And Dennis Banks, the legendary Anishinaabe leader and Native American activist, has died at the age of 80. In 1968, Banks co-founded the American Indian Movement. A year later, he took part in the occupation of Alcatraz Island in California. In 1972, he assisted in AIM’s “Trail of Broken Treaties,” a caravan of numerous activist groups across the United States to Washington, D.C., to call attention to the plight of Native Americans. That same year, AIM took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. In early 1973, AIM members took over and occupied Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for 71 days, which some have come to call Wounded Knee II. Speaking with Democracy Now! in 2012, Dennis Banks recounted how he was taken from his family in the 1940s and forced into a boarding school along with thousands of other Native American children.
Dennis Banks: “I was taken to a boarding school when I was four years old, and taken away from my mother and my father, my grandparents, who I stayed with most of the time, and just abruptly taken away and then put into the boarding school, 300 miles away from our home. And, you know, the beatings began immediately, the—almost the de-Indianizing program. It was a terrible experience that the American government was experimenting with. And that was trying to destroy the culture and the person, destroy the Indian-ness in him and save the human being, save the—kill an Indian, save the man.”
Dennis Banks remained politically active throughout his life. Last winter, he joined protests against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Dennis Banks died Sunday night due to complications from heart surgery. He will be laid to rest in his home community of Leech Lake, Minnesota.