AIM Button
AIM’s Legacy and the
Third Space of Sovereignty

The American Indian Movement was the most visible activist group of the Red Power movement of the late 1960s and into the 1970s. The charismatic leaders of AIM promoted direct-action protests to draw attention to the problems in Indian country, particularly the numerous treaty violations for which they sought restitution.

Color photograph of a large crowd at a protest against the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion in Vancouver, British Columbia during 2018. A Native American woman appears in the center foreground of the image raising the AIM flag in her proper right hand. Photo by Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press via AP.
A red, and blue protest poster/flyer printed on a white background showing a Native American man with his hair braided and a feather in his hair wearing a button up shirt. '156 5th AVE RM 618/NYC 255-9570/ SUPPORT THE AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT' is printed in dark red vertically along the left edge of the image. 'Too many years/ We have kept silent/ While our children became orphans/ As their Mother earth was taken from them/ Today, we must raise our voices,/ If need be, we must take up arms./ We are no murders…, but/ We will not commit suicide.' is printed in red and blue in the bottom right corner of the image.

AIM’s initial focus was centered on the problems faced by urban Indians, as a result of the federal government’s Termination Policy. Influenced by some of the Native American intellectuals of the day, AIM argued loudly for tribal self- determination and advocated for the restitution of treaty rights. The treaty process was predicated upon a recognition of the inherent sovereignty of indigenous people, based on their occupation of North America prior to colonialization and the founding of the United States.

Listen to the AIM Theme by Blackfire

Supreme Court decisions, most notably those of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1823 (Johnson v. M’Intosh), 1831 (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia) and 1832 (Worcester v. Georgia) defined the basic framework of federal Indian law in the United States. By designating Indian tribes as domestic dependent nations, the Marshall court rulings underscored the unique political status of tribes as distinct from both federal and state government. This third space of sovereignty, confirmed in treaties, legislation, the U.S. Constitution and multiple court cases, nevertheless remains a contested space.

Color photograph showing the backs of two Native Americans wearing black leather jackets with a circular logo for the AIM Central Texas chapter. Logo consists of one white circle enclosing another circle with a yellow border around each circle. 'AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT' stitched in red along the perimeter of the smaller circle. The center circle has the state of Texas in yellow with the red AIM logo at the center. The motto appears in black to the right above Texas and reads 'It’s Not About Me / It’s About My People'. 'Central Texas' is stitched in red beneath Texas.

After the surrender of the protestors at the siege at Wounded Knee II in 1973, AIM leaders were arrested and constrained in lengthy court cases which thwarted the organization’s activist agenda. Later, internal factionalism among AIM leaders further undermined the organization. In 1993 AIM split into two groups, the AIM Grand Governing Council, headquartered in Minneapolis, and the International Confederation of Autonomous Chapters, headquartered in Denver.

Black and white photograph showing a large group at a press conference. There are four men in the foreground. Dennis Banks appears at the center of the image reading a statement to reporters after all charges against him and Russell Means, who is the furthest on the left, were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Fred Nichol on September 17. 1974. Their attorneys, William Kunstler (second from left) and Mark Lane (right) accompany them. Photo by Charles Bjorgen/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS.

Color photograph showing a large crowd outside. A female dancer in Native cultural clothing dances at the center of the image.

More than 50 years after the rise of AIM, the organization’s impact can be seen in the legislation it inspired, such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act (P.L. 93-639) and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (P.L. 95-341). Moreover, the resurgence of Native American communities is visible in the 573 federal status tribes seeking to reclaim their cultural heritage and rightful place in history. The struggle to retain control of the third space of sovereignty is ongoing to the present day.

Color photograph of two women silhouetted against a setting sun holding an AIM flag between them. Another woman is slightly out of frame on the right.
AIM inspired legislation:

Menominee Restoration Act in 1973 Administration for Native Americans (ANA) / Indian Health Service / Health Care Improvement Act (P. L. 94-437) / Indian Education Act / Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975 (P. L. 93-638), American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), P. L. 95-341, Bureau of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR), Tribally Controlled Community College Act (TCCA), Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (P. L. 95-608)

Photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests, April 2016 - February 2017

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe with supporters from other tribes and environmentalists, opposing the construction of the energy pipeline, claiming it violated treaty rights and would harm the Missouri River, an important source of water for the reservation.

