Approximately a dozen Native actors and actresses, as well as the Native cultural advisor, left the set of Adam Sandler’s newest film production, The Ridiculous Six, on Wednesday. The actors, who were primarily from the Navajo nation, left the set after the satirical western’s script repeatedly insulted native women and elders and grossly misrepresented Apache culture.
The examples of disrespect included Native women’s names such as Beaver’s Breath and No Bra, an actress portraying an Apache woman squatting and urinating while smoking a peace pipe, and feathers inappropriately positioned on a teepee.
The film, which is said to be a spoof of The Magnificent Seven and was written by Adam Sandler and his frequent collaborator Tim Herlihy, is currently under production by Happy Madison Productions for a Netflix-only release. The movie will star Adam Sandler, Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, Dan Aykroyd, Jon Lovitz and Vanilla Ice.
Among the actors who walked off the set were Navajo Nation tribal members Loren Anthony, who is also the lead singer of the metal band Bloodline, and film student Allison Young. Anthony says that though he understands the movie is a comedy, the portrayal of the Apache was severely negligent and the insults to women were more than enough reason to walk off the set.
“There were about a dozen of us who walked off the set,” said Anthony, who told ICTMN he had initially refused to do the movie. He then agreed to take the job when producers informed him they had hired a cultural consultant and efforts would be made for tasteful representation of Natives.
“I was asked a long time ago to do some work on this and I wasn’t down for it. Then they told me it was going to be a comedy, but it would not be racist. So I agreed to it but on Monday things started getting weird on the set,” he said.
Actor Loren Anthony stands next to a seated Adam Sandler on the set of ‘Ridiculous Six.’ Photo source: instagram.com/lorenanthony
Anthony says he was first insulted that the movie costumes that were supposed to portray Apache were significantly incorrect and that the jokes seemed to get progressively worse.
“We were supposed to be Apache, but it was really stereotypical and we did not look Apache at all. We looked more like Comanche,” he said. “One thing that really offended a lot of people was that there was a female character called Beaver’s breath. One character says ‘Hey, Beaver’s Breath.’ And the Native woman says, ‘How did you know my name?'”
“They just treated us as if we should just be on the side. When we did speak with the main director, he was trying to say the disrespect was not intentional and this was a comedy.”
“The producers just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.'” —Alison Young
Allison Young, Navajo, a former film student from Dartmouth, was also offended by the stereotypes portrayed and the outright disrespect paid to her and others by the director and producers.
“When I began doing this film, I had an uneasy feeling inside of me and I felt so conflicted,” she said. “I talked to a former instructor at Dartmouth and he told me to take this as finally experiencing stereotyping first hand. We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’ I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way.”
Actor Loren Anthony gears up for a fight scene with Nick Nolte, who is visible over his shoulder, on the set of ‘Ridiculous Six.’ Photo source: Image source: instagram.com/lorenanthony
“Nothing has changed,” said Young. “We are still just Hollywood Indians.”
Goldie Tom also shared her frustrations with ICTMN. “I felt this was all really disrespectful,” she said. “Our costumes did not portray Apache people. The consultant, Bruce spoke to the crew and told them we should not have braids and chokers and he was very disappointed. He asked to speak with Adam Sandler. We talked to the producers about other things in the script and they said ‘It’s in the script and we are not going to change it.’ Overall, we were just treated disrespectfully, the spoke down to us and treated everyone with strong tones.”
74-year old David Hill, Choctaw, a member of the American Indian Movement, also left the set. “They were being disrespectful,” he said. “They were bringing up those same old arguments that Dan Snyder uses in defending the Redskins. But let me tell you, our dignity is not for sale. It is a real shame because a lot of people probably stay because they need a job.”
Hill also mentioned that the producers called back the consultant as well as other native actors to their departure from the set on Wednesday.
“I hope they will listen to us,” Hill said. “We understand this is a comedy, we understand this is humor, but we won’t tolerate disrespect. I told the director if he had talked to a native woman the way they were talked to in this movie—I said I would knock his ass out.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo, if someone doesn’t speak up, no one will.”
Neither Adam Sandler nor anyone for Happy Madison Productions responded to our attempts in reaching out to them for comment.
Two members of the Native Mob crime gang — one of them its “undisputed leader” — were sentenced to lengthy prison terms Tuesday, as federal authorities wrapped up their crackdown on the American Indian gang that prosecutors said had terrorized reservations and urban communities in Minnesota and other states.
“It’s a lot safer in Indian Country than it was two years ago, now that all the arrests and convictions have been made,” said Gary Frazer, executive director of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe at Cass Lake, on Tuesday. “There seems to be less crime than there was before. It seems like they [the Native Mob] are still around but not as active as they once were.”
The two Native Mob members sentenced on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge John Tunheim were gang leader Wakinyan Wakun McArthur, 36, who received 43 years, and Anthony Cree, 26, called “a soldier” in the gang, who was sentenced to 24 years. Both men are from Cass Lake, Minn.
It brought the number of gang members sent to prison to 27, according to federal officials, and the 28th will be sentenced on Friday in U.S. District Court.
“It was a concerted effort by law enforcement statewide to do whatever is possible to dismantle the gang,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter, who prosecuted the gang with Steven Schleicher. “We recognize that is a near impossible feat, but the aim was to really curtail this gang’s activity and break the gang as much possible.”
Charging the gang members with racketeering, conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, distribution of drugs and other crimes, prosecutors went on a frontal assault unprecedented in tackling crime in Indian Country. “I would characterize it as very successful,” said Winter.
Security was tight Tuesday, with extra security guards and deputy marshals in the courtroom and courthouse lobby.
Prosecutors called McArthur the “undisputed leader of the Native Mob … wielding extraordinary authority and control over Native Mob members.”
They said he ran gang council meetings where crimes were planned and sought to resolve disputes within his own gang, so as to concentrate on “rival gang members, rival drug dealers, informants, police officers and cooperating witnesses.”
In a 2006 letter, he encouraged other gang members to “whack” a rival gang member. Prosecutors said he meant to kill him, while McArthur testified he only intended to assault him.At his trial, Prosecutors were seeking a life term, plus 30 years, but under the 43-year sentence, he could be free after 36 ½ years.
“You have what anyone would agree was a horrible childhood,” Tunheim said. “No one should have had a childhood like that.”
But, Tunheim said, from age 12 on, McArthur was engaged in crime. “I understand you were trying to bring some control over this gang,” Tunheim said, “but as it spiraled out of control you became as culpable as all the rest.”
