. Tribal leaders stand next to him at the White House.
One year later, Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which transferred 44 million acres of land to Alaska Natives. The act also called for $962.5 million in compensation and led to the incorporation of more than 200 indigenous villages.
Nixon’s Indian policy followed weaker attempts by presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to end termination, said Carole Goldberg, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. While Kennedy and Johnson both prioritized social programs that benefited Indians (along with other marginalized populations), they failed to recognize the special relationship between tribes and the federal government.
Nixon’s presidency signaled a “philosophical shift” in the way America viewed its indigenous people, Goldberg said. This shift was the hallmark of Nixon’s Indian policy.
“Nixon was the person who grasped the difference between self-determination and anti-poverty programs most effectively,” she said. “He articulated the difference between an anti-poverty agenda and a self-determination agenda.”
Born to a Quaker family in California in 1913, Nixon played football at Whittier College, where he formed a lasting relationship with his coach, Wallace 𠇌hief” Newman, a member of the La Jolla Band of Mission Indians. In his memoirs, Nixon said his admiration for Newman was second only to what he felt for his father.
“He drilled into me a competitive spirit and the determination to come back after you have been knocked down or after you lose,” Nixon wrote. “He also gave me an acute understanding that what really matters is not a man’s background, his color, his race, or his religion, but only his character.”
Nixon went on to study law at Duke University. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he represented California in the U.S. House and the Senate before being elected as vice president with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952𠅊 position he held for eight years.
A Republican, Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 presidential election, but he ran again in 1968 and won. He was re-elected in 1972, but served only 19 months of his second term.
Nixon took office in January 1969, amid rising Native American militancy. In November of that year, a group of Red Power activists took over Alcatraz Island, reclaiming the land for its original inhabitants and occupying it for 19 months.
In November 1972, American Indian Movement activists drove from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., intent on delivering to Nixon a list of Indian grievances. But Nixon was out of the country and the activists instead occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building for 72 hours.
In February 1973, one month after Nixon started his second term, AIM leaders and about 200 activists occupied the village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in an armed takeover that lasted 71 days. The occupation ended in May after two Indians were killed and a deputy marshal was wounded.
In this March 3, 1973 file photo, a U.S. flag flies upside down outside a church occupied by members of the American Indian Movement AIM), background, on the site of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D. AIM&aposs occupation of Wounded Knee triggered a violent standoff with federal authorities.
Nixon continued to advocate for Native Americans, signing 52 legislative measures to support sovereignty. In December 1973, he signed the Menominee Restoration Act, ending the tribe’s termination status and restoring its right to self-determination. He also increased the BIA budget by more than 200 percent, doubled funds for Indian health care and created the Office of Indian Water Rights.
One of Nixon’s greatest contributions to Indians, however, came after he left office. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, signed in January 1975, officially reversed Indian termination and authorized government agencies to work directly with tribes. Championed by Nixon, the act was designed to “provide maximum Indian participation in the government and education of the Indian people.”
Nixon resigned in 1974 and his vice president, Gerald R. Ford, completed his term. He died in 1994 at age 81.
Who led the occupation of Wounded Knee?
AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins. On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, some 200 Sioux Native Americans, led by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), occupy Wounded Knee, the site of the infamous 1890 massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry.
Likewise, how did the occupation at Wounded Knee begin? The occupation of Wounded Knee began when members of the Oglala Lakota tribe, based on the Pine Ridge Reservation, called for the impeachment of tribal chairman Richard Wilson. When the impeachment didn't happen, some tribe members, along with a group of American Indian Movement members, took over the town.
Furthermore, what is the significance of the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973?
Originally intended as a peaceful demonstration for Lakota rights, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) staged a protest in the town of Wounded Knee, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. For the organizers, the Lakota people, and historians, the community has great significance.
How did the occupation of Wounded Knee end?
The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents. One federal agent was paralyzed after being shot. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after White House officials promised to investigate their complaints.
Remembering the Wounded Knee occupation
Brian Ward tells the story of one of the most important Native struggles of the past.
IN RECENT months, the Idle No More movement led by First Nations in Canada has spoken out against disastrous government policies threatening reserves and the environment. Idle No More has been a powerful voice of resistance, particularly as consciousness about environmental issues grows.
Of course, Native resistance is nothing new to this continent. It has been part of history since Europeans set foot on Turtle Island (as North America is known to some Native Americans). The images of the Idle No More movement blockading highways across Canada reminds us of past struggles.
One of the most important such struggles began 40 years ago on February 27: the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 by Oglala Lakota elders and the American Indian Movement (AIM), who called for the impeachment of the corrupt tribal council president Dick Wilson, and for Congress to reexamine broken treaties.
