Native Skeptic

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Monday, November 8, 2010

The American Indian Movements' Manifesto for Sovereignty

After the first events developed in the early history of AIM, the movement began to exemplify the definition of what is considered a "social group". First, the formulation of the groups' ideology needed to be clarified into terms. In order to understand these principles, we can first take a look at the document which states the goals of AIM. One of the co-founders, Dennis Banks, helps shine some insight by providing some further explanation regarding the history of the American Indian Movement with the following statement,

"Because of the slum housing conditions; the highest unemployment rate in the whole of this country; police brutality against our elders, women, and children; Native Warriors came together from the streets, prisons, jails and the urban ghettos of Minneapolis to form the American Indian Movement. They were tired of begging for welfare, tired of being scapegoats in America and decided to start building on the strengths of our own people; decided to build our own schools; our own job training programs; and our own destiny. That was our motivation to begin." (1992, D.Banks)

The reasons for AIM being created are quite clear at this point. The infamous history of the relationship between the “white man” and the "Indian" provides us with a deeper understanding about some of the hostility that still exists among the various cultures. In some aspects, American Indians feel that nothing has changed in regards to the treatment and outlook towards the United States "native" peoples over the past hundred years. Which brings us to the topic of how AIM will put their ideological theory into practice.

Through the course of gathering information on the American Indian Movement, I found that it was hard to distinguish how this group of oppressed people differentiated from other social interest groups, such as the civil rights movement. The answer was quite clear once I came to understand the meaning of a single word, sovereignty. To portray the environment and give a little more insight to the perspective of AIM members, I often correlate my own understandings and personal experiences of living on a reservation. Police are harassing everyone from the elderly to adolescent. The racism and discrimination reach from the governmental welfare practices, down into the schools systems. There is more subtle prejudice that shows up in the cultural social norms and there is the blatant racism that some may encounter just off the reservation borders. There is this common fallacy that I often hear that ALL Native Americans are wealthy because of Indian gaming casino's, therefore, they do not need any sort of assistance. Now, it's as if some people are trying to argue the position that the U.S. government should not have to fulfill the established points by withholding the resources promised through numerous treaties. This is just one common misconception that can result in influencing peoples' perceptions negatively. Withholding resources, or cutting funding to these areas that are in dire need of assistance might seem logical if your perspective is that ALL Native American communities are wealthy from casino's. But, when considering the critical state of affairs on Indian reservations, and the fact not all Native Americans are wealthy because of casino money, these notions seem irrational, unethical, and in some cases downright immoral. The standards of living on some reservation communities are comparable to any of the worst “ghetto's” inflicted with poverty in America. In an inversely proportional effect, housing conditions go down while the unemployment rates go up, and the results of those circumstances are predictable and logical outcomes; hopelessness, despair, and a complete lack of concern.

So, the goals and the ideology contrive from these harsh, but telling, points of interest. First, the organization of AIM had to manifest into some sort of order to get these issues recognized. After some deliberation, the vision of a "proposal for sovereignty" came into light. Self-determinism also played a pivotal role in helping to clearly define the direction of AIM’s ideology. So, in November of 1942, AIM members would present President Nixon with that list of claims titled the “Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Indian Manifesto”.

“These twenty points… state clearly what has to happen if there is to be protection of Native rights… These claims clearly reaffirm that Indian people are sovereign people” (Wittstock).

This verbally encases the areas that need the most attention in order to raise awareness and the standard of life for all Indian people. Members of AIM feel that if they are to be truly free to govern themselves and the lives of their people on the reservation, their culture and beliefs as American citizens need to be respected. In the most simplistic term, the movement of AIM is geared towards improving the life of Indian people on the reservations. The fact that American Indian people see themselves as members of a separate society of a sovereign nation is the distinguishing characteristic that differentiates the group from the other social movements. At first glance, AIM can be mistakenly viewed as another variation of the civil rights organization, but, the Black Civil Rights Movement fought against segregation and for human rights while in contrast to their position, the American Indian Movement fights for the ability to establish a self-governing body of systems and programs inside reservation communities in order to raise the quality of life for their people and by their people.

Although there are various ways to articulate the ideology of AIM by using different contexts, the message remains the same. The American Indian Movement, as I have come to understand, pursues the fundamental rights for individual tribes to be sovereign nations through the tribal council self-governing process. This fight for self-dependency and determinism can be admired by anyone who has faced the hardships or adversities of discrimination. All it takes to realize and rationalize AIM’s fight, is the ability to possess and express compassion and empathy. We can learn from the successes that social groups have and the changes that they aspire to make by finding the commonalities within our own lives. If skeptics are seeking to inspire change of the worldview toward scientific understanding, then we best analyze the purpose of what a social group actually is, so that we can be more effective in inspiring change to that part of society which has been neglected or unrepresented, by simply bringing attention to these issues and finding the support to bureaucratically transform the publics' perception.


Banks, Dennis. Background of the American Indian Movement. Dennis Banks Homepage n.d. American Indian Movement. 9 Feb 2006 .

Boardman, Edna. Banks, Dennis, with Richard Erdoes. Ojibwa Warrier: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement. Kliatt 1 January 2006. 11 Feb 2006 .

Founding of the AIM. American Indian Cultural Support. 1999. Michigan State University Library. 6 Feb 2006 .

Founding of the AIM continued. American Indian Cultural Support. 1999. Michigan State University Library. 6 Feb 2006 .

Goldberg, Robert A., Grassroots Resistance: Social Movements in Twentieth Century America. Belmont, California: Wadworth, 1991.

Kills Strait, Birgil. AIMWhat is it? First Nations. 1-6 Sept 1993. AIM 25th Anniversary Conference/International Peoples Summit. 7 Feb 2006 .

Okiijida Society, prod. Not So Gentle Neighbor. n.d. Documentary. AIM Multimedia Archive. 9 Feb 2006 <>.

Pratt, Capt. Richard C. Kill the Indian and Save the Man: Capt. Richard C. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans. History Matters. 1973 Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. 6 Feb 2006 .

Schneider, Jeremy. From Wounded Knee to Capital Hill. First Nations. April 1976 Vol. 3: No. 1. Indian Nation. 7 Feb 2006 .

Wittstock, Laura W., and Elaine J. Salinas. A Brief History of the American Indian Movement. American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council. American Indian Movement. 8 Feb 2006