When invited to speak, McArthur wept as he told Tunheim he wanted a future “however I can get it … There was no excuse,” for what he had done, McArthur said. In the gallery sat members of his family, including his mother, girlfriend and a small child.
His attorney, Fred Goetz, said, “He’ll get out someday and I hope he’ll follow the judge’s words, do his time and get out.”
Also sentenced Tuesday was Anthony Francis Cree, 27, who received 24 years, convicted by a jury for attempted murder and related gun charges in support of racketeering. Prosecutors asked for a life term, citing his role in the 2010 shooting of a suspected snitch, who was shot three times while walking with his daughter. The child “narrowly escaped being struck by the bullets as demonstrated by a .40 caliber bullet hole in the shoulder-strap of her backpack,” prosecutor Winter wrote in his brief. Cree claimed he was unaware that the shooting was going to take place.
His attorney, John Brink, sought an eight-year sentence and Cree pleaded with Tunheim for lenience. “I didn’t hurt nobody, I didn’t shoot nobody, I didn’t kill nobody,” he said. His mother, Donna Bunker, cried as the sentence was announced.
William Earl Morris, 37, another Native Mob member, was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, but the sentencing hearings ran so long, it was reset for Friday.Tom Heffelfinger, U.S. attorney under President George W. Bush, hailed the prosecutions. “It is precedent-setting by the Department of Justice,” he said Monday.
Investigations of gang problems began under Bush and continued under Obama, he said. “It is really a fulfillment of a commitment made by both administrations and carried out by the Obama administration.”
Clyde Bellecourt, a founder and national director of the American Indian Movement, said Monday he believed that the prosecutions will have only a “slight” effect in reducing violence, but were welcomed by the families “who have lost loved ones” in gang-related deaths.
He said the Indian community continues to face very high rates of unemployment and severe poverty and homelessness that collectively foster conditions that lead youth to join gangs. Until those problems are solved he said, “the gang situation is going to continue.”
ALLEGHENY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A Duncansville man says he was standing up for his American Indian heritage and expressing his beliefs when he hung an American flag upside down and spray painted it earlier this week, but police said what he did was inexcusable.
The flag isn’t hanging on Joshuaa Brubaker’s home anymore, but Allegheny Township Police gave 6 News a picture that showed the flag hanging upside down, with the word AIM sprayed in white across it. Police took it down saying he desecrated it, but Brubaker told 6 News he meant no offense and was simply standing up for his heritage.
“If I don’t have a right to fly that flag upside down, which means a sign of distress, which this country is in so much distress right now, then what’s the point of having it?” Brubaker said.
Allegheny Township Assistant Police Chief L.J. Berg said he received complaints about the flag from others in the area.
“I was offended by it when I first saw it,” Berg said. “I had an individual stop here at the station, a female who was in the military, and she was very offended by it.”
So police took it down and charged Brubaker with desecration and insults to the American flag.
“I removed it from the building, folded it properly and seized it as evidence,” Berg said.
But Brubaker told 6 News what he did was never meant to upset or offend. He said both he and his wife are of American Indian heritage and are passionate about the American Indian Movement, specifically in the Midwest.
“I found that Wounded Knee is up for sale, not only privately but commercially,” Brubaker said. “It’s just not right and simply because I express myself in a way that somebody else doesn’t like or agree with doesn’t mean I should be persecuted for having beliefs.”
With many of his own family serving in the military at one point in their life, Brubaker said the flag should give him the right to express his beliefs.
“If we can’t express ourselves freely and not worry about any repercussion from that, what’s the point of having the flag?” Brubaker said.
But police said there are other ways he could have expressed himself, than defacing a symbol that so many have fought so hard to protect. “People have paid high prices for that. People have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Berg said.
“People have made too many sacrifices to protect the flag and to leave this happen in my community, I’m not happy with that.”
Brubaker said he wishes the people who took offense would have just come to him so he could explain. He’s only facing misdemeanor charges but still hopes police will reconsider them.
On Feb. 24, 1976, a rancher in South Dakota was installing a fence on land situated along the edge of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when he spotted a body at the bottom of a 30-foot embankment. The badly decomposed corpse, in jeans and a maroon ski jacket, lay with knees pushed up toward chest. A coroner later determined that the woman had been dead for more than two months. The back of her head was matted with blood, and there was a single bullet wound at the base of her skull. She had been shot at close range.
It would take investigators a week to identify the body as that of 30-year-old Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a principal in the American Indian Movement. AIM was the country’s most visible, and radical, advocacy group for Native American civil rights. The traveling band of militants had forcibly taken over the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington to demand, among other things, the return of valuable federal land to indigenous tribes. “We’re the landlord of this country,” one slogan went. “And the rent is due.”
AIM was founded in Minneapolis in 1968, the same year the Black Panthers — the movement’s model — ambushed Oakland police officers and Cesar Chavez fasted to promote nonviolence. Its leaders included Dennis Banks and Russell Means, telegenic spokesmen in traditional braids, buckskin fringe and cowboy boots. They would publish memoirs, act in Hollywood films and address crowds on Ivy League campuses. Where Means was full of bluster and indignation (Andy Warhol painted his portrait), Banks was soulful and charismatic. The Los Angeles Times once called them “the two most famous Indians since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”
Aquash had been having an affair with Banks the year she disappeared. Although he was in a common-law marriage with someone else, Aquash was convinced that she was his true match. They met almost three years earlier at the siege of Wounded Knee, a 10-week armed standoff between residents of Pine Ridge who opposed the tribal government and agents from the National Guard, the U.S. Marshals Service and the F.B.I. (Wounded Knee was chosen because that was where more than 200 Indians were killed by the U.S. Cavalry in 1890.) When she heard about the revolt there, Aquash, a Mikmaq Indian from Canada, left her two young daughters with her sister in Boston and traveled to join AIM volunteers who had taken up the cause. “These white people think this country belongs to them,” Aquash wrote in a letter to her sister at the time. “The whole country changed with only a handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians.” On her first night in South Dakota, Banks told her that newcomers were needed on kitchen duty. “Mr. Banks,” she replied, “I didn’t come here to wash dishes. I came here to fight.”
At the time of Aquash’s death, AIM was splintering and Banks was a fugitive. Prosecutors had filed criminal charges against many of the participants at Wounded Knee — by one count, more than 400 arrests and 275 indictments. Banks, already facing a 15-year prison sentence for unrelated charges of rioting and assault, claimed that he feared for his life. William Janklow, who was running for state attorney general, told a newspaper during his campaign, “The only way to deal with the Indian problem in South Dakota is to put a gun to AIM leaders’ heads and pull the trigger.”
