Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement
By Dennis Banks with Richard Erodes
University of Oklahoma Press | 352 pp | $29.95
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Join the Discussion of this Book »
Many people like to conveniently relegate all the bad things that happened to American Indians to the distant past. Perhaps, it is safer that way - so that contemporary injustices against American Indians are more easily justified. They like to end all of the suffering back to 1890 to Wounded Knee where within one hour, the US Calvary horrifically killed nearly 300 American Indian men, women and children, who were practicing their Lakota ceremonies.
Life was difficult for American Indians beyond the Wounded Knee. Throughout most of the last century, high unemployment and low educational attainment were the "norm" for most American Indians were made to feel ashamed of who we were.
Fortunately, since the 1970s there has been a resurgence of American Indian culture. Today, American Indians celebrate our culture through powwows and learning our Native languages. Arguably, many people attribute the resurgence to the deeds of the American Indian Movement.
The origins and activities of the early years of the American Indian Movement are told in "Ojibwa Warrior: The Rise of the American Indian Movement," by Dennis Banks. Published as an autobiography, Banks, along with bestselling author, Richard Erodes, provides a vivid insider's view of how Banks became a foremost American Indian leader and has fought for over a quarter century for Indian rights and causes.
The American Indian Movement began as a watch group in Minneapolis in the summer of 1968, as the result of a meeting to discuss the fact that some 200 American Indians were rounded up each Saturday night at bars. The jailed Indians' punishment was free labor for several city projects. Banks called the meeting and asked the question: "When do we begin the protests?"
"Tonight!" said Clyde Bellecourt, who became a co-founder of the American Indian Movement.
Soon the organization became involved in other issues facing American Indians throughout the country.
Banks recounts the American Indian Movement's involvement at Alcatraz Island and the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington DC in late 1972.
In early 1973, the American Indian Movement took over and occupied Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for 71 days, which some have come to call Wounded Knee II. At the hamlet, US Marshalls, National Guard and other law enforcement surrounded the American Indian Movement with heavy ammunition. In the end, two people were killed.
Hollywood took note of the occupation. During the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony, Marlon Brando, who won the Best Actor award that year for his portrayal of Don Corleone in the "Godfather," sent on stage American Indian actress, Sacheen Littlefeather, to accept the award in his honor to read a statement about the abuses American Indian had long endured.
A couple of years later, Banks recounts a humorous story of knocking on Brando's southern California home to ask for gas money. Brando looks that the notorious "Indian car" and said, "Dennis, that car is not going to take you very far. Take my motor home." Brando then gives Banks the motor home and $10,000. Weeks later, the motor home is ambushed by law enforcement officers and riddled with many rounds of ammunition. Of course, a check of the registration of the motor home reveals it belongs to Brando.
As with leaders of all colors, there is a price to be paid if one is a strong leader. Dennis Banks is such a leader. After a long time fleeing the law, Banks spent time in prison; an imprisonment, some consider political.
The legacy of the American Indian Movement remains strong. Banks, along with others, helped pave the way for today's American Indians, who have progressed in many areas during the past three decades.
Without the American Indian Movement leadership, American Indians would lack a voice, as they did during the first three-quarters of the last century. To that end, American Indians across America consider Banks: "a modern day American Indian warrior."
updated January 28, 2012 9:30 am est; posted October 15, 2011 11:00 am edt
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