American Indian Movement

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The American Indian Movement (AIM), is an American Indian civil rights group in the United States that burst on the national scene with its seizure of Alcatraz Island in 1968, the BIA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1972 and the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. AIM was cofounded by Dennis Banks, Herb Powless, Clyde Bellecourt, Eddie Benton Banai, and many others in 1968. Russell Means is also a member.

In the decades since AIM's founding, the group has led protests advocating Native American interests, inspired cultural renewal, monitored police activities and coordinated employment programs in cities and in rural reservation communities across the United States. AIM often has supported other native interests outside the United States, as well.


AIM today

AIM's original mission included protecting native people from police abuse, using CB radios and police scanners to get to the scenes of alleged crimes involving native people before or as police arrived, for the purpose of documenting or preventing police brutality. AIM Patrols still work the streets of Minneapolis.

AIM has been active in opposing the use of native caricatures as mascots for sports teams, such as the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins, organizing protests at World Series and Super Bowl games involving those teams.

Founders of AIM, according to Peter Matthiessen's book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, include Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, who directs the Peace Maker Center in Minneapolis and administers U.S. Department of Labor job-development services, Eddie Benton-Benay, a school administrator for the Little Red School House in Minneapolis and at Lac Courte Oreilles, Wisconsin, and Russell Means, who has worked as an actor and remains politically active, running for Governor of New Mexico and for president of the Oglala Sioux tribe in 2002. Another who contributed greatly to the AIM was Leonard Peltier, who is currently serving a prison term relating to his involvement in the hostage standoff with federal law enforcement agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975.

Fractures in the former AIM leadership have resulted in mutual rhetorical attacks, with Russell Means, living in the west, making allegations in a book against Minneapolis AIM leaders Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt. Many chapters operate independently, and some under an incorporated umbrella organization run by the Bellecourts.

See BACKGROUND on US Government War Against AIM ( and Autonomous American Indian Movement - The RealŠ Thing ( for the positions of the Grand Governing Council and the Autonomous AIM.

Other activities

During the Sandinista/Indian conflict of the mid-1980s, AIM members led by Russel Means sided with Meskito Indians opposing that country's Sandinista government. Predictably, this stance damaged some of AIM's support from left-leaning organizations in the U.S., who were then opposing Contra activities, which included insurgent recruitment among Nicaraguan native groups. [1] (

More recently, Means, Banks and other AIM affiliates have rallied in support of John Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud, who were indicted in 2003 for the 1976 murder of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash.

Also, in Denver, the AIM Branch has organized yearly demonstrations with the Chicano community against the Columbus Day Parade held by the Sons of Italy. Apparently, Columbus Day originated in Colorado as a legally recognized holiday.

The Pine Ridge incidents

AIM at Pine Ridge
The Pine Ridge action involved the alleged taking of eleven hostages and led to a seventy-one-day standoff with federal agents, resulting in the death of two FBI agents and several others being wounded. The stand-off centered around an arbitrary federal settlement of Pine Ridge's treaty-based claim to the gold-rich Black Hills of South Dakota, as well as allegations of federal and tribal police brutality on the Pine Ridge Reservation and allegations of brutality by a tribal group affiliated with the government Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONS).

As of 2004, the Sioux nations have yet to accept a settlement they were offered in compensation for the Black Hills. Since 1973, several AIM-affiliated groups have set up camp at the Black Hills to resist what they see as an arbitrary settlement. A 1975 AIM camp on Pine Ridge became the site of a fatal shootout that left one AIM affiliate and two FBI agents dead.

AIM maintained Wounded Knee residents had invited their assistance in 1973 to defend their homes against official and vigilante attacks, but that the FBI then surrounded them, effectively holding the AIM members hostage. Several trials resulted from the confrontation, which resulted in some court-room brawls with U.S. Marshals, but few AIM members were convicted for their roles in the standoff.

Attorney Larry Levanthal, who served as counsel for AIM said, "The courts found that there was illegal use of the military, illegal wiretap, false testimony, bribing of witnesses, covering up of crimes, subornation of perjury, deception of the counsel and deception of the courts."

AIM has been the subject of much controversy, some of it centering around the 1977 trial of Leonard Peltier, an AIM leader with apparent involvement in the 1975 Pine Ridge murders of two FBI agents. Some activists doubt that he was responsible for these murders, and Amnesty International, among others, has called for his release. Others say the murders occurred in a war-like environment, and that Peltier's undisclosed role in the killings should be reviewed in that context. Peltier acknowledged he was at least part of a long-range shoot out during the fatal encounter. (See Leonard Peltier for more information.)

Another famous AIM member was Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, for whose 1976 murder two other 1970s AIM affiliates, John Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud, were indicted in 2003. In the decades before the indictments, some activists suggested the FBI played a part or covered up her murder, with folk singer Larry Long detailing the allegations in a song titled Anna Mae (rereleased on Run For Freedom/Sweet Thunder, Flying Fish, 1997).

AIM take-overs

At a time when peaceful sit-ins were a common protest tactic, AIM takeovers in its early days were notably forceful. Some appeared to be spontaneous outcomes of protest gatherings and sometimes included armed seizure of public facilities. AIM takeovers and occupations include:

Outside links

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