October 12, 2014
The American Indian Movement (AIM) and its federal supporters used deceptive, unethical and at times violent methods to achieve their end goal. While purporting to be a non-violent entity focused on the well-being and betterment of the people they said to represent, ‘tribal sovereignty’ was the primary and prized goal – at the expense of individuals, children and families
The federal government acquiesced following Wounded Knee in attempt to placate and stem violence from this very small percentage of tribal members. ICWA was proposed soon after Wounded Knee and signed into law within five years.
AIM, purported to have been established to help poverty-stricken Native American families, has had a deep and unrecognized destructive and oppressive impact on families of all heritages across America.
In July of 1968, Native Americans from Minneapolis, Minnesota gathered to organize and form AIM as a way to “fight mistreatment by police and to improve prospects for jobs, education, and housing. (Durham, 1974)”
Initially, they did this. For the first few months, they were successful in cutting down on police harassment by monitoring police radio and arriving to an event before the police did. This resulted in a dramatic decrease in incarcerations for tribal members, and AIM members were widely accepted by the grateful community.
Honorable intentions to begin with – the leadership quickly decided this wasn’t enough. While they continued to maintain the initial stated objectives in public, behind closed doors, the motivation and goals had changed. Presenting the original stated goals made the best sound bite and comforted the ‘white’ public, anxious to alleviate societal guilt. However, AIM’s actions in the next few years went far beyond a legitimate push for justice, jobs and housing.
In the fall of 1972, AIM sponsored the “Trail of Broken Treaties.” About 900 people traveled from the west coast to Washington, DC, stopping at reservations along the way. After arriving in DC, they took over the BIA building and presented federal government with a 20-point proposal for sovereignty (Abourezk, 1972). Publicity from the “Trail of Broken Treaties” event rewarded the group with public sympathy and financing from the far left. Questions remain as to how they were so easily able to take over a federal building with little or no repercussion.
In 1973, AIM members violently took over the small town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota and conducted a siege that lasted from February 27 to May 8, 1973. While media played down criminal actions perpetrated on the very citizens AIM claimed to represent, people of Wounded Knee were intentionally robbed, beaten, and sometimes killed during the 71-day ordeal.
An amenable media smoothed things over for the “victimized” Native American organization. In one example, the media trumpeted that AIM had saved the town from an unscrupulous, predatory white grocer. In Robin Hood fashion, they relieved said grocer from his home and ill-gotten possessions and spread the plunder – including the store inventory – amongst themselves. The truth was this grocer had been known in the community for being extremely generous and AIM leaders imprisoned him and his wife – who was a tribal member – in their own basement. (Trimbach, 2007)
The stated goals of housing and jobs, while possibly initial goals of some members and branches of AIM, were not the end goals of its leadership. The stated goals of job and home were never reached and the leadership never seemed to give genuine effort to obtain them.
Instead, their factual push was for “tribal sovereignty” – the ability for certain tribal leaders to control other persons of Native American heritage as well as tribal-owned resources and assets. In a memorandum written to a colleague, AIM Executive Director Dennis Banks stated the ultimate AIM goal was to “free Indian people throughout the Americas from white man’s oppression and racism so as to create free Indian states that reflect self-determination of free peoples” (AIM, 1968).
AIM member Jimmie Durham went further, stating in a 1974 memorandum to AIM leaders,
“The Founding Fathers of the United States equated capitalism with civilization. They had to, given their mentality; to them civilization meant their society, which was a capitalist society. Therefore, from the earliest times the wars against Indians were not only to take over land but also to squash the threatening example of Indian communism. (Durham, 1974)”
Unfortunately, by the very nature of the group there was a power struggle from the start. Wide disagreement existed in the native community concerning AIM and its agenda. AIM’s young radicals from the cities, who had no power but wanted it (called “progressives” by the media), had to fight what the media called “traditionals” (leaders who already had power on the reservations and didn’t want to lose it). Further, while most of the nation was oblivious to the crime and murder committed by AIM at Wounded Knee, the people who lived through it were not.
Federal government leaders had begun to treat AIM leaders as legitimate authorities speaking for community members, but many Native American families saw AIM as thugs. By 1980, AIM declined as a leading organization. Many people saw no change in their day-to-day struggles and never benefited from AIM’s militant efforts. AIM leaders, much like the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world, had gotten their gold and were not showing much interest in the ongoing problems of their communities.
Tribal sovereignty, which was not on the radar of most people in the 1970’s, was now widely assumed reality – despite the legal term for Indian Reservations factually being “Domestic Dependents.” Today, AIM leaders, while still honored by federal government and international organizations, are never heard to speak up for better jobs, education, and housing, let alone speak up when a child is raped or murdered on the reservation.
