The American Indian Movement
Brief overview and history
The American Indian Movement (AIM), began in the prisons of the American Midwest in the mid-1960’s. Frustrations with the overbearing and unfair prison systems were coming to a head as Native Americans began condemning the United States for imposing poverty, broken health and despair among their people.
It was within the walls of federal and state penitentiaries, the Native people embraced their spiritual uniqueness and cultural heritage. In 1968, a group of Indian ex-convicts, including Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks and George Mitchell, decided to try and bring some direction to a rebirth within the Minneapolis-St. Paul community. These three individuals helped the Native people organize themselves for self-protection against the abuse of judicial systems across the country through urban-oriented political group tactics such as sit-ins and other pressurized methods.
Throughout the years, AIM has been successful in many political movements to preserve and save the Native American heritage. For example, in November of 1969, over 200 Native Americans seized the abandoned federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, occupying it for 19 months.
AIM has always relied on a spiritual base to clearly articulate the claims of the Native Americans and has had the discipline and determination to see these claims come to fruition. AIM has successfully and repeatedly brought suit against the federal government for the protection of the rights on Native Nations guaranteed in treaties, sovereignty, the United States Constitution, and laws.
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Among the many powerful and influential leaders of this movement, Clyde Bellecourt is one of the most active. Bellecourt, born on May 8, 1936, was a part of the Ojibwe Nation, or Anishinabe, and plays a huge role in many of the organization’s achievements. He is the founder and Director of AIM, and was seen as a major figure in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.
Bellecourt is highly dedicated to his community and bettering a future for the youth. He played a founding role in an ongoing Indian School System, Legal Rights Center and the International Indian Treaty Council. He is also directing the Peacemaker Center for Indian youth as well. He stated, “This generation of little children is the 7th Generation. Not just Indian children but white, black, yellow and red. Our grandfathers said the 7th generation would provide new spiritual leaders, medicine people, doctors, teachers and our great chiefs. There is a spiritual rebirth going on.”
Not only was Bellecourt devoted to the future of the children, but the foundation of families as well. In an effort to keep families together, Bellecourt founded and is currently Chairman of the Board of American Indian OIC, a very innovative job program that has successfully transferred over 14,000 people from welfare to full-time employment.