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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Brief History of the American Indian Movement

As I have noted before, the determination of people to change the world around them is not always viewed as the most logical and obvious solution to a problem based on the reasoning that some people suggest the definition, “an irrational person tries to change the world around them, but a rational person changes to the world around them.” The bottom line is, change is never an easy obstacle to overcome, but it is going to happen. Fearing the unknown is a common occurrence, and often people find help and comfort in performing daily routines, acting out personal habits, or even practicing ritualistic traditions to help cope with the anxiety and stress associated with these kinds of fears. But, sometimes the real story behind the need for these coping mechanisms is not fully illustrated, and being in a system of unchecked beliefs, the mechanisms themselves can begin to influence the story, or even become the story. Every year, we still celebrate Columbus Day as the discovery of America, even though we know that's not historically accurate. I remember being taught this notion of Columbus discovering America in elementary school at the same time that I was studying the Vikings and how they predated Columbus by about five hundred years. Even in today's current society, we have become all too comfortable with some of the ways that we think and perceive issues in America. Some of these stories may sound reasonable enough, or get imprinted into our minds from repetition, but they are nevertheless fallacious and dubious in merit for the fact that they can begin to influence people that they are historical truths. People tend to not understand what is outside of the personal comfort zone that they have created for themselves because they just might find themselves to be afraid of change. However, social movements are the exception to that specific commonality of people resisting change. Considering the idea that the skeptical community is often described as a social movement, A.K.A the "skeptical movement", I decided to take a more in depth look at what exactly a social movement is, why they are important, and most effective in creating change.

A social group aims to change a part of society that has been neglected or unrepresented by bringing attention to them and finding support to bureaucratically transform the publics' perception. The characteristics of a social group are dependent on how it plans to implement the necessary changes in society. Through a series of posts, I will share some early accounts, that may diffrentiate from the general American History of the First Nation people and a brief examination of the history of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which will also include the origins of the organizations' ideology and some examples of it's application put into practice. This will also be consistently highlighting the hope that the Skeptical Movement has to offer American Indians, their communities, and the future of tribal sovereignty.

Determining the aspects of what classifies a group to be considered as a social faction can be relatively confusing. To make things a little more clear and understandable, we can look at a definition brought to us by the author Robert A. Goldberg in his works titled, "Grassroots Resistance". The author, Goldberg, suggests that the definition of a social movement includes,

“any formally organized group that acts consciously and with some continuity to promote or resist change through collective action”. (Goldberg)

This one statement fully embodies the entire message that a social group tries to convey. But, to ensure that a clear understanding gets established, the author provides three basic criteria. According to Goldberg, a social group is dependent on whether or not the groups’ ideology

“…offers members and leaders a blueprint for change…explains the reasons for the movement’s emergence…” and ”…seeks to promote or resist change”. (Goldberg)

The conditions of a social group need to be consistent and embody what the ideology actually states in its strategy for change. So, when the examples of a social group have been clearly defined, we can begin to understand what the shape of a movement should look like.

AIM has been a social movement for a longer period of time than can actually be accurately measured. According to the official website of AIM, the authors Wittstock and Salinas state in their brief historical account that,

“…the movement existed for 500 years without a name.”

The first account of how the American Indian Movement (AIM) came to be springs from this kind of archaic thinking set in the old days of the frontier. Throughout history, American Indians have been caught in an internal struggle, adapting with the changes brought on by American idealisms. Harsh government policies producing near genocidal conditions has remained the most common reoccurring theme between the relationship of American Indians and this country. The concepts to,

“Kill the Indian and save the man” and, “The only good Indian is a dead one”,

were popularized at an 1892 convention by Capt. Richard C. Pratt during a time in American history in which tolerance was already truly scarce. So, these notions only further lead to subjecting First Nations people to ill treatment.

The foundation of AIM and its origin can be encompassed metaphorically by a single story recollected by an official AIM document that was acquired by the Michigan State University Library. In this file, the setting of police harassment and poor living conditions was established. An example of how the social treatment of American Indians was given by showing that even though,

“…Indians represented only 10 percent of the city’s population, 70 percent of the inmates in city jails were Indian” (Founding).

So, in a plan to change the conditions of those affected by the constant harassment, a patrol of reservation monitors was organized. As a result,

“The Indian population in the jails decreased by 60 percent” (“Founding”).

These efforts were enough to make the kind of impact that would perpetuate the determination of the organizers that would eventually go on to form the AIM. On July 28, 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota a group of Native American citizens congregated to form the alliance of the Concerned Indian American, which would become the American Indian Movement in the later years to come (Founding).

In some other sources of reference, I have found that some believe the origin of AIM came from inside the prisons of the Midwest when American Indians inside of this circle of despair between incarceration and poverty started questioning why so many of them were there. An example, provided by the author of "From Wounded Knee to Capital Hill", states that

“…Indians were beginning to ask why so many of their brothers and sisters were either behind bars or on the skids…Indian cultural clubs started to grow and strengthen behind the walls of federal and state penitentiaries…” (Schneider).

Although there can be some debate as to when AIM first began, there is no argument of who most significantly lead in the molding of what we have in the modern organization. In that momentous meeting of the year of 1968 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, various issues were discussed in regards to the standard of living that were being experienced on reservation land. In relation to all other sources that I have come into contact with, Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, and George Mitchell were those key individuals who would come out of that meeting as the co-founders of the American Indian Movement. The perpetual and detrimental cycle of American assimilation has done considerable damage to the culture of all American Indians. Christian boarding schools along with the United States government have been able to implement Capt. Pratt's method of how to, “kill the Indian and save the man”. In other words, forget and rid the world of the Indian culture and replace it with a more “white” American culture. But, we can further our understanding of these issues by looking at them more critically and applying that analytical thought process to these situations that American Indians face on reservations, while at the same time, helping to reverse these detrimental effects and return their societies to the strength they once bestowed.

In my next few posts, I will continue to follow the chronicles of the American Indian Movement throughout history as they struggle to find that common voice representing all people who find themselves living with the hardships of poverty and hopelessness. As AIM gears itself towards a more bureaucratic method of strike...


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

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