For a time, Pine Ridge’s murder rate was the highest in the nation. So locals were not all that surprised when Anna Mae Aquash turned up dead: She was just one more soldier lost in the fight against a government that had, after all, dedicated itself for centuries to the subjugation of the country’s native peoples. But over the last decade, several teams of state and federal attorneys in South Dakota have established that her killing was in fact an inside job, orchestrated by AIM members who believed she was working as an F.B.I. informer.
To Aquash’s compatriots, watching the truth seep out has been unsettling. It’s easy, so many years on, to forget the tumult of the civil rights era: the blood in the streets, the palace revolutions. What to do when the search for answers reveals that several of your own were actually the culprits? What if, in the final unfolding of this morality play, the heroes turn out to have acted unheroically?
“You think you want the dirty details, but you don’t,” Aquash’s friend Margo Thunderbird told me recently. “The movement was the defining experience in our lives, but the only thing my daughter learned about Annie Mae — in an Indian school — was not the principles she fought for, but how she was killed by AIM. Once, I prayed at sun dance: ‘Show me who did this to her.’ Anna Mae came to me in a dream and said, ‘Leave me alone, Margo.’ ”
Between 1976 and 1999, four grand juries took up the case without producing any arrests. Nobody associated with AIM would talk about it under oath, and the investigation remained a black hole — until, in 2000, a woman named Darlene (Ka-Mook) Nichols was persuaded to help.
Nichols was Aquash’s friend, but also her rival, as Dennis Banks’s common-law wife. Just a few months before the murder, she learned of his affair with Aquash. That’s one of many reasons, Nichols said, that her motives for cooperating with investigators have been questioned. In the eyes of AIM loyalists and among residents of her native Pine Ridge, it amounts to heresy. “But more than anything, I just wanted to get to the bottom of it, to find out what happened,” Nichols told me recently. “So many people have tried so hard to make it go away.”
Nichols was 17 when she met Banks. It was 1972, and he brought an AIM squad to town to hold a series of rallies. The next year, she abandoned her plans for college and ran off with him. “He called and said he’d made arrangements for me to fly and meet him,” Nichols recalled. “I’d told him I had to break up with my boyfriend and finish high school first. From that point on, we were a couple.”
Banks and Nichols had four children together, but it was an unstable life. All around them were arraignments, car chases, shootouts with the police. “It was one thing after another,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t think about the consequences. I believed in the movement. That was my world.”
When Banks went into hiding in 1975, Nichols and Aquash joined him at various times as his entourage moved throughout the West for more than three months. In Los Angeles, Marlon Brando, an AIM sympathizer, lent Banks a motor home and $10,000 for food and gas. Also along for the ride was Leonard Peltier, who was wanted in connection with the murder of two F.B.I. agents on Pine Ridge. In November, the group was heading south through Oregon when a state trooper pulled over the R.V., which was full of guns and explosives, and ordered everybody out. Peltier took off on foot and was shot in the back, but he escaped into the woods. (He would later be captured, convicted and sentenced to life in prison, despite the efforts of celebrities and human rights activists who claimed that he didn’t receive a fair trial.) Banks stayed behind the wheel and sped away as officers shot at him.
When the gunshots stopped, the two women were taken to jail, where they shared a cell. Nichols said they got along, despite Aquash’s romantic involvement with Banks. “I was over it by now,” she told me. “I mean, why should I lose a friend because of Dennis? We never talked about him. We read a lot of magazines.”
But Aquash wasn’t as nonchalant. Though her affair with Banks was brief, she was devastated when, in early 1975, he ended it to remain with Nichols. According to “The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash,” by Johanna Brand, Aquash wrote a poem:
But the sun is up and you’re going?
My heart is filled with tears
please don’t go, I need you walking by my side. . . .
The road is long and weary
And I get so tired. . . .
Aquash was a powerful figure in AIM, but also something of an outsider. Having grown up in the Maritime tribes of Nova Scotia, she joined the American struggle knowing hardly a soul. She was tough and boyishly pretty. One photograph from that time shows Aquash digging a foxhole with a golf club.
It was not lost on Aquash that while women made up roughly half of the movement’s ranks, Banks, Means and a handful of men got all the attention. “We were doing what Indian women did for thousands of years, which was stand behind the men and prop them up,” says Margo Thunderbird, who worked with Aquash in St. Paul and California, writing speeches for AIM’s leaders. “We wanted to present an image, and the angry Indian man was better than angry Indian women. Anna Mae and I said to each other, ‘Do we want to be the ones who get in their way?’ The men were showtime.”
There was tension among the male leaders. Banks, an Ojibwa from Minnesota, needed the support of the Sioux tribes, who were naturally loyal to Means, a South Dakota native. His union with Nichols was regarded as an “alliance marriage,” according to Robert Warrior, a former director of the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois and co-author of “Like a Hurricane,” a book about AIM’s early history. “A lot of people respected Dennis in the Sioux world, and that is hard for an Ojibwa to do,” Warrior says. “They’re old foes. The Ojibwa essentially drove the Sioux out of Minnesota 200 years ago and forced them west. The Sioux still carry that around.” Banks took to certain rituals, such as the Sioux sweat lodge and sun-dance ceremonies. “I became much more one of them rather than Ka-Mook becoming one of mine,” Banks told me.
Aquash’s friends say her affair with Banks brought particular resentment from a group of militant, mostly Sioux women who called themselves the Pie Patrol and viewed her as a threat to AIM’s stability. Jean Roach, a young AIM supporter at the time, described the Pie Patrol to me as the ones who got on other women’s cases for things like wearing a bikini top to the AIM office in Rapid City. “They didn’t like Anna Mae at all,” Roach said.
By this point, AIM had become a vortex of paranoia. “Different crews were ‘bad-jacketing’ each other, calling them pigs,” or collaborators with the feds, says Aquash’s friend Melvin Lee Houston. “Someone put a jacket on Anna Mae. I’m angry with my brothers and sisters for not stopping it.”
When the women were in jail together, Nichols realized that Aquash was terrified about being released. Aquash told her she was aware that some people thought she was a turncoat. Suspicions had arisen when she was quickly let go after an earlier arrest, while others who had been with her stood trial. In Brando’s motor home, Peltier had confessed to both women that he shot an F.B.I. agent, making a gun with his thumb and forefinger and telling them that the man “was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.” If Aquash ever shared that with the authorities, it would make her a significant threat to Peltier and AIM. Aquash told Nichols that she feared for her life. Soon, the women were escorted by marshals to the back of a commercial airplane, flown to Wichita and then sent to separate jails — Nichols in Kansas and Aquash in South Dakota. Aquash was again swiftly released on bail.