IN THE 1970s, the Pine Ridge reservation, where Wounded Knee is located, was run like a Latin American dictatorship.
The U.S. government would funnel money to Dick Wilson, the tribal council president, who oversaw the reservation with an iron fist. Supporters of the radical AIM were hunted down by the Guardians of the Olgala Nation (GOON) squad, ending in numerous gun battles. The GOON squad worked closely with the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
deeply unpopular because of his mistreatment of the elderly and traditional people on the reservation, his undemocratic methods, and the rampant nepotism and corruption that infested his administration. He was infamous for embezzling Housing and Urban Development money and misusing funds, and for neglecting everything else on the reservation. Wilson used federal funds to start what some have called a paramilitary, and what became a virtual death squad. The cocky, crew-cutted Wilson only named his armed gang Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON) after angry Pine Ridge residents had been calling them the "goon squad" for a while.
Since Wilson was so unpopular, resistance developed on the reservation. The Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) was formed to impeach Wilson. Petitions were filed--one even had more signatures than the number of votes Wilson got in the preceding election. Showing his nepotism and corruption, Wilson personally presided over the impeachment hearing, so you can guess the outcome.
OSCRO was at a loss on what to do next--action through the tribal council was clearly not going to work. Over 200 people came to a hearing put together to decide whether AIM should be invited on the reservation to help with the situation. AIM had an organization and could bring people to defend the Oglala Lakota people. Frank Fools Crow, the traditional chief of the Oglala people, said, "Go ahead and do it. Take your brothers from the American Indian Movement and go to Wounded Knee and make your stand there."
On February 27, 1973, a caravan of 300 armed Oglala Lakota and AIM activists arrived at Wounded Knee and declared it a liberated territory. They took over the church and trading post, blocked all the roads, and took several white hostages.
The leading participants included Leonard Crow Dog, Carter Camp, Madonna Thunder Hawk, Russell Means and Dennis Banks. As AIM leader Dennis Banks said, "The message that went out is that a band of Indians could take on the U.S. government. Tecumseh had his day, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse. We had ours."
"We were about to be obliterated culturally," Russell Means explained in the documentary We Shall Remain at Wounded Knee. "Our spiritual way of life, our entire way of life was about to be stamped out. And this was a rebirth of our dignity and self-pride."
Within hours of the start of the occupation, the federal government mobilized an overwhelming response, sending over 200 FBI agents, federal marshals and BIA police to surround and blockade Wounded Knee.
The senators from South Dakota, George McGovern and James Abourezk, came to negotiate freedom for the hostages--they learned that the hostages were sympathetic to the Indian cause and weren't staying against their will. Agnes Gildersleeve, the owner of the trading post, said, "We're not hostages, we are going to remain here. It's your fault that these Indian are here. Have you listened to them? We're not leaving because you'll kill them if we leave!"
Shootouts happened almost every night of the occupation. Leonard Crow Dog, one of the spiritual leaders, would lead people in sweat lodges and ceremonies to prepare for battle if it was to come. These ceremonies were very important to the resistance and developing a sense of Native pride--American Indians weren't allowed to practice their religion and culture at the time.
THE DEMANDS of the occupiers were quite simple: investigate corruption on the reservation and hearings in Congress on broken treaties. Yet the government immediately rejected these demands, sending mid-level officials to deal with the situation and gave out ultimatums about the occupiers leaving Wounded Knee. AIM burned this document in front of the cameras.
The mainstream media broadcast continued to demonize AIM and try to turn public opinion against the movement. Nevertheless, the occupation gained sympathy throughout the U.S., with majorities saying they supported the Indians. Actor Marlon Brando would refuse to accept his Oscar for best actor in The Godfather in a protest in solidarity with Native rights and against the stereotypes of Indians in movies. Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather gave a speech refusing the award that was watched by millions.
The occupation was taking place as the Watergate scandal was rocking the Nixon administration. The administration didn't want to look any worse than it already did by raiding the village, which was the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. AIM and Lakota activists were able to build solidarity around the country as supplies continued to flood in. Thousands of people came to participate, including American Indians from tribes around the country, along with white, Chicano, Black and Asian activists.
A small delegation led by Frank Fools Crow went to the United Nations in an attempt to gain recognition of the occupation's autonomy as a liberated nation. The request was denied.
Meanwhile, the response of the FBI was go all-out against the occupation. Former FBI agent Joe Trimbach later recalled: "The [FBI] director said, 'Tell Trimbach he can have anything he wants!' Which was pretty neat, because it was like having a blank check. I had agents go up to Rapid City and buy every rifle they could find."
