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In Lakota Woman, Mary Crow Dog argues that in the 1970’s, the American Indian Movement used protests and militancy to improve their visibility in mainstream Anglo American society in an effort to secure sovereignty for all "full blood" American Indians in spite of generational gender, power, and financial conflicts on the reservations. When reading this book, one can see that this is indeed the case. The struggles these people underwent in their daily lives on the reservation eventually became too much, and the American Indian Movement was born. AIM, as we will see through several examples, made their case known to the people of the United States, and militancy ultimately became necessary in order to do so. "Some people loved AIM, some hated it, but nobody ignored it" (Crow Dog, 74).
AIM was the first Native American group to realize that their message would not be heard with just words. Their words had gone unheard for too long, and it was time to take action. The need to take action stemmed from the way in which Native Americans were forced to live on a daily basis. Native Americans were forced to live on government appointed lands, and many of them lived in squalor. They felt that this country was rightfully theirs, and wanted an equal opportunity to be able to live where they pleased. Also, they were constantly discriminated against. Many stores and establishments had signs that read “No Indians Allowed.” AIM would go to these places and protest openly, sometimes getting violent. Many acts of violence and murder also occurred on reservation lands against Native Americans, and the white men who committed the crimes would receive a light sentence in court, sometimes not even be punished at all. Examples such as these show how the time was ripe for a movement such as AIM to be born.
The feelings of anger and despair among American Indians led to the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972. Led by the AIM, the Trail of Broken Treaties was a march upon Washington D.C. in which several different Native American groups laid out a 20 point petition of demands. When these Native American groups were not housed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and were forbidden from conducting a ceremony at the grave of Ira Hayes, they became violent.
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Perhaps the greatest example of courage in the fight for Native American civil rights was at the siege at Wounded Knee in 1973. Several factors led up to this incident. The first was the way in which the Indian tribes were governed on the reservations. Because of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the government had written a constitution for all of the tribes, which was modeled after the U.S. Constitution. However, this new form of democracy conflicted with the tradition form of self-government that Native Americans were used to. They had no use for American democracy. Their ancestral Indian government had been based on religion, and this new form of government being imposed on them was strictly political. Also, many tribal presidents were “half-bloods” and very corrupt, often times being controlled by bureaucrats in Washington D.C. Dicky Wilson, tribal president of the Pine Ridge reservation, was one such leader. He abolished freedom of speech and assembly on the reservation, misused tribal money, and miscounted votes purposefully. He kept order with the help of his private army, the goons. Those who opposed him would either have their houses burned to the ground or be beaten, sometimes shot and killed. The final straw was when a white man, who had stabbed and killed and old Indian in front of a saloon in the nearby town of Custer, was only found guilty of manslaughter. AIM members began rioting in the streets and set fire to the courthouse. After the rioting, the goons and the FBI had gathered back at Pine Ridge, waiting on the AIM members. It was then that they decided they would make a stand at Wounded Knee, the place where their ancestors had been slaughtered years before. They drove through the town of Pine Ridge and continued on to Wounded Knee. They held the town for 71 days, despite having hardly any ammunition or food. They were constantly being fired upon by government officials and the FBI, but they continued to stand their ground to show that they would not continue to live the life the American government envisioned for them. An agreement was eventually reached, and the remaining AIM members left. Although government officials had every building torn to the ground, the memory of Wounded Knee lives on. “I believe that the government tried to extinguish all visible reminders that Indians once made their stand here. It will do them no good. They cannot extinguish the memory in our hearts, a memory we will pass on to generations still unborn. Today the perimeter looks very much as it did before the white man came, as it looked to Sitting Bull, Crazy House, and Big Foot. Maybe that is as it should be” (Crow Dog, 169).
Such a powerful movement like AIM could never have accomplished its goals if not for a strong leader such as Leonard Crow Dog. Although Crow Dog was a Lakota Sioux, any tribe of Native Americans could heed his word and learn from it. Moreover, his being a Sioux allowed many AIM members to learn the old ways of the Indian people. Many initial members of AIM were from the slums of St. Paul and had lost many of their traditions, languages, and ceremonies. Leaders like Crow Dog helped them to regain these. Above all, however, the Indian people were being oppressed as a whole, not just one tribe. The objectives of Crow Dog related to the needs of American Indian nation as a whole. Many tribes benefitted from the AIM movement, not just the Lakotas.
In closing, the use of protests and militancy was a necessary tool in bringing about the recognition of sovereignty for American Indians. The Trail of Broken Tears and the siege of Wounded Knee showed the rest of the nation that AIM and other Native Americans were willing to go to drastic measures to end their oppression. They wanted what was rightfully theirs and were tired of living the way they were forced to on the reservations. Although even today there is a long way to go, leaders like Leonard Crow Dog helped to unite American Indians into one movement that got the United States to recognize their desire for sovereignty.