Color photograph of a group of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters consisting of members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, supporters from other tribes and environmentalists dressed in winter outdoor gear standing outside near the Standing Rock Reservation and the pipeline route by Saint Anthony, North Dakota. Many of the protestors are holding signs. Several are holding a sign that reads 'WE ARE HERE TO/PROTECT/WATER/ IS LIFE' printed in black and white. Another sign reads 'NO PIPELINES/KEEP IT IN THE GROUND'. Both signs show Native iconography. There is a black surveillance van in the background of the image. Photo by Reuters.
Color photograph of a group of dancers in Native American ceremonial apparel dancing by the light of a fire at dawn on Alcatraz Island. Photo by Talia Herman/The Guardian.
Color photograph showing the cleared protest site for activists against the Dakota Access Pipeline after police pressed them to leave. As protestors left the site, some set fire to camp structures as part of a leaving ceremony. Barbed wire and fencing adorned in protest signs and supporting an upside-down American flag and the yellow 'Don’t Tread on Me' flag is collapsing in the foreground. One sign at the center of the image reads 'INDIGENOUS/ SOVEREIGNTY/ PROTECTS/ LAND - AIR - WATER'. A structure burns on the left side of the image and the smoke drifts over the right side of the scene. Photo by Reuters/T. Sylvester.
Color photograph of a large crowd of Dakota Access Pipeline protestors marching together through their encampment. Flags fly on poles along their path and tents, cars, tipis populate the grassy plain behind the marchers. Four of the Native American men in the foreground are carrying staffs and wearing face paint.

“It's not revolution we're after; it's liberation. We want to be free of a value system that's being imposed upon us...”

- John Trudell

(We Are Power, July 18, 1980: Intercultural Survival Gathering)


The research for this online exhibition was undertaken by William & Mary students enrolled in the Spring 2020 senior seminar titled Native Sovereignty, offered in the Department of Anthropology and cross-listed with Native Studies.

Student curators for Rising are:
Patrick Abboud (’20)
Kat Baganski (’21)
Abram Clear (’21)
Carley Fines (’20, Patawomeck)
Matthew Forcier (’20)
Victoria Reynolds (’20)
Oliver Ring (’20)
Lyla Rossi (’20)
Carolina Wasinger (’21, Delaware/Cherokee).

Faculty curator:

Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, Ph.D.
Director, American Indian Resource Center | Lecturer, Department of Anthropology | Administrator for the Native Studies Minor | Curator of Native American Art at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, William & Mary

Design and Exhibition Materials:
Brendan Reed at Artifact

Editing: Laura Fogarty


Special thanks to Brendan Reed at Artifact Logo for design and technical assistance making this online exhibition possible, to Alexis Jenkins (’19) for editorial and research assistance and to Natasha Mcfarland for assistance with research at Swem Libraries.

Additional thanks to Interim Director David Brashear and staff members at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, in particular; Melissa Parris, Laura Fogarty and Adriano Marinazzo, for providing images and assistance for Shared Ideologies.

With sincere appreciation to Dean Kate Conley for her support for the Native Studies Minor.

Thanks to Ann Marie Stock, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Mark Hofer, Director, Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation, for their support of this project.

Color photograph focused on the feet of a Native American dancer in ceremonial attire at the 2019 American Indian Students Association (AISA) Powwow at William & Mary. Photo by Christian Busch. Color photograph focused on the feet of a Native American dancer in ceremonial attire at the 2019 American Indian Students Association (AISA) Powwow at William & Mary. Photo by Christian Busch.
Color photograph focused on the feet of a Native American dancer in ceremonial attire at the 2019 American Indian Students Association (AISA) Powwow at William & Mary. Photo by Christian Busch. Color photograph focused on the feet of a Native American dancer in ceremonial attire at the 2019 American Indian Students Association (AISA) Powwow at William & Mary. Photo by Christian Busch.

American Indian Students Association (AISA)
2019 Powwow at William & Mary
Credit: Christian Busch

William & Mary Logo Muscarelle Museum of Art Logo

Color photograph showing the three female student leaders of the American Indian Students Association posing with William & Mary president Katherine Rowe. AISA Student Leaders with President Katherine Rowe