The U.S. government was worried that Wounded Knee would become an example that others would follow. A high-ranking BIA official expressed alarm over his view that Wounded Knee had "crystallized a revolutionary movement in the United States."
By the end of the occupation, two American Indians had been killed, Buddy Lamont and Frank Clearwater. Buddy Lamont was from Pine Ridge, a Vietnam veteran and well-known on the reservation--the radio station building at Pine Ridge is now named after him. Lamont's great-grandparents were with Crazy Horse at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and his grandmother was one of the few survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Frank Clearwater was a Cherokee from North Carolina who had just arrived with his wife at Wounded Knee. He was killed by a stray bullet as he was laying down.
As the FBI escalated its attack on AIM, the occupation became harder and harder to sustain. With no electricity and running water and supplies dwindling, the occupation pushed people to their limits. After 71 days, at the request of Frank Fools Crow, the occupation ended on May 8. The FBI came in, and disarmed and arrested 120 people. Fortunately, however, many people had snuck out the night before, evading arrest.
Gladys Bissonette, who had been part of the occupation throughout, said on its last day:
This was one of the greatest things that ever happened in my life. And although today is our last day here, I still feel like I'll always be here because this is part of my home. I hope that the Indians, at least throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation, unite and stand up together, hold hands and never forget Wounded Knee. We didn't have anything here, we didn't have anything to eat. But we had one thing--that was unity and friendship amongst 64 different tribes. I have never seen anything like this.
By the end of the occupation, more than 1,200 people had been arrested nationwide in relation to the protest, and 500 elders were indicted. Most were acquitted--however, Leonard Crow Dog ended up serving a couple months in prison.
With the resistance of the Idle No More movement undoubtedly continuing in Canada and the U.S., it's important for us to remember and learn from the struggles of the past and the story of a people who have been written out of the history books.
One of the most important lessons of the occupation of Wounded Knee is the importance of solidarity. The courage of the Lakota was inspiring, but the occupation would never have lasted as long as it did without the support it had from the public.
It's our job as activists to fight alongside all people who are oppressed. On this anniversary of the Wounded Knee occupation, let us remember the lives that were lost and the courage of those who fought.
1973: American Indian Movement occupies Wounded Knee
Members of the American Indian Movement occupy a trading post at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The conflict originated in an attempt to impeach the chairman of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. But as the tribe split into armed camps, tribal police and government, federal law enforcement, and many outside parties became involved. The siege lasted 71 days, resulted in the deaths of two Indians, and captured national media attention.
“The 1973 conflict at Wounded Knee involved a dispute within Pine Ridge’s Oglala Lakota Tribe over the controversial tribal chairman Richard Wilson. Wilson was viewed as a corrupt puppet of the BIA by some segments of the tribe, including those associated with the American Indian Movement. An effort to impeach Wilson resulted in a division of the tribe into opposing camps that eventually armed themselves and entered into a two-and-a-half month conflict that involved tribal police and government AIM reservation residents federal law enforcement officials local citizens nationally prominent entertainment figures national philanthropic, religious, and legal organizations and the national news media. When the siege ended on May 9, 1973, two Indians were dead and an unknown number on both sides were wounded, including casualties among federal government forces.” —Alvin M. Josephy, Joane Nagel, and Troy Johnson, editors, Red Power: The American Indians’ Fight for Freedom, 1971
Siege at Wounded Knee, 1973
A short history of the 71-day uprising of Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Armed American Indians occupied the territory, which they legally owned, with several demands, including an investigation into the 371 treaties signed between the Native Nations and the Federal Government, all of which had been broken by the United States.
In the summer of 1968, two hundred members of the American Indian community came together for a meeting to discuss various issues that Indian people of the time were dealing with on an everyday basis. Among these issues were, police brutality, high unemployment rates, and the Federal Government's policies concerning American Indians.
From this meeting came the birth of the American Indian Movement, commonly known as AIM. With this came the emergence of AIM leaders, such as Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt to name a few.
Little did anyone know that AIM would become instrumental in shaping not only the path of American Indians across the country, but the eyes of the world would follow AIM protests through the occupation at Alcatraz through the Trail of Broken Treaties, to the final conflict of the 1868 Sioux treaty of the Black Hills. This conflict would begin on February 27, 1973 and last seventy-one days. The occupation became known in history as the Siege at Wounded Knee.
It began as the American Indians stood against government atrocities, and ended in an armed battle with US Armed Forces. Corruption within the BIA and Tribal Council at an all time high, tension on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation was on the increase and quickly getting out of control. With a feeling close to despair, and knowing there was nothing else for them to do, elders of the Lakota Nation asked the American Indian Movement for assistance. This bringing to a head, more than a hundred years of racial tension and a government corruption.
