“Dennis Banks, American Indian Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 80”

“Dennis J. Banks, the militant Chippewa who founded the American Indian Movement in 1968 and led often-violent insurrections to protest the treatment of Native Americans and the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Sunday night at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He was 80.” R. McFadden, The New York Times

Mr. Banks in 2010. He was the 2016 vice-presidential nominee of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which identified itself as socialist and feminist. Credit Chris Polydoroff:Pioneer Press

Excerpt: Dennis Banks, American Indian Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 80 -By Robert McFadden, The New York Times

“Mr. Banks and his Oglala Sioux compatriot Russell Means were by the mid-1970s perhaps the nation’s best-known Native Americans since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who led the attack that crushed the cavalry forces of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the Montana Territory in 1876.

The American Indian Movement leaders Dennis Banks, seated at right, and Russell Means at a news conference in July 1973. CreditUnited Press International

Mr. Banks, whose early life of poverty, alcoholism and alienation mirrored the fates of countless ancestors, led protests that caused mass disorder, shootouts, deaths and grievous injuries. He was jailed for burglary and convicted of riot and assault, and he became a fugitive for nine years. He found sanctuary in California and New York but finally gave up and was imprisoned for 14 months.

He once led a six-day takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, and mounted an armed 71-day occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wounded Knee was the scene of the last major conflict of the American Indian Wars, in which 350 Lakota men, women and children were massacred by United States troops in 1890.

While his protests won some government concessions and drew national attention and wide sympathy for the deplorable social and economic conditions of American Indians, Mr. Banks achieved few real improvements in the daily lives of millions of Native Americans, who live on reservations and in major cities and lag behind most fellow citizens in jobs, housing and education…His severest detractors, including law-enforcement officials, said he let followers risk injury and arrest while he jumped bail to avoid a long prison sentence and did not surrender for nearly a decade.

Mr. Banks and Mr. Means first won national attention for declaring a “Day of Mourning” for Native Americans on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Their band seized the ship Mayflower II, a replica of the original in Plymouth, Mass., and a televised confrontation between real Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” made the American Indian Movement leaders overnight heroes…Mr. Banks was the 2016 vice presidential nominee of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which identified itself as socialist and feminist. The party’s presidential candidate was Gloria La Riva. As a single-state ticket, they won 66,000 votes.

In recent years, Mr. Banks lived with some of his children in Kentucky and Minnesota. He was an honorary trustee of the Leech Lake Tribal College, a two-year public institution in Cass Lake, Minn. Mr. Means, who also appeared in movies and wrote a memoir, died on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2012 at age 72.

‘Maybe we opened up some eyes, opened some doors,’ Mr. Banks told The Los Angeles Times. ‘And it was at least an educational process here. Fifteen years ago, there was no newspaper here, no radio station. Now there’s more community control over education.’

In 1990, both men joined a ceremony at the Pine Ridge Reservation commemorating the centenary of the Wounded Knee massacre.”

Category: History