What AIM pushed for all along was power and control. A draft memo written by a Nixon White House aide in 1974, following the Wounded Knee occupation, points this out, stating,
“…some individuals propose ‘the ultimate sovereignty: i.e., the external sovereignty of an independent nation, outside the jurisdiction of the United States, entirely. This option, while probably being ruled out as somewhat extreme by many persons, could have substantial support. It has, in fact, been suggested by some Indian groups, as evidenced by the recent action of members of the American Indian Movement to attempt establishment of diplomatic relations on behalf of tribal governments, with the United Nations foreign nations, and the United States, itself.” (Spaith, 1974)
AIM didn’t manage to achieve power and control over the reservations for themselves, but they started the heavy ball of tribal sovereignty rolling for elected leaders on the reservations and over the years, sovereignty has picked up speed, crushing tribal and non-tribal U.S. citizens alike in its path.
Due to the tribal sovereignty movement, several organizations were established to push back and protect the legal rights of individuals. Among them are Shawano County Concerned Property Taxpayers Association (SCCPTA), Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE), Dakotans for Equal Rights (DER) and Aloha for All.
In this paper, we will examine how the AIM movement used media to spread militant propaganda to the point it was able to achieve dramatic support across the United States for tribal government control over powerless citizens. So successful was their effort that by 1978, a law was even passed to give tribal government’s authority and control over other people’s children. We will examine what their purposes might have actually been as well as how they went about it.
Some argue that ends justify the means. If one were talking about saving the life of a busload of children, that argument could potentially have merit. However, what was saved was tribal sovereignty at the expense of children. Granted, with rape and murder of children within the reservation system far outdistancing that of their neighbors off reservation, it is obvious some in authority genuinely believe this was a justified trade (Ombudsman, 2013).
The mistreatment of average tribal members who stood in AIM’s way is reminiscent of Marxists who had marched through Greece in the mid 1900’s. This is telling, as Marxism appears to have been an influence on at least some of the AIM members. AIM member Jimmy Durham wrote in his white paper concerning culture, revolution and the movement,
“…young white Marxists who have never been in real situations of struggle in a working-class movement, who in fact have seldom worked with anyone except fellow-students, and who come to us as though we were ignorant “lumpen proletariat” in need of being “taught”, not only Marxism, but the realities of our own struggle. . . (Durham, 1974)“
He goes on to say,
“…we have always defined our struggle not only as a struggle for land but also as a struggle to retain our cultural values. Those values are “communistic” values. Our societies were and are “communistic” societies. The U.S. government has always understood that very well. It has not branded us all these years as communists because we tried to form labor unions or because we hung out with the IWW or the Communist Party but because the U.S. government correctly identified our political system. It did not make that a public issue because that would have been dangerous, and because it has been far more efficient to say that we are savages and primitives.
“Marx used our societies as examples of what he meant by communism on two different occasions in his writings. He said that we are “Primitive Communists.” The word “primitive” means “first,” but people who have skimmed through Marx often decide, because of the connotations of the word “primitive” which come from political manipulation, that Marx meant that we were backward or “childlike” communists. Marx was, nonetheless, very Eurocentric, and he assumed that European history was the main body of humanity’s history.
“We do not need Marx’s words to teach us how to live our lives in our own society. We do not need to go through an industrial revolution so that we can come out as communists on the other side.
“We do need Marxism-Leninism as a method and system for knowing the human world as it is today and for knowing how most effectively to fight our oppressor. We do need to join forces with world Marxism-Leninism, because that is the liberation movement for the world. But we will not come into that world community as a “primitive” younger brother.
“Our struggle has always been not only to maintain our own lands and culture, but to fight the political system of capitalism itself. (Durham, 1974)”
There, in the words of founding AIM members, is the true purpose and goal of the AIM movement. Clearly, the American Indian Movement deceived its audience by concealing its true purpose and position, oversimplifying complex situations, and pretending certainty when valid and important questions remained unaddressed.
Adolf Hitler said in Mein Kampf,
“…in the ‘big lie’ there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying..”
Such is the case with the American Indian Movement and Tribal Sovereignty. Deception, propaganda and demagoguery appear to have been persuasion techniques skillfully used by AIM leadership.
Special Agent John Trimbach (SAC-Minneapolis), author of the book, “American Indian Mafia” tells the true story of what happened at Wounded Knee that spring in 1972 as they “tore a path of destruction through the Pine Ridge Reservation on their way to personal gain, fame, and fortune…” (Trimbach, 2007).
Among the deceptions, AIM leaders:
- Robbed citizens of Wounded Knee, the very people they claimed to be helping
- Extorted funds from federal government, varied organizations, and unsuspecting supporters – keeping much of the money for themselves.
- Persuaded public officials into excusing their criminal behavior by through invention of claiming “indigenous immunity” – thereby encouraging violence against other tribal members.
- Conspired to murder opponents, including their own members.
