american indian movement protestors on motorcycles

Understanding the American Indian Movement: Past, Present & What’s Ahead

In our nation’s narrative, the year of 1968 brought forth a powerful surge of unity and defiance among the indigenous tribes – a chapter that marked the birth of the American Indian Movement, known as AIM.

Echoing with the resonant voices of tribal leaders, AIM rose as a beacon championing their unique cause – a cause often mistakenly seen as a twin sister to the African American civil rights movements.

Yet, such comparisons, though understandable, miss the heart of the matter. For while the pursuit of rights certainly has its place within AIM’s agenda, it is not the driving force that propels them. Rather, it serves as a welcome consequence, a byproduct if you will, of their primary passion.

The foremost goals of the American Indian Movement are three-fold:

  1. To ensure that the promises made to the American Indian peoples by the US Government are upheld.
  2. To retain and assure the sovereignty of the American Indian peoples.
  3. To preserve the spirituality of the American Indian peoples and to continuously strengthen it.

These goals go hand in hand, fortifying one another. The promises that have been made to the American Indians through treaties over the years would have ensured that the tribes retained their sovereignty.

It would allow them to govern themselves autonomously, without oversight or control from US authorities. While it may seem to an outsider like this is the current state of affairs, not all native tribes enjoy the level of autonomy and sovereignty to which they were promised.

Furthermore, the current state of affairs for the American Indians is far better than it was when AIM was first established. That is primarily due to the focused and tireless work of the organization and the changes they have been able to effect.

What Does the Membership of AIM Look Like?

AIM is comprised of a number of spiritual leaders from various Native Tribes. The leaders have changed, of course, over the decades the movement has been working.

However, the core tenants and goals remained the same, and the group has always been backed by the many native tribes scattered about the United States. Without the support of many Indian people, the organization could not have flourished and would not have been effective.

Time and time again, AIM has called many hundreds and thousands of native people together to present a case before the US Government or to stand up for their promised rights. AIM is as much a product of the people as it is of its leaders.

It relies on the few leaders to drive its actions and efforts, but it would not be able to survive and carry out those actions without the support of many thousands of native people over the course of several decades.

Generations have given their time, energy and finances to support AIM and to see it become a driving force for change in the American Indian community.

How It Differs from Other Civil Rights Movements

Drawing a comparison between AIM and various civil rights movements may seem obvious, but to do so would be to conflate ideas. The organization has never tried to end segregation of any kind.

In many ways, it has done quite the opposite, trying to separate the native tribes into their own independent nations that have the ability to rule over themselves, free of outside interference.

While AIM does work in some capacity to end racial discrimination and racism against native peoples, that has never been its primary focus. By ensuring the sovereignty of the native people and by receiving assurances that past treaties will be honored, the organization has been able to earn a level of respect that ensures people from all races are working together to fight for an end to racial discrimination for American Indians.

Who the American Indian Movement Helps

While the leaders of the tribe of AIM only hail from a few native tribes, they represent all American Indian people and work for the benefit and progress of all native tribes. AIM has worked to help achieve equality of sovereignty for all native tribes, even those who are not directly represented in the organizations members.

One of the main tenants of the organization has always been to ensure that all Indians be governed by treaties alone, without any US Government jurisdiction on Indian lands. The organization started with 20 simple tenants, all focused on restoring respect, spirituality and sovereignty to the American Indians. None of them were specific to any individual tribe, which allowed for all efforts to be aimed equally at all the varied tribes.

Whenever AIM has come before Congress to say its peace and present its case, they have always tried to bring representatives from as many different tribes as possible to ensure equality in representation. All their efforts have been focused on the Native Nations as a whole rather than to help one or a few separate nations. They work toward the benefit of all native people.

A History of AIM

While AIM as an organization was not established until the late ‘60s, they had been around in spirit for hundreds of years. In the centuries before their formation, native people sought for fair representation and for a fulfillment of the promises made to them in treaties. Their efforts and their spirits live on through AIM’s current leaders and goals.

When AIM was first established, it worked to combat police brutality against American Indians, but its focus has never been in one particular place, but rather for the greater holistic benefit of the Native Nations.

In the following year, the organization established a Health Board, created Indian broadcasts and worked to reclaim federal land for the Native Nations.

The next decade saw AIM provide legal representation for all American Indians who wanted it. They also established an education system and schools that taught Indian values and culture and took children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the next few decades, AIM helped to educate adult Indians, gave Indian youths easy access to employment and worked to achieve justice for countless Indians. On the last few years, the organization has been able to focus more on the spiritual and cultural aspects of its goals, holding annual meetings to highlight native accomplishments and to ensure the perpetuation of Indian ideals among the Native Nations.