The American Indian Movement was formed in the summer of 1968, Minneapolis, Minnesota by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, Eddie Benton Banai, and George Mitchell, all from surrounding Ojibwa Nations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to the late Dennis Banks’ autobiography, Ojibwa Warrior, AIM was created to address the oppression of native people in the twin cities. It grew from there to a national level.
Many books were written about the American Indian Movement and its members. For this post, I’m listing books about the members or books written by the members.
Ojibwa Warrior by Dennis Banks: Dennis Banks, an American Indian of the Ojibwa Tribe and a founder of the American Indian Movement, is one of the most influential Indian leaders of our time. In Ojibwa Warrior, written with acclaimed writer and photographer Richard Erdoes, Banks tells his own story for the first time and also traces the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM). The authors present an insider’s understanding of AIM protest events—the Trail of Broken Treaties march to Washington, D.C.; the resulting takeover of the BIA building; the riot at Custer, South Dakota; and the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee. Enhancing the narrative are dramatic photographs, most taken by Richard Erdoes, depicting key people and events. (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)
I read this a year ago, and after reading what Dennis had to say, I dug deeper into AIM by purchasing as many books as I could get my hands on. Ojibwa Warrior covers Banks’ story from infancy to the last years of his life.
Where White Men Fear to Tread by Russell Means: Russell Means is the most controversial Indian leader of our time. Where White Men Fear to Tread is the well-detailed, first-hand story of his life so far, in which he has done everything possible to dramatize and justify the Native American aim of self-determination, such as storming Mount Rushmore, seizing Plymouth Rock, running for President in 1988, and–most notoriously–leading a 71-day takeover of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. This visionary autobiography by one of our most magnetic personalities will fascinate, educate, and inspire. As Dee Brown has written, “A reading of Means’s story is essential for any clear understanding of American Indians during the last half of the twentieth century.” (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)
This is a long read–over 700 pages. I will admit I struggled at times to get the book finished. But all in all, it was a good read. Some have called him arrogant, but I liked his blunt way of speaking.
The Thunder Before the Storm by Clyde Bellecourt: The American Indian Movement burst onto the scene in the late 1960s as indigenous people across the country began to demand what is rightfully theirs. Clyde Bellecourt, whose Ojibwe name translates as “The Thunder Before the Storm,” is one of its cofounders and iconic leaders. This powerful autobiography provides an intimate narrative of his childhood on the White Earth Reservation, his long journey through the prison system, and his embodiment of “confrontation politics” in waging war against entrenched racism.
Bellecourt is up-front and unapologetic when discussing his battles with drug addiction, his clashes with other AIM leaders, his experiences on the Trail of Broken Treaties and at Wounded Knee, and the cases of Leonard Peltier and murdered AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash. This gritty, as-told-to memoir also uncovers the humanity behind Bellecourt’s militant image, revealing a sensitive spirit whose wounds motivated him to confront injustice and to help others gain a sense of pride by knowing their culture.
The Thunder Before the Storm offers an invaluable inside look at the birth of a national movement―the big personalities, the creativity, and the perseverance that were necessary to alter the course of Native and American history. (Blurb courtesy of Amazon.ca.)
Clyde’s book is my favourite of the memoirs. He writes as he speaks–blunt and to-the-point. And he starts his book by saying it’s how “he saw it.” He hides nothing and lets the reader into the good, the bad, and the ugly about him. I closed the book with the feeling I read about the real Clyde.
Crow Dog by Leonard Crow Dog: In January 1890, Leonard Crow Dog’s great-grandfather, Jerome Crow Dog, surrendered to the U.S. Army; he was the last of the ghost dancers, who brought a “new way of praying, of relating to the spirits.” Ninety-three years later, Leonard Crow Dog revived the ghost dance at Wounded Knee. From childhood he was destined to be a medicine man; he recounts family history through four generations. Jerome was the first Native American to win a case in the Supreme Court; Leonard’s father, Henry, introduced peyote to the Lakota Sioux. Leonard details tribal ceremonies and their meanings. By 1971, he had become spiritual leader of the American Indian Movement. In that role and also as medicine man, he was present at the 1972 march on Washington and the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973. With Richard Erdoes (Lakota Woman), Leonard gives a stirring account of both events: a horror story of government brutality and vindictiveness, of prejudice and injustice. Here, he offers an illuminating introduction to Sioux culture. (Blurb courtesy of publishers weekly.)