According to Special Agent Trimbach,
“The 1970s legacy of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is haunted by the forgotten suffering of innocent victims and a falsified history found in almost every library in America. Sadly, what should have been a needed voice for Native America became a criminal enterprise on the reservation, where property was destroyed and lives were lost. A record founded in falsehoods and distortions completed the betrayal and denied the reality of lost opportunities, shattered lives, and a Movement hijacked by its leadership. Today, the perpetrators are known as “brave warriors” and “selfless activists,” while many of their crimes against Indians are minimized, or not mentioned at all. (Trimbach, 2007)”
This social movement went beyond persuasion into coercion. According to Senator James Abourezk,
“We got into the Indians’ perimeter and there’s all these Indian Vietnam vets who were there with AK-47’s Kalashnikovs, I don’t know where they got them all, but they had them. And we were driving slowly right, and they were following us, just like that. And the tension, I’m telling you was thick enough to slice,” (Abourezk Shares Means & McGovern Memories, 2012).
While violent tactics draw attention in the form of influence and are not persuasion (Larson, 2013), veiled by duplicity, AIM leaders were skillful in the presentation of their goals and activities. Despite the radical nature of their movement, they were able to present to the world an image of ethos and credible sincerity and persuade Congress to pass legislation favorable to tribal sovereignty.
Using the peripheral route of elaboration, AIM leaders aimed for the heart of non-tribal Americans, playing on what is popularly known as “white guilt.” Many dressed in traditional attire for photo-ops, or the very least wrapped themselves in a blanket, giving the impression to citizens on the east coast that many tribal members still dress in traditional manner on a daily basis.
Leaving out mention of the AK47’s as well as a video of Russell Means telling tribal leaders well beforehand that AIM intends to take over the village of Wounded Knee and wants their support (Wounded Knee – Occupation ’73, 1972), Senator Abourezk in a forward to his Library collection on Wounded Knee characterized the event as an unplanned and reasonable protest, stating that about 200 AIM members “…enroute to Porcupine, South Dakota, stopped at the village of Wounded Knee” and just happened to take over “the trading post, museum, gas station and several churches.” AIM considered Wounded Knee to be of “historically significance and deemed the village an appropriate location from which to voice the concerns of AIM and the Oglala of the Pine Ridge Reservation (Abourezk, 1972).”
This recounting of events brings more questions than answers. Setting aside the fact they were not asked to take over the village by either the people of Wounded Knee or most of the Pine Ridge residents, what were 200 people traveling together to Porcupine South Dakota for?
Senator Abourezk waxed poetic about their altruistic purposes, saying AIM leaders supported:
“…reformation of tribal government as well as bringing attention to Native American grievances. Means, as an AIM spokesperson, requested congressional investigations into conditions on all reservations and the corruption of the BIA. Means specifically wanted a hearing to take place concerning treaties and treaty rights, along with an investigation of the BIA and the Department of the Interior at all agency and reservation levels. (Abourezk, 1972)”
AIM leaders spoke of past atrocities and the robbing of land. “Broken treaties” became a brand phrase – although it has remained unclear whether all treaties were broken, or just a few, or whether it was an entire treaty or particular points. This was rarely, if ever, specified. Another point that has gone unmentioned in relation to the breaking of treaties was that no treaty ever promised federal money into perpetuity. Most, if not all, state that federal monies were to last only 20 years.
Further, while it is true that some lands were stolen, it is also true that non-members homesteaded some lands long before the land around it was deemed reservation land by the federal government, and tribal members who were intelligent, capable, and pleased with the sale legally sold some land to non-members. It is an extreme and demeaning insult to portray every tribal member who ever sold land as uneducated and incapable. In 1929, our U.S. Vice President, Charles Curtis was a Kaw Nation Native American Indian. Clearly, he was not the only tribal member in the United States able to understand and negotiate a contract.
However, these facts would involve the recipients of AIM’s persuasion and rhetoric to use careful and thoughtful consideration of the issue merits – the “central route” of information processing – and that it not the route AIM leaders chose to use for their publicity campaign.
They chose well. The American people listened to what was said, reacted with emotion, and did what they thought they could to alleviate the suffering of tribal members. Yet, years later, despite the efforts of AIM, federal government funds, and legislation increasing tribal control over persons of heritage, nothing has gotten better. In fact, some say things have gotten much worse. According to FBI Special Agent John Trimbach, the Pine Ridge Reservation continues to suffer from “many social malignancies such as unemployment near 90%, life expectancy of approximately 56 years, rampant alcoholism, and widespread child sex abuse (Trimbach, 2007).”
Richard Two Elk, a former resident of Wounded Knee, agrees. He has stated,
“After the occupation ended, the objectives had not been achieved” and “When AIM took over Wounded Knee village in 1973, they hijacked the legacy of that community and Lakota people for their own gain. Since 1973 to present, AIM has exploited and cashed in on the notoriety of their take-over. However, nowhere along the line have they bothered to share with the residents of Wounded Knee village any of their so-gotten gains. ( The Stolen Legacy of Wounded Knee, 2009)”
Introducing fear is another tactic used in persuasion, and despite the smooth explanation given by Senator Abourezk, AIM introduced fear to both the non-tribal community as well as those they professed to represent.