On that winter day in 1973, a large group of armed American Indians reclaimed Wounded Knee in the name of the Lakota Nation. For the first time in many decades, those Oglala Sioux ruled themselves, free from government intervention, as is their ancient custom. This would become the basis for a TV movie, "Lakota Woman" the true story of Mary Moore Crowdog, and her experiences at the Wounded Knee occupation.
During the preceding months of the Wounded Knee occupation, civil war brewed among the Oglala people. There became a clear-cut between the traditional Lakota people and the more progressive minded government supporters. The traditional people wanted more independence from the Federal Government, as well as honoring of the 1868 Sioux treaty, which was still valid. According to the 1868 treaty, the Black Hills of South Dakota still belonged to the Sioux people, and the traditional people wanted the Federal Government to honor their treaty by returning the sacred Black Hills to the Sioux people.
Another severe problem on the Pine Ridge reservation was the strip mining of the land. The chemicals used by the mining operations were poisoning the land and the water. People were getting sick, and children were being born with birth defects. The tribal government and its supporters encouraged the strip mining and the sale of the Black Hills to the Federal Government. It is said that at that point in time, the tribal government was not much more than puppets of the BIA. The sacred Black Hills, along with many other problems, had become a wedge that would tear apart the Lakota Nation. Violent confrontations between the traditional people and the GOONS (Guardians of Our Oglala Nation) became an everyday occurrence.
The young AIM warriors, idealistic and defiant, were like a breath of fresh air to the Indian people, and their ideas quickly caught on. When AIM took control of Wounded Knee, over seventy-five different Indian Nations were represented, with more supporters arriving daily from all over the country. Soon United States Armed Forces in the form of Federal Marshals, and the National Guard surrounded the large group. All roads to Wounded Knee were cut off, but still, people slipped through the lines, pouring into the occupied area.
The forces inside Wounded Knee demanded an investigation into misuse of tribal funds the goon squad's violent aggression against people who dared speak out against the tribal government. In addition they wanted the Senate Committee to launch an investigation into the BIA and the Department of the Interior regarding their handling of the affairs of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The warriors also demanded an investigation into the 371 treaties between the Native Nations and the Federal Government, all of which had been broken by the United States.
The warriors that occupied Wounded Knee held fast to these demands and refused to lay down arms until they were met. The government cut off the electricity to Wounded Knee and attempted to keep all food supplies from entering the area.
For the rest of that winter, the men and women inside Wounded Knee lived on minimal resources, while they fought the armed aggression of Federal Forces. Daily, heavy gunfire was issued back and forth between the two sides, but true to their word, they refused to give up.
During the Wounded Knee occupation, they would live in their traditional manner, celebrating a birth, a marriage and they would mourn the death of two of their fellow warriors inside Wounded Knee. AIM member, Buddy Lamont was hit by M16 fire and bled to death inside Wounded Knee.
AIM member, Frank Clearwater was killed by heavy machine gun fire, inside Wounded Knee.
Twelve other individuals were intercepted by the goon squad while back packing supplies into Wounded Knee they disappeared and were never heard from again. Though the government investigated, by looking for a mass grave in the area, when none was found the investigation was soon dismissed.
Wounded Knee was a great victory for the Oglala Sioux as well as all other Indian Nations. For a short period of time in 1973, they were a free people once more.
After 71 days, the Siege at Wounded Knee had come to an end with the government making nearly 1,200 arrests. But this would only mark the beginning of what was known as the "Reign of Terror" instigated by the FBI and the BIA. During the three years following Wounded Knee, 64 tribal members were unsolved murder victims, 300 harassed and beaten, and 562 arrests were made, and of these arrests only 15 people were convicted of any crime. A large price to pay for 71 days as a free people on the land of one's ancestors.
Leonard Peltier Denied Clemency by Obama
Democracy Now!, January 18, 2017
The Office of the Pardon Attorney has announced President Obama has denied clemency to imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Peltier is a former member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He has long maintained his innocence. Read the rest of this entry &rarr
UNL’s AIM: A Brief History of the American Indian Movement And its Influence on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The late 1960s and early 1970s brought about great change to the United States. The Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement stirred many Americans into action, including the nation’s “forgotten minority.” Inspired by these events, Indigenous leaders and scholars from various Indigenous nations began to radically rethink the role American Indians would have in the United States. The Red Power Movement ushered in a new understanding of Native American spirituality, leadership, affirmation, and tribal rights. Native Americans that came together into urban centers following the Termination and Relocation Acts sought change through the American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM & the Red Power Movement in general, proved impactful throughout the country from 1969 to 1975, and affected many liberal institutions such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). In response to AIM, UNL pushed for more progressive policies regarding race and Indigenous education. Despite the group’s early impact however, AIM’s national influence ultimately died out with time, but UNL’s AIM inspired policies that continue to live on to this day.