“It was the last time I saw her,” Nichols said. A month later, Aquash was dead.
“For a long time, it was a given among Indians that the F.B.I. engineered Aquash’s murder as a way of scaring and destabilizing AIM,” says Paul DeMain, the editor of News From Indian Country, whose aggressive reporting on the case is often credited with spurring investigators’ interest in it. AIM considered itself at war with the federal government and its proxy, the F.B.I., whose Counterintelligence Program was devised to monitor and take down the radicals of the New Left that the bureau deemed “subversive,” including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Weather Underground. AIM’s concerns weren’t entirely unfounded. A few months before Aquash was killed, one of Banks’s bodyguards, Douglas Durham, appeared on national TV to declare that he was actually a “paid F.B.I. operative” who’d been assigned to infiltrate AIM. Adding to the conspiracy theory was a hasty initial autopsy that somehow missed the bullet in Aquash’s head.
“The great obstacle with Anna Mae all along has been the disconnect of trust from the witnesses we needed,” says Rod Oswald, who became one of the case’s lead prosecutors. “It’s something they’ve passed down to their kids, almost like a legend: The F.B.I. killed her and covered it up, and therefore there was no way the federal government could bring justice to the Native American people.” Investigators needed a collaborator who could, like Nichols, approach AIM members up and down the chain of command.
Nichols was still incarcerated on Dec. 30, 1975, when she gave birth to a daughter, her second with Banks. They named her Tiopa Maza Win, or Iron Door Woman. Soon after, she was released and reunited with Banks, who had been found and arrested but was out on bail. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, granted him asylum, and the family settled in Davis.
“We tried to live as normal as possible,” Nichols said. She took classes at U.C. Davis. Banks became a chancellor at D-Q University, an Indian college, and a guest lecturer at Stanford. Their respite lasted until 1983, when George Deukmejian, elected to succeed Brown as governor, vowed to force Banks from the state. About an hour after Deukmejian was sworn in, Banks’s house was surrounded by the police. But he and his family were already gone, en route to the Onondaga Reservation in upstate New York. “The cops couldn’t arrest Dennis as long as he stayed on Indian land,” Nichols said. “He got a job at the smoke shop on the Interstate. The next year, he said he was tired of running. He finally turned himself in and spent a year in prison.”
In 1989, Nichols told Banks she was fed up with his womanizing and left him. She moved to Santa Fe and left AIM behind, until one day in 1999, when she received a newspaper clipping about the Aquash case in the mail from her mother. Some AIM members were claiming that one of several factions in the organization was responsible. “It started to make sense,” Nichols said. She began asking friends from Pine Ridge what they knew and learned that “for years, everybody had been hearing the stories,” she said.
The contours of the plot were the same in every version: Aquash left the federal courthouse in Pierre on Nov. 24, 1975, when she made bail and was released from jail. She didn’t show up for a court hearing the next day. According to friends, Aquash was desperate to see Banks and made her way to Denver, where she thought she would meet him.
She stayed at the home of Troy Lynn Yellow Wood, a sister-in-arms whose apartment functioned as a safe house for AIM members. “A lot of people used to come to my house, and probably some of them may have been wanted by the law, too,” Yellow Wood told me. “It wasn’t unusual.” Aquash slept there for more than a week, but Banks never showed up. She passed the time writing letters to her sister and looking after her host’s children.
One night in early December, a car pulled up to the safe house — then another, and then two more, until there were as many as a dozen visitors in the ground-floor apartment. Aquash left with three people in a red Pinto and was never heard from again.
Nichols was struck by the number of people Aquash apparently encountered in the hours before her disappearance. “They were mostly women, and people I knew well,” she told me. She decided to go to the F.B.I.
Before one meeting, she requested that Robert Ecoffey, who worked on Pine Ridge for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and had been the first Indian to be named a federal marshal, also be present. “Basically, I needed the emotional support,” she said. Although Nichols hadn’t spoken to Ecoffey since grade school, she knew he was working on the Aquash case. “We were on different sides of the fence always, but I trusted him,” she said. “He used to throw paper airplanes at me that said, ‘I love you.’ ” When Ecoffey saw that the witness who had asked for him was Nichols, she said, “he almost fell out of his chair.” Years later, she married him.
The F.B.I. asked Nichols if she would wear a wire, and she agreed. She was given the code name Maverick, and over the next year she interviewed about 10 witnesses and surreptitiously recorded several dozen hours of discussion about Aquash’s final days.
Most of the people she spoke with made for ambivalent witnesses, reluctant to cooperate with the government even if it meant solving the murder of one of their own. “I don’t hate Ka-Mook for wanting to know the answers,” Yellow Wood said, “but she should have come to us privately. Basically, we were left with a choice: You were either a co-conspirator or a traitor.”
Still, Yellow Wood was, in retrospect, mortified that she had watched idly as Aquash was led to her death. She says that she picked up her phone to call the police before Aquash left with her captors, but that another woman hung it up while she was on hold, and she let the matter go.
Eventually, Nichols broke the case open with a three-hour recording of Arlo Looking Cloud, a low-level AIM associate who had admitted to friends that he was involved. She picked him up from a Denver jail and in her car began asking him about the night of Aquash’s disappearance. “Arlo was very emotional when I would ask him certain questions,” Nichols later testified. “There were times when he became choked up.” She urged him to cooperate with the authorities, and eventually he confessed and took the stand against John Graham, another AIM member, naming him as the gunman. “It was getting kind of blue out,” Looking Cloud testified, recounting how they marched Aquash at dawn into grassland off South Dakota Highway 73 and put a pistol to her head. “She started praying. It was so quick.” The men were tried separately for the murder, Looking Cloud in 2004 and Graham in 2010. Both were convicted.
The case was far from solved, however. Prosecutors never believed that Looking Cloud and Graham acted alone. Both were minimally involved in the movement and didn’t even know Aquash. “We do feel pretty certain word came to them from high up in the organization,” says Oswald, the prosecutor. Several witnesses, including Looking Cloud, described a third abductor, Theda Nelson Clark, who drove them, along with Aquash, from Denver to the scene of the shooting in her red Pinto.