Former Special Agent for the FBI, John Trimbach wrote,
“Aquash was dragged from the trunk of a car near the reservation town of Wanblee, South Dakota, and shot in the head in December 1975. The alleged triggerman, AIM member John Graham, will stand trial in state court although no date has been set. Graham’s accomplice Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in federal court of aiding and abetting the murder in 2004. Following a series of interrogations, AIM leaders falsely accused Aquash of being an FBI informant. One of her interrogators was convicted killer Leonard Peltier. At an AIM conference in June 1975, Peltier put a loaded gun in Aquash’s mouth to administer “truth serum.” The trail of evidence could lead to Peltier’s former boss, AIM co-founder Dennis Banks.”
Two Elk also makes several comments addressing this,
“Russell Means does say, “Spies will be shot”
“…After AIM leadership was acquitted of all charges stemming from the take-over, they ran free-rein throughout the reservation. In the ensuing civil war between AIM and the goons, certainly there were more than 60 dead on both sides of that fence. Too many of these belonged to neither side, but were simply innocent victims caught in the cross-fire; such as the residents of Wounded Knee.”
“One death which occurred at Wounded Knee, which producers of [PBS program titled, ‘Wounded Knee,’] were made aware of but failed to mention, was the death of black civil rights activist, Ray Robinson. Failure to mention this at all is a clear indication to me that this is another public relations program for AIM.”
“The program further asserts that AIM’s demise came about due to the government trying to tie it up in the courts. The producers of this program would like us to believe in fairy-tale fashion, that as a result AIM fell into disarray and violent infighting and simply lost their way. The fact is, AIM leadership flushed it down the toilet two years after Wounded Knee by ordering the interrogation and murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash because they suspected her of being an FBI spy. As the news of her murder rippled through Indian Country, the risk of falling into AIM crosshairs seriously diminished its following.”
“…members of AIM have been charged, convicted, and have upcoming trials in the murder of AIM member Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. ( The Stolen Legacy of Wounded Knee, 2009).”
In fact, it was only in February 2014, that the FBI finally confirmed the death of Robinson. According to documents, a witness told agents “Robinson had been tortured and murdered within the AIM occupation perimeter, and then his remains were buried ‘in the hills.” (AP, 2014)
Tribal member had good reason to be wary of AIM. Jimmy Durham had inferred in a white paper early on that force might be necessary to get the majority of tribal members to cooperate with what AIM knew to be best for the tribes. He said,
“There are about a dozen American Indians in the U.S. today who say they are Marxist-Leninists. There are quite a few more who are in Marxist study groups. But the very large majority are, to differing degrees, verbally, “anti-communist” whilst their actions are communistic. But we need to be able to use the tools of Marxism-Leninism if we are to see effectively and fight our enemy. I do not believe that we have time to “let nature take its course,” or to have that kind of liberal “faith in the people” which means escaping one’s own responsibility for leadership and action.
Disorganization, lack of perspective and clarity, and everyone “doing their own thing” are American phenomena which are destructive to our struggle. Lack of strategic unity plays right into the hands of the enemy. A Marxist-Leninist analysis of the detailed realities of our situation, I believe, is the only way to combat such phenomena. (Durham, 1974)”
Non-tribal members were first frightened by the take-over of the BIA building in Washington DC and more so by the take-over of the village of Wounded Knee. Believing that the rage of AIM members must have a valid source (much as many believe of Palestine today) ‘white’ Americans wanted to do whatever necessary to make things right. Two Elk notes,
“AIM’S takeover of Wounded Knee was a public relations battle for American hearts and minds they are still waging to this day. ( The Stolen Legacy of Wounded Knee, 2009)”
Narrative story telling might be viewed as cultural tradition. Some see it as a well-honed skill. It’s been said many tribal members have long enjoyed spinning stories for melanin-deprived visitors from the east, laughing privately at the subsequent responses. Some say that enjoyment continues. Many non-tribal members who’ve never lived on or near a reservation but have had a regular diet of Hollywood over the years are interested in descriptions, testimony and anecdotes of reservation life. This played very well into AIM’s method of persuasion and post hoc fallacy.
One persuasive symbol that came out of the fight for tribal sovereignty is children. Children were said to be the “lifeblood” of the tribe – necessary for the purposes of tribal sovereignty and the continuation of the tribe. Since then, the concept of children of heritage being the possession of tribal government has been widely circulated and accepted.
