The movement for Native American centered around the tension between rights granted via tribal sovereignty and rights that individual Indians retain as U.S. citizens. Many of the demands of the movement related to the U.S. government’s obligation to honor its treaties with the sovereign Native American nations.
Native American Civil Rights
After years of unequal schooling, for reasons from racist schools to insufficiently funded schools, the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) was formed in 1969 to fight for equal education for American Indians. American Indian Activists strove for media protection and to own their own media. Until 1935, American Indian people could be fined and sent to prison for practicing their traditional religious beliefs. In more recent times, there has been controversy around the use of American Indian symbols such as for school or team mascots. Concerns are that the use of the symbols distort American Indian history and culture and often stereotype in offensive ways, such as when “savages” is used. One of the primary advocacy organizations for Native American Rights, the American Indian Movement (AIM) was also formed during the 1960s.
Alcatraz Occupation: Catalyst for the Formation of AIM
The group Indians of All Tribes (IAT) occupied Alcatraz for nineteen months, from November 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971, and was forcibly ended by the U.S. government Figure 1. According to the IAT, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Sioux should have returned all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land to the Native people from whom it was acquired. Since Alcatraz penitentiary had been closed on March 21, 1963, and the island had been declared surplus federal property in 1964, a number of activists felt the island qualified for reclamation. In 1970, the Occupation of Alcatraz was noted as “the symbol of a newly awakened desire among Indians for unity and authority in a white world.”
American Indian Movement (AIM)
The American Indian Movement (AIM) is a Native American activist organization in the United States, founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by urban Native Americans (Figure 2). The AIM agenda focuses on spirituality, leadership, and sovereignty. The organization was formed to address various issues concerning the Native American urban community in Minneapolis, including poverty, housing, treaty issues, and police harassment. From its beginnings in Minnesota, AIM soon attracted members from across the United States. At a time when peaceful sit-ins were a common protest tactic, the American Indian Movement (AIM) takeovers in their early days were noticeably violent. Some appeared to be spontaneous outcomes of protest gatherings, but others included armed seizure of public facilities.
“Trail of Broken Treaties”
In 1972, AIM activists marched across the country on what was called the "Trail of Broken Treaties." The activists took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), occupying it for several days and causing millions of dollars of damage. During this time, AIM developed a 20-point list to summarize its issues with federal treaties and promises, which they publicized during their occupation in 1972.
The list addressed the failed responsibilities of the U.S. government and demanded the restoration of the 110 million acres of land taken away from Native Nations by the U.S.; the restoration of terminated Native Nation rights; the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, establishment of the immunity of Native Nations from state commerce regulation, taxes, and trade restrictions; the protection of Indian religious freedom and cultural integrity; and affirmation of the health, housing, employment, economic development, and education for all Indian people.
"The Longest Walk" in 1978 was an AIM-led spiritual walk across the country to support tribal sovereignty and bring attention to 11 pieces of anti-Indian legislation. AIM believed that the proposed legislation would have abrogated Indian Treaties, quantified and limited water rights, etc. The first walk began on February 11, 1978, with a ceremony on Alcatraz Island, where a Sacred Pipe was loaded with tobacco and carried the entire distance. This 3,200-mile walk's purpose was to educate people about the U.S. government's continuing threat to tribal sovereignty; it rallied thousands representing many Indian Nations throughout the United States and Canada.
Gaining Native American Civil Rights
On March 6, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11399, establishing the National Council on Indian Opportunity (NCIO). With the passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) in 1968, also called the Indian Bill of Rights, Native Americans were guaranteed many civil rights. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act put an end to individual states claims on whether or not Indians were allowed to vote through a federal law. Before the Voting Rights Act, many states had found ways to prevent Native Americans from voting, such as residency or literacy requirements.