Clark, who was 50 in 1975, was a matriarch in AIM, revered but hardly beloved. “Aunt Theda was mean, bossy and obnoxious,” Yellow Wood, her niece, told me. Aquash was brought out with her hands tied. Looking Cloud said Clark handed Graham the gun.
But she was never charged. “I thought it was a slam dunk,” Oswald says, but other prosecutors were hesitant to try a woman who was in failing health and living in a nursing home. Clark died in October 2011 at 87.
And even Clark appeared to have acted at the behest of someone else. Another woman, a former girlfriend of Banks, admitted in court that she told Clark to ferry Aquash to South Dakota to be “dealt with” — instructions that she in turn was relaying from Thelma Rios, an AIM activist in Rapid City. While the government managed to extract a guilty plea from Rios for kidnapping — her five-year sentence was commuted, and she died of lung cancer in 2011 — she said she was passing down the order from yet two other women. She also acknowledged hearing two people say of Aquash: “The bitch should be offed.” The two names were redacted from Rios’s plea agreement but are widely believed to be those of Madonna Thunder Hawk and Lorelei DeCora. They, along with Rios and several other women, made up the Pie Patrol.
The events Rios described before a judge sounded like a game of telephone, with several layers of women employed to insulate the others while carrying out the hit. They all had close ties to AIM’s leaders: Rios was married to one of Banks’s deputies and bodyguards; Thunder Hawk and Russell Means were cousins; DeCora was Means’s sister-in-law. (Means died in 2012.) Prosecutors zeroed in on the Pie Patrol and learned that the three women held an “interrogation” of Aquash at a house in Rapid City in the hours before she was killed. Candy Hamilton, who was upstairs in the house at the time, told me, “I’d had an argument with Thelma and Lorelei earlier, because they felt Annie Mae was a snitch.”
But there was not enough evidence to charge Thunder Hawk or DeCora or compel them to cooperate, Oswald says. “And we still consider it extremely unlikely that anybody could pull off the murder of Dennis Banks’s girlfriend without the blessing of one of the men in charge.”
Prosecutors were willing to offer Thunder Hawk and DeCora immunity in exchange for testimony and corroborating evidence that implicated someone in charge. Both refused to discuss the case with investigators.
Thunder Hawk, who helped organize AIM’s occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972, is still a prominent Indian activist. She serves as the tribal liaison to the Lakota People’s Law Project and is represented by the same speakers’ bureau as Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky. When I reached her at her home on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, she denied having played a role in Aquash’s abduction or death. “Baloney,” she said. “I never even tried to make sense of what happened to Anna Mae. They’re never going to solve this. When they called me, I just told them, ‘I do not talk to the feds.’ Click. I hung up. You can’t reason with a thug. They’re not people.”
Through her lawyer, DeCora also denied any involvement in Aquash’s murder.
Thunder Hawk went on to tell me that her only direct interaction with Aquash came at AIM’s legal-defense house in Rapid City. “People were concerned because she was bragging about how she went down to the F.B.I. office to tell them off,” Thunder Hawk said. “I didn’t see it as a big threat, but it had to be handled, her going back and forth like that. Because what if they tried to pin something on her? So I talked to her. And before I could even finish, she said, ‘I go where I want, and I have nothing to hide.’ ”
She added: “There were hundreds of Anna Maes, just throwing themselves at the men. And every time Dennis and these guys got a different woman, the girls would think they were first lady.”
In the spring of 2011, there was a break in the case, but it came from a different unsolved murder on Pine Ridge. The victim was Ray Robinson, a black civil rights volunteer from Alabama who disappeared in April 1973, not long after getting involved with AIM at Wounded Knee. His wife, Cheryl Buswell, told me from her home in Detroit that he called her when he got to South Dakota and said he planned to backpack into the village at night to avoid checkpoints, so the authorities would have no record of him. “I filed a missing-persons report but never heard from the F.B.I. Nobody from AIM has ever responded to my questions. It’s been festering, festering, festering.”
Oswald came across Robinson’s name while looking at the transcripts of an interview Nichols did with Banks in 2001. She had shown up at Banks’s house in Minnesota, saying she was there to see their daughter Tiopa and then luring him into a series of long reminiscences. At the time, investigators considered the interview a bust, because Nichols was so nervous and barely asked about Aquash. But Banks did discuss Robinson. He told Nichols that Robinson was shot by another AIM officer. He said he saw the corpse shortly afterward and puzzled over what do. Finally, Banks said, he instructed an underling to “bury him where no one will know.” He added that the underling was “gone for about five hours” and that Robinson had been buried “over by the creek.”
“I was floored,” Oswald says. “Banks is not only aware of Robinson’s killing, but where he was buried, and he acknowledges his own role in where to bury the body.” It also lent credibility to the theory that AIM’s leadership wasn’t averse to frontier justice.
Oswald located a witness, Richard Two Elk, who was in a bunker where, he said, Robinson provoked an altercation with AIM’s security team, brandishing a knife and promptly getting himself shot in the kneecap. To prosecutors hoping to solve the Robinson case itself, the story came with a host of impediments: Two Elk said he didn’t see who the gunman was, and the episode sounded more like an accidental killing than a shooting with intent to kill (and because the act occurred on federal land, the statute of limitations had expired for any charge short of first-degree murder). But when it dawned on Oswald that the reservation’s clinic was staffed by Madonna Thunder Hawk and Lorelei DeCora, he became hopeful about using this crime to force testimony in Aquash’s murder. He dug up another of Nichols’s transcripts, this one with Thunder Hawk, and found that she acknowledged seeing Robinson’s body at the clinic, where she said he bled to death because he had not been brought in right away.
“That didn’t prove intent to kill either, but the fact that these are the same women we’re pursuing in the Aquash case — I’ve successfully tried crimes in the past with much less evidence,” Oswald says. If he could squeeze the Pie Patrol on the matter of Robinson’s death, he reasoned, the women might now give up somebody above them on Aquash’s murder in exchange for immunity. “Because if we could flip a witness in each case, then I’m there,” he says. “We could solve the two cases off of each other.” Oswald also hoped to collect enough evidence, eventually, to approach Banks: “I’d say: ‘Look, Dennis, we know you didn’t kill Ray Robinson. I don’t care for the moment if you ordered the hit on Anna Mae. Just tell us where he is.’ And it would be a house of cards.”
Despite his optimism, Oswald was instructed at the end of 2011 to shelve the case. His supervisor, Brendan Johnson, the United States attorney for South Dakota, had apparently determined that the odds of successfully completing the investigation were low and closed it, pending new information. Oswald, who left his prosecutor’s job in 2012, feels that he was “this close to solving it” and told me that he hadn’t given up.