According to founding AIM papers,
“A major objective of the movement is to regain the young. Once the BIA is eliminated and individual tribal states are created schools will not be a major problem. However, until such times as this goal is realized AIM must plan, support and execute the following school activities. (AIM, 1968)”
By 1978, Senator James Abourezk had become Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs committee, a committee that Senator Abourezk had been largely responsible for establishing. This committee was given jurisdiction over all legislation concerning Indian Affairs, including any socio-economic, healthcare, political, or trust issue involving Indian Country or its members.
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), sponsored by Senator Abourezk in 1976, was passed in 1978 with the specific intention of giving tribal governments authority in the custody decision of any child they deem to be a tribal member – whether or not the child’s parents or grandparents want tribal government to interfere in that custody decision. The intent, Congress said, was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families. (Haga, 2013)”
More specifically, the ICWA intended “… to give Native American tribes a strong voice in child custody issues with an ultimate aim of ensuring tribes rights to maintain and preserve their language and culture. (5 Sioux Tribes Applied to Fund Their Own Foster Care Programs, 2014)”
Some would add – ‘and power and money.’ While calling for recognition of tribal sovereignty, AIM and tribal government leaders simultaneously demanded increased federal funding. Assertions that the children are theirs and federal government must totally abstain from interference are followed by claims that federal government does not adequately fund foster care on reservations. From oversight hearings to back room discussions to press releases, leaders have asserted that they are sovereign nations with the right to foster their own children, but it is incumbent on federal taxpayers to fund it.
“The solution to this hostile attitude toward the basic intent of ICWA is to give direct federal funding to the individual tribes to set up their own foster care, with adequate oversight, and get the state completely out of it,” said Daniel Sheehan, general counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project. (Harriman, 2013)
Leaders insist on increased and perpetual federal funding – while simultaneously asserting sovereignty. Following the 2013 Supreme Court case, “Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl,” when the Court ruled and affirmed that a non-Indian, unwed mother has a right to decide the best interest of her child without interference from tribal governments, Senator Abourezk, the driving force behind the ICWA, responded,
“It’s an attack on tribal sovereignty through the children. I can’t believe they did this.” “The ICWA is in line with similar laws to bolster tribal sovereignty. That was our aim. We did everything we could to increase tribal sovereignty. That includes the Indian Child Welfare Act…” (Harriman, 2013)”
AIM Leader Clyde Bellecourt, using familiar emotional buzzwords, agreed and said the Supreme Court decision “is legalizing the kidnapping, theft of children and division of Indian families once again by states and churches. Churches have a lot to do with this. (Harriman, 2013)”
Peter Lengkeek, a former member of the Crow Creek Tribal Council, also agreed the 2013 ruling on ICWA threatens tribal sovereignty. “We have to fight on a daily basis for protection and strengthening of our sovereignty. When things like this happen, it weakens it even more.”
It is clear that control of the children was integral and first step for those seeking power over other members. One of AIM’s plans from the start was that they would implement and run a National Center providing basic teaching aids such as reading, cultural materials and lore to other people’s children – most of whom were and are multi-racial. AIM stated it would begin with pre-school and elementary education as “most behavior characteristics are learned within the first 5 years (AIM, 1968).”
Rhetoric aside, what has been overlooked is that according to the last two U.S censuses, 75% of tribal members do not live in Indian Country (U.S. Census 2010, 2011). Many (not all) have purposefully taken their children and moved away due to high crime on reservations and tribal government corruption. Further, most of the children and families affected by ICWA are of more than one heritage. As much as tribal leaders have wanted control of the children in order to preserve sovereignty, many parents of enrollable children did not want tribal government interfering with their families.
Nevertheless, this is not what the public was told. Instead, they were given the impression that most, if not all, persons of tribal heritage are in agreement with statements by AIM and tribal leaders. The general public has been told that meddling social services, abusive foster homes and unscrupulous adoptive parents were stealing all the children.
The words “stealing,” “stolen,” “kidnapping,” “theft,” “Trail of Tears” and “genocide” are all used quite often to play on perceived white guilt. The imagery of defenseless children stolen from their beloved family for the purpose of money and power was all that was needed to persuade a willing public that something needed to be done. The most common reaction seemed to be, “We took their land, now we are taking their children? Certainly, these were the tribe’s children and they belonged with the tribe.” For many, allowing tribal leaders control over the children seemed the right thing to do, bringing atonement and alleviating guilt.
Other members of the public and some Congressmen, faced with uncertainty over land titles and possible economic loss, unfortunately looked at the ICWA as a faux compromise, thinking they would have security and cognitive dissonance if tribal governments settled for jurisdiction over children rather than asking for land back.
Unbeknownst to this willing public, once ICWA was passed some tribes began taking defenseless children from their beloved family for the purposes of money and power (Tevlin, 2013). Further, land titles are not something some tribal governments are – or ever were – willing to compromise on.