This was a great read about Wounded Knee II, Sioux culture, spirituality, and medicine, and Leonard’s life as a medicine man. I highly recommend reading Leonard’s story.
Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog: Mary Brave Bird grew up fatherless in a one-room cabin, without running water or electricity, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rebelling against the aimless drinking, punishing missionary school, narrow strictures for women, and violence and hopeless of reservation life, she joined the new movement of tribal pride sweeping Native American communities in the sixties and seventies. Mary eventually married Leonard Crow Dog, the American Indian Movement’s chief medicine man, who revived the sacred but outlawed Ghost Dance.
Originally published in 1990, Lakota Woman was a national best seller and winner of the American Book Award. It is a unique document, unparalleled in American Indian literature, a story of death, of determination against all odds, of the cruelties perpetuated against American Indians, and of the Native American struggle for rights. Working with Richard Erdoes, one of the twentieth century’s leading writers on Native American affairs, Brave Bird recounts her difficult upbringing and the path of her fascinating life. (Blurb courtesy of Amazon.com)
Another great read. I especially loved it because there isn’t enough books written by or written about Indigenous women.
Ohitika Woman by Mary Brave Bird: The dramatic, brutally honest, and ultimately triumphant sequel to the bestselling American Book Award winner “Lakota Woman,” this book continues Mary Brave Bird’ s courageous story of life as a Native American in a white-dominated society. (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)
This was a good read. Mary continues her story after Wounded Knee and the hardships she faced. There was a lot of anger in her story, but justifiable anger. I only wish she could have found the peace she spent her life searching for before creator called her home.
I recommend reading her two books in order, starting with Lakota Woman and finishing with Ohitika Woman.
The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash by Joanna Brand: In February 1976, the body of a woman was found on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The official autopsy attributed her death to exposure. Both hands were severed and sent to Washington for fingerprinting, and the body was hastily buried without legal documents.
When the FBI identified the woman as Anna Mae Aquash, a Canadian Mi’kmaq active in the American Indian Movement, her family and friends demanded a second autopsy. It revealed that Anna Mae had been killed by a bullet fired execution-style into the back of her head.
Anna Mae Aquash worked alongside Leonard Peltier and other leading members of the American Indian Movement. Like Peltier, whose case is now a cause celebre, Aquash was targeted by the FBI. No serious investigation has ever been undertaken to determine the identities of her murderers, but evidence points to the involvement of American law enforcement officials.
Though some of the information in this book has become outdated as more information became available in 2001 and later about the complex facts surrounding Aquash’s death, this book stands as the only publication that tells the story of her life and the puzzling circumstances of her murder. (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)
As an Indigenous woman from Canada, I wanted to know more about Anna Mae, a woman well before my time and why she had to die. The author provides excellent research, but when I closed the book, I still felt I didn’t know Anna Mae. Still, I recommend this book because it was the only one I could find dedicated to her.
Prison Writings by Leonard Peltier: In 1977, Leonard Peltier received a life sentence for the murder of two FBI agents. He has affirmed his innocence ever since–his case was made fully and famously in Peter Matthiessen’s bestselling In the Spirit of Crazy Horse–and many remain convinced he was wrongly convicted. Prison Writings is a wise and unsettling book, both memoir and manifesto, chronicling his life in Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. Invoking the Sun Dance, in which pain leads one to a transcendent reality, Peltier explores his suffering and the insights it has borne him. He also locates his experience within the history of the American Indian peoples and their struggles to overcome the federal government’s injustices. (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)
This book is in my TBR pile. I hope to read this within the next couple of months. If you’ve already read it, please comment and share your thoughts on Prison Writings.
AIM was before my time, so reading everything I can about this movement was fascinating. If you’ve read any memoirs/biographies/autobiographies about the people of the American Indian Movement that I failed to list here, please point me in the direction of the book(s).