Rising The American Indian Movement and the Third Space of Sovereignty

(Above: Original AIM logo.)

The Red Power Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s coalesced around the activism of urban Indians, amidst long simmering frustrations over the erosion of treaty rights and a resurgent struggle for indigenous sovereignty.

The organization known as The American Indian Movement or AIM became the most powerful voice and visible expression of the Red Power Movement. AIM’s turbulent activism for tribal self-determination met with successes and failures. Rising explores selected historical events from this era and highlights the key individuals at the forefront of the movement.

The red profile of an American Indian with a hand forming a peace sign, is the more well-known logo of AIM. At right, the AIM logo appears against the four-color bands of the cardinal directions; black/west, yellow/east, white/north, and red/south, are shared among Ojibwe and Lakota tribal groups. These colors are sometimes displayed in a circular manner, referred to as a Medicine Wheel, representing health and healing.

(Above: The AIM logo overlaying the color bands of the cardinal directions, became the movement’s flag.)

After World War II, Congress took decisive steps to end the U.S. government’s political and economic responsibilities toward tribal governments. In 1953, Congress passed Resolution 108 and Public Law 280, terminating federal services to 13 tribes and placing some tribal lands under the jurisdiction of states. This policy of termination also provided funding to relocate tribal members from reservations to urban centers.

Between 1953 and 1961, more than 600,000 reservation Indians were relocated to places such as Minneapolis, Oakland, Dallas, Denver, Chicago and Salt Lake City. Seen by government officials as a means of assimilating indigenous people into the post-war economic boom, the termination policy was a disastrous failure. Instead of economic prosperity, resettled Indian families became mired in urban Indian ghettos. Out of these ghettos, Red Power activism would emerge, seeking to end termination and to reassert tribal sovereignty.

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