While the words “stealing,” “theft,” “Trail of Tears” and “genocide” played on white guilt, they also stoked strongly held beliefs and anger in many tribal members – gaining more internal AIM support for a time. There is a human tendency to want to believe a powerful force is behind overwhelming problems, making those problems beyond one’s ability to manage. In this case, some tribal members were open to believing that a powerful white society was at root of all troubles on the reservations.
For other members, the organization fulfilled security, affiliation, and prestige needs. Another persuasive technique successfully used on fellow tribal members by AIM leaders was speaking to an inner longing for “Eternal Return” – a rejection of concrete historical time as it really happened and substituting a return to an interpretation of history as one wishes it might have been.
There was no social media in the 1970’s, but AIM leaders used the spoken word, written word and film effectively to spread their message. They printed their own newsletters and spread them to various reservations through what they called a “railroad” – runners traveling (by car) from one reservation to the next, delivering newsletters, flyers and other information. Using this method, they hoped to prevent their opponents from accessing their material as much as possible. For public broadcasts, they used local and national news agencies. Creating attention-getting events was critical to getting the media attention they needed.
On their later website, they omitted mention of violence or crime initiated by AIM members and used wording that would play at heartstrings of tribal members and non-members alike. Despite a published video of Russell Means talking to tribal leaders prior to Wounded Knee, telling them of the planned takeover and asking leaders for their support (Wounded Knee – Occupation ’73, 1972), AIM wrote as if the event was unplanned and altruistic,
“In 1973, more than 2,000 American Indians came to Wounded Knee…following a courthouse disturbance. At this historic site where a massacre of Indians by U.S. cavalry soldiers in 1890 ended years of armed conflict, the demand for hearings on sovereignty rights was met with a siege by FBI forces, Federal marshals, and BIA police (AIM, 1968).
Using these persuasive techniques, AIM accomplished three of the five states of campaign development: Identification, legitimacy, and participation. They stopped short of penetration and distribution when their unpredictability and violence became too much for most tribal members – although Senator Abourezk, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and other elite ‘left of center’ persons on the national and international level inexplicably continued to associate and interact with the AIM leaders.
Senator Abourezk was so fond of Russell Means; he hired him as a staff person in his DC office. Means was the only convict in history to work for a Senator while serving prison time (Russell Means: About, 2014).
In the Social Movement Model of persuasion, AIM went quickly from “Social Unrest” to “Maintenance” and then “Termination” mode as many supporters lost faith and patience.
The American Indian Movement and its supporters used deceptive and unethical persuasion methods throughout most of its existence. While purporting to be a non-violent entity focused on the well-being and betterment of the people they represent, they were in fact focused on controlling the people – at times through violence.
Tribal sovereignty was the primary and prized goal – at the expense of individuals, children and families.
The American Indian Movement was initially established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for good reason and helped poverty-stricken Native American families at its start. However, as they garnered and felt the pleasure of attention and support, they quickly switched to a national, militant focus resulting in deep and unrecognized destructive and oppressive impact on families of all heritages across America.
AIM’s actions over the next few years went far beyond a legitimate push for justice, jobs and housing. In 1973, AIM members violently took over the small town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota and conducted a siege that lasted over 2 months. People of Wounded Knee claim that during the event, many of them were robbed and beaten, and some were killed.
The stated goals of justice, housing and jobs, while possibly initial goals of some members and branches of AIM, were not the end goals of its leadership. Instead, there was a factual push was for “tribal sovereignty” – the ability for certain tribal leaders to control other persons of Native American heritage as well as tribally owned resources and assets.
Unfortunately, there was a power struggle within the first couple of years. Tribal leaders already in power on reservations were not willing to give it up to this young new group. Wide disagreement existed in the native community concerning AIM and its agenda, especially after reports of violence against members began to surface.
As tribal supporters fell away, AIM declined as a leading organization. Yet, while many Native American families saw AIM as thugs, federal government officials inexplicably began to treat AIM leaders as legitimate authorities speaking for community members.
Tribal sovereignty, which was not on the radar of most people in the 1970’s, was now widely assumed reality. AIM didn’t manage to achieve power and control over the reservations for themselves, but they started the process for obtaining it for elected leaders on the reservations. Within a short time, sovereignty picked up speed, crushing tribal and non-tribal U.S. citizens alike in its path. So successful was the tribal sovereignty movement that by 1978, a law was passed giving tribal government’s authority and control over other people’s children.
The American Indian Movement and its supporters used deceptive and unethical persuasion methods throughout most of its existence. This has been apparent to many in law enforcement, if not the public. Senator Abourezk himself was monitored and investigated by the Denver police in the 1990’s while they investigated AIM’s activities.
Evidence of criminal activity aside, inconsistencies in claims and reasoning have been abundant.
It is recommended that readers look deeper into the protests and writings of tribal members and families affected by the Indian Child Welfare Act to learn how tribal government sovereignty has hurt them as individuals and families.
