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American Indian Movement

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American Indian Movement: Activism and Repression

Native Americans have felt distress from societal and governmental interactions for hundreds of years. American Indian protests against these pressures date back to the colonial period. Broken treaties, removal policies, acculturation, and assimilation have scarred the indigenous societies of the United States. These policies and the continued oppression of the native communities produced an atmosphere of heightened tension. Governmental pressure for assimilation and their apparent aim to destroy cultures, communities, and identities through policies gave the native people a reason to fight. The unanticipated consequence was the subsequent creation of a pan-American Indian identity of the 1960s. These factors combined with poverty, racism, and prolonged discrimination fueled a resentment that had been present in Indian communities for many years. In 1968, the formation of the American Indian Movement took place to tackle the situation and position of Native Americans in society. This movement gave way to a series of radical protests, which were designed to draw awareness to the concerns of American Indians and to compel the federal government to act on their behalf. The movement's major events were the occupation of Alcatraz, Mount Rushmore, The Trail of Broken Treaties, and Wounded Knee II. These AIM efforts in the 1960s and 1970s era of protest contained many sociological theories that helped and hindered the Native Americans success. The Governments continued repression of the Native Americans assisted in the more radicalized approach of the American Indian Movement. Radical tactics combined with media attention stained the AIM and their effectiveness. Native militancy became a repertoire of action along with adopted strategies from the Civil Rights Movement. In this essay, I will explain the formation of AIM and their major events, while revealing that this identity based social movement's radical approach led to a harsher governmentally repressive counter movement that ultimately influenced the movements decline.

The growing pan-Indian activism that was becoming increasingly strong in regions of the United States helped develop the American Indian Movement. Educated young urban Indians were becoming involved in rights issues and insisted on self-determination in the 1960s era of protest. The Native Americans began to witness the lessons and accomplishments of the civil rights movement within the United States. "As civil rights issues and rhetoric dominated the headlines, some Indian groups adopted the vocabulary and techniques of African Americans in order to get Indian issues covered by the media and thus before the American public" (Johnson 31). In Minneapolis, Minnesota a large percentage of the native community complained about frequent harassment and brutality by local police forces. In an effort to address this issue, the formation of Indian patrol units took action by monitoring the activities of police in Indian neighborhoods. Eventually, three of these patrol leaders, Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, and George Mitchell organized the American Indian Movement in the summer of 1968. "Molded loosely after the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense established by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, two years previously, the group took as its first tasks the protection of the city's sizable native community from a pattern of rampant police abuse and the creation of programs for jobs, housing, and education" (Churchill 243). The meeting by this group of individuals was to combat the local problems facing the native communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The original organization that emerged from these early planning sessions was named the Concerned Indians of America. A week after the name was revised due to the unfavorable acronym and converted to the American Indian Movement. The new name would become important for the actions they would later undertake, "[t]he name of this groupÐ'...was perfection itselfÐ' sounded authoritative and inclusiveÐ' suggested action, purpose, and forward motionÐ' was big, transcending the lesser world of committees" (Smith and Warrior 127). Shortly, after fulfilling local obligations the AIM began to address the state and national arenas. Indian youth from colleges, reservations and urban centers began to speak out against treatments they were receiving, while advocating self-government and autonomy. The AIM focus took a shift from socioeconomic discrimination against Indians towards the government's policies and programs. This identity based movement began to receive extreme support from returning Native American Vietnam veterans. "Why was I fighting to uphold a U.S. treaty commitment halfway around the world when the United States was violating its treaty commitments to my own people and about 300 other Indian Nations?" asked one Creek-Cherokee veteran. "I was fighting the wrong people, pure and simple" (Calloway 437). The ethically comprised members of the AIM started to raise their concerns through radical events to attract public and governmental action on their behalf.

The occupation of Alcatraz Island played a large role in establishing new methods in the Native Americans fight for recognition and change. As the growing identity was being formed in the indigenous society in the United States an event helped to fuel the Alcatraz occupation. On October 9th, of 1969 the American Indian Center in San Francisco burned down, which became a catalyst for the occupation of Alcatraz. "It had been a meeting place that served 30,000 Indian people with social programs. The loss of the center focuses Indian attention on taking over Alcatraz for the use as a new facility" ( This destruction united Native American tribes, councils, and organizations throughout the country. Due to the vast array of representation, the planning committee of occupiers called themselves the "Indians of All Tribes." "In the early morning hours of 20 November 1969, eighty-nine American Indians landed on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. These Indians of All Tribes claimed the island by "right of discovery" and by the terms of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which gave Indians the right to unused federal property that had been previously been Indian land" (Johnson, Nagel, and Champagne 27). The occupants felt this site would be symbolic for the ships entering the area from across the world, while reminding them of our nations history and the great lands once ruled by the free Indians. This occupation stirred up media publicity and support as well as help from other indigenous organizations such as, the National Indian Youth Council



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