The American Indian Movement’s inception was a result of the Termination Act of 1953 and the Relocation Act of 1956. During World War II, 44,000 Native Americans, 10% of the entire US Indigenous population, participated in the war.[ 1] Because of their efforts, many Americans began to finally recognize Native Americans, as fellow Americans. Believing that Indigenous peoples were finally ready to assimilate into the American lifestyle, the federal government ushered in a new era of Indian Policy.
First to come of the United States’ 20th century assimilation program was the Termination Act of 1953 which ended the reservation system of the time. The idea of the act was to subject Native Americans to state and federal laws as well as grant them all the rights and benefits of being an American citizen. Consequently, the Termination Act also meant that Indigenous nations would no longer be federally recognized and would no longer receive federal aid. The Relocation Act of 1956 furthered the new Indian Policy by sending Native Americans from various reservations to urban centers such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Minneapolis. While there have long been American Indians in urban settings, the Relocation Act brought many new perspectives to target cities. Relocated Native Americans faced poor housing conditions, redlining, segregation, and discrimination. Seeking assistance and community, urban Indigenous peoples came together in an intertribal movement to discuss the troubles that plagued them. In Minneapolis, this convening of urban Native Americans directly led to the formation of the American Indian Movement.
Since its inception in 1968, the American Indian Movement has focused on Native American spirituality, leadership, and affirmation. AIM speaks out against unemployment, housing, and discrimination, while simultaneously advocating for tribal rights. Historically, AIM has sponsored many protests throughout the United States in order to garner publicity and support. Some of the group’s most impactful protests were the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972, and the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973.[3 ]
Back in 1969, Alcatraz was not the tourist destination it is today, and was instead abandoned federal property. In accordance with the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, AIM made its debut and legally occupied the island, declaring it Indian land. The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie was an agreement made between the US federal government, Arapaho nation, Yanktonai nation, Oglala nation, Minniconjou nation, and Brule nation in 1868 that, in part, returned all retired federal land to Native Americans. The Occupation made national news and lasted over a year and a half. Alcatraz’s occupiers published newsletters and even broadcasted their own radio program. The Occupation of Alcatraz only came to an end after federal officers cut off the island’s access to power and water and then forcibly removed the remaining inhabitants in 1971.[4 ]
Less than a year later in 1972, the American Indian Movement made plans for another large protest to attain media coverage. Wishing to bring attention to the over 500 broken and unfulfilled treaties made between various Indigenous nations and the federal government, AIM devised the Trail of Broken Treaties. The Trail of Broken Treaties began with an intertribal gathering of American Indians in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Rapid City to form seven caravans. These caravans then headed east towards Washington DC, growing in size as they traveled. The Trail of Broken Treaties brought together the largest group of Native American protesters in history to Washington DC, and just one week before the presidential election of Richard Nixon. AIM put together the Twenty Points Position Paper that detailed the group’s goals, which particularly featured the re-envisionment of Indian-federal treaty making. AIM had hoped to present it to the federal government. Once it was made clear that the government had no intention of reviewing the Twenty Points, the caravans protested by seizing the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and burning many of its documents. After a three day standoff, government officials heard AIM’s requests and negotiated the future of Indian treaty making.[5 ]
The last of AIM’s major protests came about in 1973 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Wounded Knee is a town within the Pine Ridge Reservation and also the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. AIM chose to occupy Wounded Knee in remembrance of the 300 Lakota Sioux murdered there in 1890. AIM’s mission was to yet again bring recognition to numerous treaties that the federal government had broken, as well as see the removal of Dick Wilson as chairman of the Oglala Sioux. Dick Wilson was a half blood that was believed to have been unfairly representing full blooded Oglala Sioux. The occupation quickly turned into a siege led by federal marshals and the National Guard. The federal government cut off supplies, electricity, and water from the coalition of Native Americans at Wounded Knee, and throughout the 71 day siege both sides fired upon one another. Ultimately, the Wounded Knee Occupation brought once again nationwide attention to AIM and the Native American struggle, but at the cost of two AIM members’ lives and the paralyzation of one US marshal.[6 ]
The Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee Occupation, among other Indigenous protests and demonstrations, brought attention to many of the various issues plaguing Native Americans and inspired several liberal institutions to take action. One such institution was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In accordance to Section 19 of UNL’s Charter, the university has always admitted students and faculty of all races, and since its founding, has always had a small Native American community.[7 ] In order to support their fellow Indigenous Cornhuskers on campus and across the state, UNL’s faculty and student body took action by creating TONIC, publishing articles about AIM in the Daily Nebraskan, and partaking in support protests.
Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children (TONIC) was a UNL sponsored teaching program established in late 1969.[8 ] It was no coincidence TONIC was formed during the Occupation of Alcatraz. The Occupation garnered national attention and forced many Americans to rethink the way Native Americans were viewed and treated. TONIC began with UNL trained tutors traveling to the nearby Ho-Chunk Winnebago Reservation and the Omaha Reservation to directly teach Indian children. The tutors were volunteers consisting of students primarily from UNL, but also from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and the Concordia Teachers College. Later, TONIC was made into a two-credit hour course, and each volunteer was educated in various historic and contemporary Indian cultures to better understand their students. By 1974, UNL Chancellor James H. Zumberge considered TONIC to, “(1) Supplement the education each child is receiving in school, and (2) . develop comradeship with the child involved.” While TONIC was the most hands on initiative UNL’s students and faculty led to support Native Americans, it was not the only one.
More of AIM’s influence on UNL and Lincoln, Nebraska in general was seen on November 7, 1972 during the Trail of Broken Treaties. The Lincoln AIM chapter led by A-Go Sheridan issued a support protest at the Lincoln capitol building. The protest was attended by 35 Lincoln Native Americans, as well as some UNL students and other Lincolnites who joined in. The goal of the protest was to both show support and garner attention for the Trail of Broken Treaties protest going on at the same time in Washington DC. The Lincoln Trail of Broken Treaties support protest was featured in the UNL newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan.
The Daily Nebraskan was another important aspect of UNL that was influenced by the American Indian Movement. From AIM’s peak years of 1969 to 1975, the Daily Nebraskan published numerous articles highlighting the movement’s endeavors. The Daily Nebraskan helped to inform UNL students of protests such as the Trail of Broken Treaties and the Wounded Knee Occupation. The Daily Nebraskan also helped spread news about the UNL Council of American Indian Students.
The Council was formed in 1970, similarly to TONIC, during the Occupation of Alcatraz. UNL’s Council of American Indian Students served as a platform for Native Americans to convene and work together. The Council also sponsored an annual event called Indian Awareness Week. Indian Awareness Week invited all of UNL’s students and faculty to learn about both historic and contemporary Indian culture, as well as view an intertribal powwow.
While the American Indian Movement acted across the United States and received national news media coverage multiple times, by 1976, the group’s influence had dwindled. From 1969 to 1975, AIM was a household name. Everyone had heard about the group’s Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee Occupation. AIM brought to light many of the issues Native Americans faced and forced Americans to reevaluate the American Indian. Today, AIM still exists, continued on as a lobbyist group. While the American Indian Movement of the early 70s is long gone, their impact still lives on today, and it lives on in part at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
AIM lives on at UNL through UNITE, Native American Heritage Month, and the powwow. The UNL Council of American Indian Students was largely replaced by UNITE, the University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange. UNITE is made up of both Native American and non-Native American students. The group serves to empower and promote Native American students and to share Indian cultures with the rest of UNL. UNITE helps sponsor events for Native American Heritage Month in November and has continued on the tradition of hosting an annual powwow. While the powwow was discontinued for a time at UNL due to financial reasons, UNITE successfully brought the event back in 2016 and has worked hard to ensure the event remains an annual occurrence.
The American Indian Movement saw a golden age from 1969 to 1975 and reshaped the way Native Americans were perceived. AIM garnered national attention through protests like the Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee Occupation. With publicity and a message deserving of it, AIM greatly impacted liberal institutions across the United States, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AIM inspired UNL to create racially progressive programs like TONIC and the Council of Native American Students. While the revolutionary Indian group’s influence died out with time, the American Indian Movement’s legacy continues to live on today at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
- Lincoln Riddle. "Much More Than Code Talking - The Role of Native Americans in World War II." WAR HISTORY ONLINE. September 27, 2017.
- Levanne R. Hendrix. "1953 to 1969: Policy of Termination and Relocation." Stanford Ethnogeriatrics. March 05, 2014 "LibGuides: American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview." Overview - American Indian Movement (AIM) - LibGuides at Minnesota Historical Society Library. February 06, 2019.
- Laura W. Wittstock, and Elaine J. Salinas. "A Brief History of the American Indian Movement." AIMovement "LibGuides: American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview."
- Alcatraz Proclamation and Letter | Indians of All Tribes (December 1969). For the purposes of the paper, neither the Alcatraz Proclamation or Letter are used instead the brief history of the event provided at the beginning of the site is used.
- Jason A. Hepler "Framing Red Power: Newspaper Coverage and the Trail of Broken Treaties." Framing Red Power. 2009 Brenda Norrell. "In Memory Carter Camp, Ponca." Censored News. December 27, 2013.