5 Sioux Tribes Applied to Fund Their Own Foster Care Programs. (2014, June 26). Retrieved from Lakota People’s Law Project: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/26/5-sioux-tribes-applied-fund-their-own-foster-care-programs-155501
A Pilot Study of Compliance in North Dakota, (December 2000) by NICWA and Casey Family Programs
Abourezk Shares Means & McGovern Memories. (2012, October 24). Retrieved October 5, 2014, from Keloland.com: http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/abourezk-shares-means–mcgovern-memories/?id=138966
Abourezk, J. G. (1972). THE OCCUPATION OF WOUNDED KNEE, 1973 – American Indian Movement. House of Representatives. Wounded Knee: U.S. Government. Retrieved October 6, 2014
ACF. (2007). Tribal Child Counts. Washington DC: Child Care Bureau, Office of Family Assistance. Log No: CCDF-ACF-PI-2007-02
Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, 133 S. Ct. 2552 (U.S. Supreme Court June 25, 2013).
AIM. (1968). “Self Determination of Free Peoples”: Founding Documents of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Retrieved October 1, 2014, from History Matters: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6897
AIM. (1972, October). Trail of Broken Treaties: 20-Point Position Paper. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from Ogihidaag Blog: http://ogichidaag.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/american-indian-movement-trail-of-broken-treaties-20-point-position-paper-1972-never-forget/
AIM History Part 2 (2008, October 10). [Motion Picture]. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from http://youtu.be/tSVNYFXp5c8
AP (2014). FBI confirms black activist was killed during 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. Sioux Falls: Associate Press. Retrieved October 6, 2014, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fbi-confirms-activist-ray-robinson-was-killed-during-1973-occupation-of-wounded-knee/
AP (2014, April 28). 42 people killed in homicidal violence in 2013 on country’s largest Indian reservation. Retrieved from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/04/28/42-people-killed-in-homicidal-violence-in-2013-on-country-largest-indian/
Belford, D. (Director). (2012). Life with James [Motion Picture].
Benedict, J. (2000). Without Reservation. New York: Harper.
BIA ICWA Guideline Changes (April 30, 2014) by Elizabeth Morris
Boxer, A. (2009). Native Americans and the Federal Government. Retrieved Sept 6, 2014, from History Today: http://www.historytoday.com/andrew-boxer/native-americans-and-federal-government
CAICW. (2013, August 8). Family Stories. Retrieved from Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare: http://caicw.org/family-advocacy/letters-from-families-2/
Cross, T.L. (1995a). Heritage & helping: A model curriculum for Indian child welfare practice, Module II: Protective services for Indian children. Portland, OR: National Indian Child Welfare Association.
Cross, T.L. (1995b). Heritage & helping: A model curriculum for Indian child welfare practice, Module IV: Family-centered services for Indian children. Portland, OR: National Indian Child Welfare Association.
Danger, F. (2013, July 5). My Uterus Will Not Be Used To Fill Your Tribal Rolls: . Retrieved from xojane.com: http://www.xojane.com/issues/my-uterus-will-not-be-used-to-fill-your-tribal-rolls-i-fought-the-icwa-and-won?utm_medium=facebook
Domestic and Sexual Violence outside the Reservations in North Dakota get lots of attention from the ACF. (September 2013) Email Correspondence between ACF Officials
Durham, J. (1974). AMERICAN INDIAN CULTURE: TRADITIONALISM AND SPIRITUALISM IN A REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from History Matters: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6904/
Editorial. (2013, July 5). Might Indian child welfare law one day be deemed unconstitutional? Retrieved from NewsOK.com: http://newsok.com/might-indian-child-welfare-law-one-day-be-deemed-unconstitutional/article/3858899/?page=2
Frosch, D. (2013, January 26). Focus on Preserving Heritage Can Limit Foster Care for Indians. Retrieved from NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/us/focus-on-heritage-hinders-foster-care-for-indians.html?_r=2&
Giese, P. (n.d.). For The Spirit of Annie Mae. (J. Dill, Ed.) Retrieved October 6, 2014, from http://www.dickshovel.com/dur.html
Haga, C. (2013, April 22). ND: At reservation, challenge can be to keep Indian children safe – and Indian. Retrieved from National Child Welfare Resource Center for Tribes: http://www.nrc4tribes.org/news.cfm?a=194
Harriman, P. (2013, June 26). Tribal sovereignty threatened by ruling on adopted Indian kids. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Argus Leader: http://archive.argusleader.com/article/20130626/NEWS/306260022/Video-Tribal-sovereignty-threatened-by-ruling-adopted-Indian-kids
HEARINGS BEFORE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS, U.S. SENATE 99th CONGRESS 2ND SESSION. (1974, 4 8). Retrieved 9 6, 2014, from Lifting the Veil: http://liftingtheveil.org/byler.htm
HONORABLE BJ JONES **- CHIEF JUDGE PRAIRIE ISLAND INDIAN COMMUNITY TRIBALCOURT, S.-W. O.-T. (2007). Legislative History of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Retrieved from Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare: http://caicw.org/family-advocacy/legislative-history/#BJJonesHistory
In re SANTOS Y., B144822 (Cal. App. 4th, Second Dist. Div. Two July 20, 2001).