But most everyone else has. Richard Two Elk called it “idiot fuel” to think that the murders of Aquash and Robinson might someday be resolved. “I don’t know if you can ever retire from these cases, but they’re not going to change anything,” he told me. I couldn’t help thinking that he meant changing things in the larger sense. Pine Ridge is one of the poorest Indian reservations in the country, with a per capita income of about $4,000 and an unemployment rate of 80 to 90 percent. Then Two Elk got on the subject of his own family: a child addicted to drugs; a sister killed in a car crash (for which he blamed AIM); a daughter and a niece molested by his brother, who went to prison. Each story was sadder than the last.
“It’s just something that I had to eat,” he said, shaking his head. “And so my point is, I told Rod Oswald that Anna Mae’s daughters — maybe they can simply be thankful for what they’ve been able to achieve, because they found the killers, or some of them. That’s a lot more than what 99 percent of us get. When you hear about Ray Robinson, lots of Indians might have something just as bad. And so you think, Is it really fair he’s getting all the devotion?”
Aquash’s daughters are not at all satisfied with that. “The people who had my mother killed are still out there, calling themselves defenders of Indian rights and saying her death was a tragedy,” Denise Maloney, her older daughter, told me. She was 11 and her sister 9 the last time they saw their mother. “But I remember her gait, how her hip flicked when she walked. She smelled like Kool menthols.”
Dennis Banks lives at the end of a long reservation road on the shore of Leech Lake, Minn., in an A-frame house not far from his childhood home. In his driveway sits a dismantled tour bus painted with his name and a giant headdress. One morning in October, I found him in the living room, in fleece pants and rafting shoes. He was drinking tea. He was 76, barrel-chested and slim, and his hair was held in a ponytail by a fuzzy elastic band.
He put tobacco in a three-foot pipe, slowly took several puffs and then handed it to me. “It tends to put visitors at ease,” he said. He began talking about the business he runs with one of his sons — he has 20 children with seven women, and 89 grandchildren — tapping maple trees and harvesting wild rice. “These were trades I learned when I was 4 years old,” he said.
Accusations that he was involved in Aquash’s murder have swirled for years, Banks acknowledged. He has always denied them. “I only know what I read in the paper.” He said he was happy for the opportunity to think about her.
“We were in love,” he said. On the other hand, “Ka-Mook was very strong, and she was brave enough to come with me, but — —”
“My mom chose her own path to travel,” said their daughter Tiopa, who was changing the diaper on her 4-month-old. “She has to live with that.”
“When I found out what Ka-Mook did, I felt very alone,” Banks said. “Not so much anger, but ‘Is Dennis Banks the big Cracker Jack prize?’ ”
He talked about informers. “There was a lot going on that made the paranoia believable,” he said. “It became impossible to trust anybody.”
Even so, I asked, would he have advocated killing someone who he knew for certain was a traitor to AIM? (There has never been any evidence that Aquash was an F.B.I. informer.)
“I don’t know if I would participate in some sort of getting-rid-of-the-person,” he said. “But I would say, ‘Take care of this.’ Or, ‘Take the guy out, and I don’t want to see him again.’ ”
I brought up the Ray Robinson disappearance. Banks stared at me and said nothing while he opened the screen door. He wanted to show me a sweat lodge he built in his back yard, a low, stone igloo with tarps and blankets for a roof.
“The government asked me about that, and I told them I don’t know anything,” he said finally. “There’s a lot of misinformation.”
He turned toward his house, and we walked back inside. “However these people got put up to putting the bullet in Annie Mae, I already know all I need to,” he said. “The government set the stage for anybody in the movement to think that Annie Mae was a fed when the judge let her out of jail for the last time in Pierre.” He retrieved a fly swatter from the kitchen, began flicking at the air and went on: “There are no secrets and questions left. If there’s a burning house, no one gives an order to put out the fire. Someone just goes and does it. It was people who fell into an idea.”
Eric Konigsberg is a former reporter for The Times and the author of “Blood Relation.” He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic and New York.
Lakota members marched during the annual Liberation Day commemoration of the Wounded Knee massacre. People carried American Indian Movement flags and shot rifles into the air as part of the celebration. Photo: Deep Roots United Front/Victor Puertas
On February 27, Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement activists joined in a four-directions walk to commemorate Liberation Day, an event to mark the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. As they do each year, four groups gather to the north, south, east and west and then walk eight miles until converging on top of Wounded Knee, where they honor the fallen warriors and the tribe’s rich history of resistance.
“It is an acknowledgement of the resiliency of who we are as a people,” explains Andrew Iron Shell, an organizer and activist of the Sicangu Lakota Nation. “It gives permission and courage for our up-and-coming generations to face the challenges of their time.”
The history of the occupation began with a massacre more than 100 years ago. On a cold day in December 1890, the United States army killed 300 Lakota men, women and children in a massive shoot out after a member of the First Nations refused to give up his arms. It marked the first bloodshed on Wounded Knee – although there had been many massacres of First Nations people by the colonialists before it. The event was also considered the end of the Indian Wars.
Eighty-threeyears later, on Feb. 27, 1973, about 200 Lakota members took siege of the town of Wounded Knee. Reclaiming a location that was written in the history books as a place of defeat, the Lakota stood their ground. They were there in protest of a failed attempt at impeaching the tribal president at the time, Richard Wilson, who was known to be corrupt and abusive. Initially a protest against the tribal government, the occupation took a turn when U.S. police forces arrived. The protestors switched the occupation’s focus to the United States’ frequent violation of treaties.
The armed warriors maintained control over the town for 71 days while the FBI encircled them. At the final standoff, two warriors were killed, about 12 people were wounded and over 400 were arrested. The Oglala were able to harness national attention through their occupation, using the spotlight to question the United States’ treatment of First Nations people.
As history passed, later generations rarely heard about the occupation of Wounded Knee — or about first nation people at all. This skewed national memory should be unsurprising: When you have a society and a nation built upon the subjugation of people of color, you can expect nothing more than the constant erasing of certain histories.
I recently visited Prisoner of War Camp 344, also known as the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It wasn’t my first time in the sovereign Oglala Sioux Nation, but it was my first time joining in the ceremonies celebrating the 41st annual Liberation Day to remember the 1890 reoccupation of Wounded Knee.