- John E. Carter "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains." Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE. 2011 Chertoff, Emily. "Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement." The Atlantic. October 23, 2012 Brenda Norrell. "In Memory Carter Camp, Ponca."
- UNL Charter. Section 19. February 19, 1869. University Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
- James H. Zumberge. Chancellor Correspondence . Letter from Chancellor Zumberge to “Colleague” discussing TONIC and charity for the organization. April 15, 1974. University Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3
- James H. Zumberge. Chancellor Correspondence .
- N. Higgins, J. Thorson, M. Weiland. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook . Introduction. 1973. University Archives & Special Collection, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3, Page IX-X
- James H. Zumberge N. Higgins, J. Thorson, M. Weiland. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook .
- James H. Zumberge.
- A.J. McClanahan "AIMed Support." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), November 8, 1972. Page 9
- "Nebraska Newspapers-The Daily Nebraskan." Nebraska Newspapers « Search Results "American Indian Movement". University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Page 1-3
- "Indians Perceive Education as Goal of Awareness Week." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), April 6, 1973. Page 9
- "UNITE Brings the Native American Powwow Back to UNL." RSO Newsletter. 2016 "UNITE|University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange." NVOLVE U 2.0.
Alcatraz Proclamation and Letter | Indians of All Tribes (December 1969). Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/alcatrazproclamationandletter.html.
For the purposes of the paper, neither the Alcatraz Proclamation or Letter are used instead the brief history of the event provided at the beginning of the site is used.
Carter, John E. "Encyclopedia of the Great Plains." Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE. 2011. Accessed April 10, 2019. http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.war.056.
Chertoff, Emily. "Occupy Wounded Knee: A 71-Day Siege and a Forgotten Civil Rights Movement." The Atlantic. October 23, 2012. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/occupy-wounded-knee-a-71-day-siege-and-a-forgotten-civil-rights-movement/263998/.
Hendrix, Levanne R. "1953 to 1969: Policy of Termination and Relocation." Stanford Ethnogeriatrics. March 05, 2014. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://geriatrics.stanford.edu/ethnomed/american_indian/learning_activities/learning_1/termination_relocation.html.
Heppler, Jason A. "Framing Red Power: Newspaper Coverage and the Trail of Broken Treaties." Framing Red Power. 2009. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.framingredpower.org/narrative/tbt/.
Higgins N., Thorson J., Weiland M.. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook . Introduction. 1973. University Archives & Special Collection, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3
Higgins N., Thorson J., Weiland M.. TONIC Tutors of Nebraska Indian Children Orientation Handbook . Photo of four TONIC students. 1972. University Archives & Special Collection, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3, Page VIII
"Indians Perceive Education as Goal of Awareness Week." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), April 6, 1973. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/1973-04-06/ed-1/seq-9/#words=American Indian Movement.
"LibGuides: American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview." Overview - American Indian Movement (AIM) - LibGuides at Minnesota Historical Society Library. February 06, 2019. Accessed April 03, 2019. http://libguides.mnhs.org/aim.
McClanahan, A.J. "AIMed Support." The Daily Nebraskan (Lincoln), November 8, 1972. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/lccn/sn96080312/1972-11-08/ed-1/seq-9/#words=American Indian Movement.
"Nebraska Newspapers-The Daily Nebraskan." Nebraska Newspapers « Search Results "American Indian Movement". University of Nebraska Lincoln. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://nebnewspapers.unl.edu/search/pages/results/?city=&rows=20&searchType=basic&proxtext=American Indian Movement.
Norrell, Brenda. "In Memory Carter Camp, Ponca." Censored News. December 27, 2013. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2013/12/in-memory-carter-camp-ponca.html.
"Nov. 25, 1969." Digital image. 1969-1971: The Occupation of Alcatraz. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://mashable.com/2016/11/13/occupation-of-alcatraz/#DDpS989VhSqd.
Riddle, Lincoln. "Much More Than Code Talking - The Role of Native Americans in World War II." WAR HISTORY ONLINE. September 27, 2017. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/much-more-than-code-talking-the-role-of-native-americans-in-world-war-ii-x.html.
"UNITE Brings the Native American Powwow Back to UNL." RSO Newsletter. 2016. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/rso/5239/29894.
"UNITE|University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange." NVOLVE U 2.0. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://orgsync.com/141067/chapter.
UNL Charter. Section 19. February 19, 1869. University Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Wittstock, Laura W., and Elaine J. Salinas. "A Brief History of the American Indian Movement." AIMovement. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.aimovement.org/ggc/history.html.