Jackson, J. C. (1999, February 12). Director of Government Affairs. (U. C. Rights, Interviewer) Retrieved from Jack C. Jackson, Jr., Director of Governmental Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, Statement on the importance of an accurate census to American Indians and Alaska Natives, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., http://www.ncai.org/ncai/resource/documents/governance/cvrightcensus.
KARNOWSKI, S. (2013). Feds Say Native Mob Gang Dented but Work Remains. Minneapolis: ABC News.
Larson, C. U. (2013). Persuasion: Reception & Responsibility. Boston: Wadsworth.
Lawrence, B. (2007). Publisher. Native American Press/Ojibwe News.
Mannes, M. (2006, October 11). FACTORS AND EVENTS LEADING TO THE PASSAGE OF THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT. Child Welfare, 74(1, Jan/Feb 95), 264-282. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from http://www.srwoodbridge.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Factors.pdf
Morris, E. (2007). VIEWPOINT: Law could tear children from a ‘tribe’ they love . Grand Forks: Grand Forks Herald.
Morris, Roland John. (1998). Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. Seattle: Concerning Tribal corruption and Jurisdiction.
Ombudsman, N. P. (2013). SD: Indian Foster Care 1: NPR Investigative Storytelling Gone Awry. . New York: National Public Radio.
Omdahl, L. (2013, July). Commentary by Former ND Lt. Governor. Grand Forks: Grand Forks Herald.
Oversight Hearing. (2014). CHILD PROTECTION AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM ON THE SPIRIT LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION. Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs: Committee on Natural Resources. Washington DC: House of Representatives.
Quilt. (2004). Child Counts. Warm Spring: NCCIC. http://www.nccic.org/Tribal/effective/warmsprings/childcounts.html
Rezinate. (2014, September 30). Little Eichmanns. Retrieved from Rezinate: http://rezinate.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/little-eichmanns/
Rezinate. (2014, September 27). When the Circus Comes to Town. Retrieved from Rezinate: http://rezinate.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/when-the-circus-comes-to-town/
Richard Two Elk on Wounded Knee and the Truth-Hijacked & Blinded: The Stolen Legacy of Wounded Knee (2009). [Motion Picture]. South Dakota. Retrieved October 4, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zbkm1lMI0DU
Routine Cruelty (2001), by Thomas Sowell
Russell Means: About. (2014). Retrieved October 5, 2014, from Russell Means Freedom: http://www.russellmeansfreedom.com/about/
Sage’s Story (2014, March). Sage’s Story” Running from ICWA. (E. Morris, Interviewer) Arizona, U.S.A. doi:You Tube
Smart, P. M. (2004). In Harm’s Way. The Salt Lake Tribune.
Spaith, J. (1974). The Native American: At What Level Sovereignty? U.S. Government, The White House. Washington DC: Leonard Garment, Assistant to the President. Retrieved October 5, 2014
Sullivan, T. F. (2013). 12th Mandated Report. Denver: ACF.
Tevlin, J. (2013, February 12). Tevlin: Sierra shares lessons on Indian adoption. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/local/190953261.html?refer=y
The White Earth Nation Constitution. (2013, Nov 18). Retrieved from http://www.whiteearth.com/data/upfiles/files/workbookweb.pdf
Tom Sullivan’s attempt to go to Spirit Lake, (August, 2013) – email correspondence between Tom Sullivan and his DC Superiors
Tom Sullivan’s Response to Chairman McDonald’s Hearing Testimony (June 25, 2014) by Thomas Sullivan, Regional Director of the Administration for Children and Families
Tom Sullivan’s Response to ACF Superior Ms. McMullen, (July 1, 2014) – by Thomas Sullivan, Regional Director of the Administration for Children and Families
To Better Protect the Children, by Elizabeth Morris
Trimbach, J. H. (2007). American Indian Mafia. Denver: Outskirts Press. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from http://www.americanindianmafia.com
U.S. Census 2010. (2011, March 13). 21 Statistics From the Census Bureau for Heritage Month. . Retrieved from Indian Country Today: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/11/13/2http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/11/13/21-statistics-census-bureau-heritage-month-1522021-statistics-census-bureau-heritage-month-152202
U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. (1998, April 7). TESTIMONY OF MR. ROLAND MORRIS SR. . Retrieved from Dying in Indian Country: http://www.accessmontana.com/morris/page19.html#Morris
Wounded Knee – Occupation ’73 (1972). [Motion Picture]. Pine Ridge, South Dakota: Russel Means, Mar 21, 2007. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRcAYOIhx4Y