The vibrant American Indian Movement flags waving in the harsh South Dakota winter wind reminded me of the old black and white photos I used to see in my history books. The Lakota would not disappear without a fight, regardless of what the United States’ intentions were. Children walked alongside elders who had taken part in the occupation, showing clearly the group’s intergenerational wisdom. These are children who are stripped of learning their people’s history in schools, but instead learn it through stories and dances. They are children who live in a sovereign nation that contains two of the poorest counties in the United States and who recognize the threats their families face every day.
One of these threats come from the so-called town of White Clay, Neb., where visitors can witness the way violence against the First Nations people has changed — but not disappeared — over the generations. Consisting of only 12 people and four liquor stores, White Clay was once part of a 50-square-mile buffer that prevented alcohol from entering the reservation. In 1904, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that removed 49 of those square miles. Since then, the town’s economy has been driven by the $4 million in alcohol sales to the people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There is no legal place to drink in or around White Clay: Alcohol containers can’t be opened on the property of the distributor, it’s prohibited to drink in the street, and the reservation is dry territory. Yet, somehow, the town of 12 people manages to keep four liquor stores open. Barely two miles from the reservation’s epicenter, and less than 200 feet from the dry reservation line, the town perpetrates a type of violence that is, on the reservation, known as liquid genocide.
The reason for this name becomes apparent when one examines the teenage suicide rate on the reservation, which is 150 percent higher than the U.S. national average for this age group. Many attribute this death rate to the sale of alcohol to minors, which White Clay store owners are known to do. The liquor stores also break the law by selling to intoxicated people, and by trading alcohol for pornography, sexual favors — including from minors — and welfare checks. The effects of free-flowing alcohol are devastating: On the reservation, 90 percent of all court cases are related to alcohol use.
Kate, a Tokala warrior, believes that alcoholism is part of a larger problem of the disappearance of indigenous culture. For her, the only way to live in the geographical region of Pine Ridge is the indigenous way. “We are the ones on the back roads, still chopping wood. We are living the way we used to live,” she said. “It’s not hardship; it’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Kate and many others know that alcohol was introduced to her people as a means to steal from them. Living deeply connected to the history of their nation, they believe that if they shake free of the colonized mindset, alcohol wouldn’t even be an issue.
Threats to the land
In addition to trying to close down White Clay, the Oglala Lakota Nation is actively fighting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil each day from western Canada through South Dakota en route to Texas. At two points it would even intersect with a pipeline that serves as a main water source for the Sioux Nation, affecting all of the Pine Ridge reservation as well as the nearby Rosebud reservation.
Advocates for the pipeline argue the pipeline is the safest way to transport crude oil. TransCanada, the company in charge of the pipeline, predicted that the first Keystone pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Illinois, would spill once every seven years. During its first year in operation, it spilled 12 times. The Lakota, along with other First Nations, have vowed to use direct action to stop construction of the pipeline.
For a nation whose land and sovereignty has been threatened for hundreds of years by U.S. politics, the Keystone XL pipeline is part of a long history of threats to the Lakota Nation – and to the earth itself.
“They want to get rid of the Lakota, the protectors of the earth,” said Olowan Martinez, an organizer in the Lakota community. “But what they don’t know is when they get rid of the Lakota, the earth isn’t too far behind. Our people believe the Lakota is the earth.”
President Obama is scheduled to be make a final decision on the pipeline by the middle of 2014. While the Lakota are hoping he will not approve the project, they are also getting ready to stand up and fight. During the Liberation Day celebrations, the Lakota’s dances and stories relayed messages about sacred water and Mother Earth. The tribe has also united with other First Nations to organize a three-day direct action training called Moccasins on the Ground, which was designed to prepare people to act if the pipeline is approved.
“Dead or in prison before we allow the Keystone XL pipeline to pass,” the Lakota warriors, many mounted atop horses, repeated during the Liberation Day celebration. Their words carried the weight of 521 years, and counting, of lived resistance.
Carter Camp, who helped organize the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, has died at the age of 72.
The Associated Press reports Camp succumbed to cancer on Dec. 27 in White Eagle, Okla.
Camp, a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, was a longtime member of the American Indian Movement, organizing more than 30 chapters in his home state of Oklahoma, (his sister Casey) Camp-Horinek said. The American Indian Movement was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans and demand that the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes.
He had a leading role in the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972, in which a caravan of Native American activists drove across the country to Washington, D.C., to protest treaties between tribes and the federal government. They took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs for several days.
Although several people in leadership roles went on trial for events that took place at Wounded Knee, the AP reported that Camp was the only one to ever serve time. He spent two years in prison.
“He was the only person in (a) leadership position in Wounded Knee who never left Wounded Knee, not to go out and do press junkets, not to go and sit in a hotel for a while. None of that. He was a war leader there. He stayed inside with his warriors,” Camp-Horinek said of her brother.
Most recently, Camp fought the Keystone XL pipeline.
MINNEAPOLIS – The AIM Twin Cities, the Minneapolis-based chapter of the American Indian Movement, is holding a rally to continue to draw attention to the protest of the Washington NFL team’s continued use of the name that is offensive to most American Indians.
The rally is planned during the Minnesota Vikings and Washington team’s game on Thursday November 7. The rally will begin at 5:00 pm. Participants are asked to meet at the American Indian Center at 1530 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Participants will march from the American Indian Center to Mall of America Field and hold a rally against the Washington Football team, protesting team owner Dan Snyder’s refusal to change the team name and mascot, which is a racial slur and stereotype that is offensive to American Indians.
AIM Twin Cities calls on all those who support a mascot and name change for the Washington Football team to join together to encourage Dan Snyder to
“Retire the racist attire! Recognize that American Indians are a living people, not mascots for America’s fun and games!”
All people are encouraged to attend.
Rally organizers stated in a news release:
“Using American Indian slurs like the ‘R-word’ is no different than the use of Black Sambo which offended African Americans or the Frito Bandito which is offensive to the Hispanic community.”
“The continued use of American Indian likenesses and images by sports teams has resulted in widespread racial, cultural and spiritual stereotyping which promotes hatred and disrespect of American Indian people,”
the news release continues.
Drum groups are invited to bring their big drums. Everyone is encouraged to bring their hand drums.
Two Denver-based groups are set to protest against the Washington Redskins refusal to change its name and mascot.
Members of the American Indian Movement and Idle No More in Colorado will call on the football team to change its name at the Broncos-Redskins game on Sunday.
Protestors at Lambeau Field in Green Bay last month. (Associated Press)
Members of the group say that the name is “racist” and “an insult to all indigenous peoples.” They are also telling all Colorado news and sports journalists to banish the so-called ‘R’ word from their reporting; asking that local press such as The Denver Post and NBC’s KUSA to call them “the team from Washington, D.C.”
