Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 2, 2013

We Are Still Here: 40 Years of AIM in Photographs

Photo Dick Bancroft

Listen to the words of Clyde Bellecourt on how women gave the people hope when AIM was formed in Minneapolis. Bill Means describes how the movement has come full circle, and the Mayor of Minneapolis makes a proclamation honoring 45 years of AIM in Minneapolis

Video published on Jun 3, 2013
Journalist and writer Laura Waterman Wittstock and photographer Dick Bancroft have recorded, written and taken pictures of the American Indian Movement (AIM) for over 40 years. Their book, We Are Still Here published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, is a testament to that effort. It includes Wittstock's reflections on covering the native American civil rights movement as a young reporter in Washington, D.C., as well as some of Bancroft's striking and iconic images as the movement struggled for Native independence.
An exhibit of Bancroft's photos opened May 10 at All My Relations Gallery on Franklin Avenue, celebrated by drummers performing the AIM honor song, traditional foods and a gathering of AIM activists, including Clyde Bellecourt and Bill Means. Bellecourt, a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe, reminded the crowd what it took for them to get to this place. "Our people were so beaten down," he shouted to the crowd, "We didn't think we could pull ourselves up," he said as he went on to tell people how AIM began as a group of people meeting on the Northside of Minneapolis. After years of enduring poverty and abuse from police, the Indian activists decided to take matters into their own hands. It wasn't just about better living conditions for Native Americans on and off the reservation, but about reviving their culture and demanding the federal government honor its treaties and show native nations the respect they deserved.
In 1972, Bellecourt and others traveled to Washington in a protest called The Trail of Broken Treaties to demand the federal government remove officials running the Bureau of Indian Affairs who AIM accused of being corrupt and greedy. That's where the photos of Bancroft's and the words of Waterman Wittstock come into play. Photos of the BIA building takeover showed American Indian men and women not as the cowboys and Indians of the John Wayne movie-myth making era, but as anxious and restless souls overturning desks, banging on drums and demanding the ear of federal officials to say that Indians were still here.
After three days, the protesters left the BIA building, taking with them the jobs of three officials in charge of the decision making. It had been a victory, but AIM members would take another militant stand at the impoverished village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in just a few months. Bancroft would also be at that 1973 armed confrontation between activists and their supporters on one side, and reservation officials and federal authorities on the other. Bancroft had gotten a camera as a birthday gift from his wife and was seen as an unofficial reporter within the movement. He remembers being the only one with a camera and the ability to afford the film.

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