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American Indian Movement (AIM)

Insurgency Overview

The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a political organization advocating for the rights and interests of Native Americans including economic independence, revitalization of traditional culture, protection of legal rights, autonomy over tribal land, restoration of stolen land, and the sovereignty of Native American tribes. The organization's highly publicized occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 and Wounded Knee in 1973 granted AIM infamy in the eyes of the non-Indian public. However, over the years, the group has transformed its image from an insurgent militia that acted as a harbinger of the Native American warrior culture, to a diplomatic organization that has become a crucial aspect of American and international politics. Started in 1968, AIM was built off the philosophies of Native American spiritual traditions within their culture, language, and history. Although the group's strategies have changed over the years, AIM's goal has always been to ensure the fulfillment of treaties made between the United States and various Native American tribes and to improve the lives of Native Americans (1).

History & Foundations

The American Indian Movement officially started in August 1968 after a meeting held by Clyde Bellecourt, Vernon Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, and George Mitchell, who were all members of the Ojibwe Tribe in Southern Canada and northern parts of the US Midwest (2). This meeting gathered around 200 local native Americans to discuss issues facing the community such as police discrimination, poverty, unemployment, and a lack of political representation, resulting in the subsequent creation of the American Indian Movement Patrol (AIM Patrol). These patrols, which consisted primarily of Native Americans living in urban centers, would observe police interactions with native people and offer mediators that would assist community members with various issues (3). While these patrols helped limit negative police interactions within the community, they did little to improve how Native Americans were treated on the national stage.

Objectives & Ideology

As AIM developed into a larger, national organization, its goals evolved to encompass broader issues. In November of 1972, a caravan of Native Nation representatives arrived in Washington, DC, to set forth their demands in front of the US Department of Interior and the US president. Their list of 20 demands included numerous requests, including the restoration of treaty making (ended by Congress in 1871), the establishment of a treaty commission to make new treaties (with sovereign Native Nations), or even the restoration of 110 million acres of land taken away from Native Nations by the United States. Most of these requests were based on rights that the AIM esteemed were taken away from Native Americans illegally. The full list of demands can be found in footnote 4.

Approach to Resistance & Military/Political Abilities

Before AIM brought their demands directly to Washington DC, they took part in several high-profile demonstrations across the United States. Starting with the 1968 occupation of Alcatraz, the most notable type of demonstrations AIM participated in involved the takeover of several active (as well as decommissioned) government facilities in an attempt to spread awareness for their cause, pressure the US government to return the land to tribes that once lived there, and to expose improper Bureau of Indian Affairs policies (5). One of the largest of these takeovers was the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee, in which around 200 AIM supporters faced off against US Marshals. Occupying a small town within the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve of South Dakota, AIM members armed primarily with sporting rifles barricaded the area and were besieged by militaristic police with access to armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and fighter jet aircraft. Lasting for 71 days and resulting in the death of four individuals (two occupiers and two FBI agents), this occupation caused public outrage, notably as AIM supporters suggested that the US government’s reaction highlighted their willingness to use deadly force to suppress AIM's ideological goals (6).

After the events at Wounded Knee, AIM continued its fight in a far more diplomatic fashion with support from the United Nations, such as the creation of the Federation of Survival Schools, the MIGIZI communication organization, the International Indian Treaty Council, and the adoption of the American Indian Language and Culture Legislation (7).

AIM is still active in the Modern political sphere, focusing more on community development and grassroots events organizing. For instance, AIM members want to ensure that reservations have access to proper necessities and commodities, as well as help Native Americans gain access to higher education. AIM continues to play a significant part in political activism by participating in demonstrations, most recently in protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatened the Sioux tribe. Although AIM has members across the United States, AIM is not a monolithic entity; different chapters may implement different strategies and focuses.

International Relations & Potential Alliances

While members of the Ojibwe Tribe primarily created AIM, it would later go on to encompass a wide variety of individuals from tribes across the United States, notably as the organization formed bonds with fellow Indian rights groups such as the United Indians of All Tribes, with whom they occupied Alcatraz, as well as African-American civil rights activists (8). Internationally, AIM received support from United Nations members during the 1977 UN Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, resulting in the US government and other American Governments recognizing native populations' unique status (9).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Wittstock, Laura Waterman, and Elaine J. Salinas. “A Brief History of AIM - University of Arizona.”

(2) - Editors. “American Indian Movement (AIM).” A&E Television Networks, October 31, 2022.,Americans%20living%20in%20the%20city.

(3) - “AIM Patrol, Minneapolis.” MNopedia, December 28, 2016.,could%20call%20on%20for%20help.

(4) - Wittstock, Laura Waterman, and Elaine J. Salinas. “A Brief History of AIM - University of Arizona.” Accessed January 20, 2023.

In addition to the aforestated demands, the 20 requests made by the AIM include: an agreement for Indian leaders to address Congress, review of treaty commitments/violations, allow unratified treaties to go before the Senate, recognition that all Indians are to be governed by treaty relations, relief for Native Nations for treaty rights violations, recognition of the right of Indians to interpret treaties, form a Joint Congressional Committee on reconstruction of Indian relations, restoration of 110 million acres of land taken away from Native Nations by the United States, restoration of terminated rights, repeal of state jurisdiction on Native Nations, Federal protection for offenses against Indians, abolishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, creation of a new office of Federal Indian Relations, allow the new office to remedy breakdown in the constitutionally prescribed relationships between the United States and Native Nations, allow Native Nations to be immune to commerce regulation/taxes/trade restrictions of states, create protections for Indian religious freedom/cultural integrity, and the establishment of national Indian voting with local options; free national Indian organizations from governmental controls, Reclaim and affirm health/housing/employment/economic development/education for all Indian people.

(5) - Kelly, Casey Ryan. “Détournement, Decolonization, and the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island (1969–1971).” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 44, no. 2 (2014): 168–90.

(6) - D’Arcus, B. “Contested Boundaries: Native Sovereignty and State Power at Wounded Knee, 1973.” Political Geography 22, no. 4 (2003): 415–37.

(7) - Wittstock, Laura Waterman, and Elaine J. Salinas. “A Brief History of AIM - University of Arizona.”

(8) - Press, Associated. “FBI Confirms Civil Rights Activist Was Killed in 1973 Wounded Knee Protest.” New York Post. New York Post, May 11, 2018.

“Collection Inventory.” American Indian Movement (AIM) Collection An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University.

(9) - Curl, John. “ARCHIVES OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY A Documentary History of the Origin and Development of Indigenous Peoples Day.” Indigenous peoples day.

Additional Resources


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