The Foundation of the American Indian Movement

American Indians in 1968

Throughout the racial unrest around 1968, many people typically seem to think that the period of civil tension was solely between Whites and Blacks. What society sometimes forgets to mention are the other ethnic and cultural groups that were being underrepresented and racially discriminated against. One of these groups experiencing their own civil rights movement during 1968 are Native Americans. Leading up to the infamous year of 1968, Native Americans were continuously forced off of reservations and integrated into mainstream America [2]. The constant injustices placed onto Native Americans began to spark a fire among the remaining tribes across the nation. Throughout the 1960’s Native Americans began to rise together against the destruction of their culture, leading to several riots and meetings, including the meeting that established the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Digital image of the logo used for the American Indian Movement. [4]

Rise of the American Indian Movement

The first mentions of the American Indian Movement were introduced in July of 1968. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group of Native Americans from several tribes met to discuss the travesties and extermination of their culture [4]. Throughout the meeting, the group became increasingly impressed by the success of the Black Panther movement and wanted their culture to get as much media attention as the Black Panther Party [2]. Through this curiosity, the group founded the American Indian Movement, and set out to spread the news throughout Native Americans across the country. The group immediately began to create events that they thought would attract the press, giving them attention similar to the Black Panther Party [2].

One of the main goals of the American Indian Movement is to encourage Native American power and determination to get the recognition they deserve [1]. Another goal was to assist Native Americans that had been forced into poor urban areas due to the Indian Relocation Act of 1954 [2]. Most of the recognition the Native Americans desired came in the form of treaties with the United States government that granted them recognition of their land, culture, and lifestyles. Overall, the purpose of founding the American Indian Movement was to ensure that Native American culture was not only reserved, but shared and recognized across the United States.

The American Indian Movement was originally founded and led in 1968 by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, and George Mitchell [3]. Other, less publicly known founders were a crucial part in the movement’s foundation. While these were the founders of the movement, the leadership quickly grew as

“A photography of Russel Means, surrounded by aides, running to escape federal marshals that had a warrant for his arrest” [5].
the movement gained traction throughout 1968. One of the major leaders that organized several of the early events for the movement was Russell Means. Although Russell Means was not a founder, he quickly became involved in the movement and even led the first event that monitored police brutality on Native Americans in 1968 [3].


AIM Song [7]-

The AIM song is the symbol of the American Indian Movement. The song showed the power, determination, and culture of AIM through music, which is a very important part to Native American culture [6].

What AIM Represents in 1968

The American Indian Movement, also known as AIM, can be representative of the year 1968 in many ways. The main aspect that it represents is the movement or desire for civil equality across all cultures, races, and nationalities. 1968 was a year of change for the whole world, but specifically the United States. While 1968 was 50 years ago, the American Indian Movement is a representation of how the year lives on in our memory and our actions. The American Indian Movement is still alive and very strong today. The movement is a reminder of where we have come from, where we are now, and where we strive to be.


AIM Since 1968:

The American Indian Movement did not stop once its foundation in 1968. The group has organized several successful protests over the past 50 years.

“American Indians reworked Alcatraz’ main entrance signage after the 1969 invasion” [8]
One of the most important and publicized events was the takeover of Alcatraz in 1970. The protest continued for several months until government officials cut off all resources on the island, forcing the Native Americans to return home [2].

Another important event organized by AIM was the Trail of Broken Treaties. This was a march that included around 1,000 Native Americans that demanded change [2]. Although the event occurred in 1971, it exists as a way we remember 1968. The year of 1968 began the movement of protests, marches, and speaking out against racial injustices. The foundation of the American Indian Movement established the permanent memory of 1968. Although it has been half a century since the infamous year of 1968, the memory of the year lives on within the American Indian Movement. The goals, purpose, and history behind the foundation of the American Indian Movement will forever house the memory of 1968 and what the year stood for.





[1] Paul Lagasse. American Indian Movement. The Columbia Encyclopedia. 2017.

[2] American Indian Movement. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005.

[3] The American Indian Movement, 1968-1978. Digital Public Library of America.

[4] American Indian Movement (AIM): Overview. Minnesota History Center.

[5] A photography of Russel Means, surrounded by aides, running to escape federal marshals that had a warrant for his arrest, April 27, 1973. Digital Public Library of America.

[6] Blackfire- Topic. American Indian Movement Song. 2015.

[7] AIM Song.

[8] Ben Winton. The occupation of Alcatraz. The Native Press. 2010.

2 thoughts on “The Foundation of the American Indian Movement”

  1. This post was very informative. It is important to emphasize more than just the assassination of MLK and the Vietnam War (although important) during this time. The Chicano Movement and the American Indian Movement were two very influential movements during 1968. I wrote my post, too, on a different minority movement other than the Civil Rights Movement. It is a little heartbreaking that both of these groups had major breakthroughs for their own civil rights, but it is overshadowed by the Civil Rights Movement. Therefore, thank you for writing this enlightening post so we can educate the public!

  2. Interesting to think that the AIM is not only still alive today but is an entity that carries its own history. It makes me wonder if another event such as the one in 1970 involving Alcatraz will occur and how it will considering the number of resources available today as opposed to before. After all, is it the dream that keeps people moving forward or is it people that keep the dream alive? I also agree with humphrla that its tragic that there are groups who made progress for their civil rights during the era but their efforts are overshadowed by major events occurring around them. However, what makes these other events iconic? I think here it is because they were impacting events that can still be felt today while the majority of its effect can be attributed to a single point in time.

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