Cultural Profile: Dennis Banks Dennis Banks was a Native American activist,teacher and author. Banks was one of the three co-founders of The AmericanIndian Movement (AIM), with fellow Native Americans Russel Means and ClydeBellecourt. AIM was formed in 1968 with the commitment of supporting fellow NativeAmericans and bringing to light unfair federal policies and practices against fellowNative Americans.
This was done by takeovers and occupations. Sadly, Bankspassed away on October 30, 2017. Banks was born on April 12, 1937, onan Indian Reservation located in Leech Lake, Minnesota.
At the age of five,Banks was uprooted and sent to a series of schools ran by the Bureau of IndianAffairs (BIA). These schools, “…sought to Christianize or “civilize” theirpupils” (encyclopedia.com). To “civilize” the students, the schools downplayedor made the students forget about their Native American culture. Due to thisBanks lost the ability to speak his ancestors’ language. After his graduationfrom the BIA schools, Banks entered the US Air Force.
Banks was released fromhis service sometime in the late 1950s. Upon his release Banks returned home toMinnesota, upon his return, Banks had a hard time adjusting and fell into badhabits. In a quote from Banks on encyclopedia.com he states, ‘”I was headingdown a road that was filled with wine, whiskey, and booze” Banks later recalled.”Then I ended up in prison”‘ (encyclopedia.com). In 1966, he was sent to jail,while in jail he met the other two co-founders of AIM.
Overtime the movementbegan to spread and gain more members. The first protest that Banks and hisfellow members of the AIM conducted took place in 1972. The protest was knownas the “Trails of Broken Treaties.” During this protest, Banks and around 500other members traveled cross-country to Washington in an attempt to bring tolight the poor living standards that many Native Americans had to deal with, aswell as the treaty rights that were never received. During this protest, theAIM took control over the BIA building for around a week. While there the AIMdestroyed important documents as well as parts of the building. The protestended when the Government finally agreed to meet with the members of AIM anddiscuss their complaints. This is showing us that Banks was looking out forwhat is best for his fellow Native Americans.
The second protest that Banks andhis fellow members of the AIM conducted took place in 1973 a few weeks after awhite man murdered a Native American and did not get charged in the way thatAIM thought he should have. During this protest, Banks and the other AIMmembers occupied the Wounded Knee reservation and demanded that Richard Wilsonbe removed from his position of leader of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. Astandoff ensued because the Government denied their request. Banks and Meanswere charged with both conspiracy and assault when the standoff ended, howeverthe case was eventually dropped.
Banks is quoted in an article from The NewYork Times written by Robert D. McFadden justifying the reason behind theprotest, “We had reached a point in history where we could not tolerate theabuse any longer, where mothers could not tolerate the mistreatment that goeson on the reservations any longer, where they could not see another Indianyoungster die” (McFadden). This quote is showing us that Banks was willing tostand up for his fellow Native Americans even if it meant dying for the cause. In the years following the standoff,Banks spent time on the run because of another assault and rioting case from1973. However, in 1980 he voluntarily decided to go to prison and served 18months.
After serving that time Banks went on and did many things such as,teaching, appearing in several documentaries, speaking about Native Americansand his experiences, and even founded a company in Leech Lake, Minnesota (growingwild rice and making maple syrup). If there is one major thing that canbe learned from Banks, it is that he had an extremely deep love for his peopleand their culture. We can also see that no matter what happened to Banks withthe protests, that he was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment ofhis people.