Wolfe, Shelby. Members of the Auxiliary American Legion at the 20170 Academic Achievement Powwow sponsored by the University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange. Digital image. The Daily Nebraskan. April 22, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2019. http://www.dailynebraskan.com/news/unite-powwow-honors-graduating-native-american-students-with-music-dance/article_85bdecb0-aaf9-11e2-875b-001a4bcf6878.html.
Zumberge, James H.. Chancellor Correspondence . Letter from Chancellor Zumberge to “Colleague” discussing TONIC. April 15, 1974. University Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3
Patrisha Heckel. Correspondance & TONIC Resource Proposal . Photograph of Resource Proposal. November 2, 1973. University Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Office of the Chancellor Centralized Files of the Chancellor. Box 94, Folder 3, Page 2
American Indian Movement AIM Member on What Lead to Wounded Knee Occupation
Bill Means, a Lakota member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which advocates for the rights of American Indians, discusses the events that led to AIM’s takeover and 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota.
The complex event that lead to the Wounded Knee incident begins with the American Indian Wars of the 1800s, which many believe ended with the 1890 massacre of over 300 unarmed Lakota men, women and children by the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment near Wounded Knee Creek. The dead were left to stiffen in a blizzard and afterwords dumped in a mass grave. The massacre was one of many events which forced the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota peoples (commonly referred to as the “Sioux”) onto reservations where they would come to face many more injustices by the U.S. government.
Lakota Chief Big Foot Dead After the Wounded Knee Massacre. Source: Wikipedia.
In the 1970s, tribal tensions rose on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for a variety of reasons, one of them being the widespread opposition to tribal president, Richard Wilson. AIM and “traditional” Lakota accused Wilson of corruption, favoritism towards his family for rare and coveted job opportunities and unfair treatment of political opponents Wilson was charged for but avoided an impeachment trial by the Oglala Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO), three weeks before the Wounded Knee incident.
On February 27, 1973, AIM led a march of 200 Oglala Lakota and AIM followers through the reservation to the town of Wounded Knee in protest of Wilson–following OSCRO’s failure to impeach him. AIM also protested the U.S. government’s failure to honor treaties with the American Indian peoples. The band of 200 protesters seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee within the day, U.S. law enforcement including FBI agents surrounded the town and set up road blocks. Wilson’s paramilitary group, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), set up their own roadblocks and surrounded Wounded Knee as well thus, the standoff began and quickly escalated.
Protestors Occupy Wounded Knee. Source: Revolution Newspaper.
For the three months of occupation, both sides often fired at the other when firing waned, activists streamed into the town to support the occupiers. Different estimates agree that the U.S. government sent approximately half of a million dollars worth of support to U.S. marshals and law enforcement to the site, including armored vehicles, helicopters, snipers, machine guns and 130,000 rounds of ammunition. The standoff ended on May 8, 1973 after two American Indians were killed, one civil rights activist supporting the Lakota disappeared and two U.S. agents were wounded.
Wide media coverage made the incident well-known as it occurred many were sympathetic to the Lakota and American Indians during and after the incident for the injustices they experienced at the hands of the American government. The incident also grabbed the attention of the international community. AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks were indicted due to the event, but their case was dismissed. Violence in Pine Ridge skyrocketed afterwards, with over 60 of Wilson’s tribal opponents dying in the next three years. Pine Ridge is still the poorest reservation in America and continues to battle health issues, poverty, unemployment and high suicide rates. Nevertheless, AIM’s standoff brought pride to many American Indians for its defiance against a government which so often mistreated, lied and forgot about its country’s first inhabitants.
The American Indian Movement, 1968-1978
Founded in July 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the American Indian Movement (AIM) is an American Indian advocacy group organized to address issues related to sovereignty, leadership, and treaties. Particularly in its early years, AIM also protested racism and civil rights violations against Native Americans. During the 1950s, increasing numbers of American Indians had been forced to move away from reservations and tribal culture because of federal Indian termination policies intended to assimilate them into mainstream American culture. Founders of AIM included Mary Jane Wilson, Dennis Banks, Vernon Bellecourt, Clyde Bellecourt, and George Mitchell, while other activists like Russell Means worked with the organization prominently in the 1970s.
AIM staged a number of protest actions on historically significant sites of injustice and violence perpetrated by the federal government against Native Americans. These protests included the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1970, protests at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972, the occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973, and the Longest Walk spiritual march from Alcatraz to Washington, DC to support tribal sovereignty and bring attention to anti-Indian legislation in 1978. AIM continues its work to the present day, speaking out against injustices and working to improve conditions for Native Americans. This primary source set uses documents, photographs, videos, and news stories to tell the story of the first decade of the American Indian Movement.