Both groups say that most American Indians consider the word to have a long racist history in the U.S.
In a news release, the group invited “all people of goodwill” to protest at the football game. Protestors will gather at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. No location or time information has been announced.
Dennis Banks, cofounder of the American Indian Movement, has issued a Declaration of War on Diabetes.
LEECH LAKE BAND OF OJIBWE TERRITORIES – Dennis Banks, 77, a cofounder of the American Indian Movement, has announced a 18,000 mile motorcycle run across America with hundreds of American Indians participating to “declare war on diabetes.”
His announcement was distributed through a news release Sunday from his foundation, the Nowa Cuming Institute. The news release states:
“The Nowa Cuming Institute has issued a Declaration of War on Diabetes.”
“Diabetes is at an epidemic state in Indian country and must be halted,”
said Banks, who was diagnosed with diabetes four years ago and has reversed his diabetes through a strong diet.
The motorcycle run will have four staring locations in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego on August 11 with the final destination of the nation’s capital, Washington, DC on September 10, 2014.
Throughout the various routes across America, motorcyclists will stop at various American Indian reservations and communities as they journey to Washington.
Once in Washington, the group will visit members of Congress and present them with a national diabetes policy, according to Banks.
This will be the second endeavor by Banks to draw attention to the ill-effects of diabetes in Indian country. In 2011, he led the “Longest Walk 3 – Reversing Diabetes” that took the long walkers to 72 American Indian reservations and communities before they arrived in Washington.
“If we don’t address this medical issue now, there will no one in the seventh generation who will be healthy and if we don’t take action now to stop diabetes, they will condemn this generation,”
The Nowa Institute released the announcement so that tribes and others who want to be part of the pre-planning of this historic motorcycle run can do so now.
We are asking people of interest to aid in this “War on Diabetes.” said Banks.
Those interested in assisting and supplying diabetes materials may email Goody Cloud at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) stopped making headlines long ago, but it’s still making history.
Provided by Minnesota Historical Society Press. Photos by Dick Bancroft ‚ A group of AIM women protest at the front door of the US Courthouse in Minneapolis. This is a black-and-white photo of people holding signs outside the courthouse. One with back to camera wears a coat with sign on back saying‚”Indian Brotherhood.”
Last year the organization began planning an interpretive center to house the photos, artifacts and stories that document AIM’s importance in restoring Indian civil rights, identity and pride. This spring a sample of that material is showcased in two exhibitions: a powerful, emotionally stirring show of about 100 photos plus memorabilia (posters, buttons, articles) at All My Relations Gallery in south Minneapolis and a smaller display of about 25 photos downtown at the Mill City Museum. Accompanying them is a handsome new book, “We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of the American Indian Movement,” from the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
This Dick Bancroft portrait of a man at a 1981 treaty-rights conference serves as the cover for “We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of the American Indian Movement,” from the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Founded in Minneapolis in 1968, AIM was ambitious in its goals and fortunate in its leaders. Responding to endemic poverty, racism, police harassment and centuries of broken treaties, the fledgling organization set out to reclaim native pride, much as the civil rights movement was doing for black Americans. Its goals encompassed everything from improved housing, education and employment for urban Indians to encouraging native people to assume responsibility and engage in civic affairs.
Now, 45 years later, its legacy is especially visible on revitalized Franklin Avenue in south Minneapolis, where banners announcing an American Indian Cultural Corridor flutter on new light poles, and Indian businesses and civic organizations (Northland Native American Products, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Native American Community Development Institute) anchor an increasingly upscale neighborhood.
Tough times documented
There was nothing upscale in the lives of urban Indians in the 1960s, as documented in “I’m Not Your Indian Anymore” at All My Relations. The earliest black-and-white images show the poverty and danger — junked cars, rickety stairs, holes in floors — in which Indians often struggled to raise their families. AIM’s early marches, rallies and confrontations were recorded at Minneapolis City Hall, the village of Wounded Knee, S.D., and at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.
The emotional power of the shows comes in the unvarnished authenticity and you-are-there candor of the grainy images, including a wedding, a funeral, and a clutch of camouflage-clad U.S. military men arriving at Wounded Knee. In a particularly striking picture by Kevin McKiernan, an elderly woman named Cecilia Jumping Bull proudly clutches a folded U.S. flag and photos of two young men, presumably her sons, in military uniforms. A bullet hole disfigures one of the portraits, prompting her remark: “The government shoots my house; they have no respect for me.”
Stacy LaBlanc, John Blue Bird and Tom LaBlanc in front of the FBI building in Washington, D.C., in 1978 during the Longest Walk, a cross-country protest march.
Other images document police beatings and harassment, protests at a Wisconsin power dam that had flooded tribal lands, and a long 1972 march to Washington known as the Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan. But AIM had broader goals, too, as evidenced in Roger Woo’s 1975 photo of kids being tutored at the Red School House, a St. Paul school for Indian youths, and of a boy being cared for at an Indian Health Board Clinic.
The earliest black-and-white pictures were taken by a variety of photographers, most notably Woo and McKiernan. Most of the color images, including a preponderance of those in the book, are by Dick Bancroft, who became the movement’s unofficial photographer.
Not surprisingly, the back story of many of the photos is complex. Official tribal leaders of the time often sided with federal bureaucrats against AIM, trying to discredit it as a ragtag group of “urban Indian” agitators, even though it enjoyed support of many traditional elders.
The magnitude of AIM’s reach became apparent in 1977 when an international delegation of indigenous people took their concerns to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Among the delegates was Winona LaDuke, then an 18-year-old Harvard student who had researched uranium and coal mining on Indian lands. “I was in awe of everybody,” she recalls in the book. “I’d never been exposed to all this cool political leadership.”
• ÄúAn unidentified woman listening to translated testimony on the sterilization of Indian women.‚Äù This pix of a lovely young woman crying was taken apparently at a United Nations International NGO Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Land in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 15 ‚Äì 18, 1981. provided by Minnesota Historical Society Press. Photos by Dick Bancroft
The 13-point resolution the group presented became the basis of a U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that was approved, finally, 30 years later.
Like all history, AIM’s story will doubtless be debated and interpreted for years to come. These compelling exhibitions and the engrossing, meticulously researched book are an essential foundation for that discussion.
I’m Not Your Indian Anymore
What: An impressive photographic history of the American Indian Movement (AIM), featuring images by Dick Bancroft, Roger Woo and Keri Pickett.